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Monday 29 May 2023



This is something you didn't know. History says that The Mayflower sailed from Plymouth, England, bound for the New World with 102 passengers, on 16/9/1620. The ship was headed for Virginia, where the colonists–half religious dissenters and half entrepreneurs–had been authorised to settle by the British crown. However, stormy weather and navigational errors forced the Mayflower off course, and on November 21 the travellers reached Massachusetts, where they founded the first permanent European settlement in New England in late December. This is the 'doctored' version.

A significant number were known as Separatists, a group of people who mostly wanted to live a life free from the current Church of England. Others were on the ship for a multitude of reasons – some anticipated the chance to build a better future for their families and the opportunity of new land, while for others the offer of freedom and adventure was too good to turn down. Then there were the crew themselves, plus the servants and unaccompanied children sent by their families to be looked after by the adults.

The passengers are often grouped into ‘Saints’ or ‘Strangers’ by historians, alluding to their motivations for the journey. But it’s likely that many ‘Saints’ were skilled tradesmen and many ‘Strangers’ had their own religious reasons for leaving 17th century England. The origins of these passengers can be traced across England and in the Netherlands.

They were led by a group of radical pastors who, challenging the authority of the Church of England, established a network of secret religious congregations in the English countryside around Scrooby, a small village on the River Ryton in north Nottinghamshire, England, near Bawtry in South Yorkshire. Two of their members, William Brewster and William Bradford, would go on to exert a profound influence on American history as leaders of the colony at Plymouth.

Importantly, these 'sailors' were not the first to land in America, nor did they discover it. There were already established colonies at the time, not least Jamestown – founded in 1607. But the Mayflower story is renowned for its themes of freedom and humanity – including the relationships first formed between the Native American Wampanoag tribe and the colonists and the first Thanksgiving.

They landed, for many reasons, on the tip of Cape Cod at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts. A party of armed men was sent out to explore the area and find a location suitable for settlement. Three weeks later, some passengers went ashore at the site located by the advance party, to a place they named Plymouth. The trip was from Plymouth, England to Plymouth, New England.

Before going ashore at Plymouth, Pilgrim leaders (including Bradford and William Brewster) drafted the Mayflower Compact, a brief 200-word document that was the first framework of government written and enacted in the territory that would later become the United States of America.

Actually, the ship had to stop at Newlyn in Cornwall on the Land's End peninsula in England before sailing west. It was believed that the water picked up at Plymouth had caused fever and cholera in the city, so Newlyn provided fresh water to the ship. 

The first landing in New England was because the ship was running out of beer. So they halted, went ashore and collected water so that the seamen-not passengers- might have more beer. The passengers demanded beer in place of water, as they were worried about contracting Cholera. The weather was intolerable, so all passengers returned to the ship to spend winter. They suffered an outbreak of a contagious disease described as a mixture of scurvy, pneumonia and tuberculosis. They drank beer, as far as possible, not water, as they thought that the water was unsafe. The beer was stored in barrels known as "hogsheads."

When it ended, there were only 53 passengers, just over half, still alive. Likewise, half of the crew died as well.

They would go on to be known as the Pilgrims and influence the future of the United States of America in ways they could never have imagined.

This story isn't just about the Mayflower's passengers though. It's also about the people who already lived in America and the enormous effect the arrival of these colonists would have on Native Americans and the land they had called home for centuries.

More than 30 million people can trace their ancestry to the 102 passengers and approximately 30 crew aboard the Mayflower from records of the entire lot aboard when it departed England and the one-half that landed and survived in Massachusetts, in the harsh winter of 1620.


The Mayflower, in American colonial history, is the ship that carried the Pilgrims from England to the tip of Cape Cod at what is now Provincetown, Massachusetts, where they established the first permanent New England colony in 1620. Although no detailed description of the original vessel exists, marine archaeologists estimate that the square-rigged sailing ship weighed about 180 tons and measured 90 feet (27 metres) long. In addition, some sources suggest that the Mayflower was constructed in Harwich, England, shortly before English merchant Christopher Jones purchased the vessel in 1608.

Some of the Pilgrims were brought from Holland on the Speedwell, a smaller vessel that accompanied the Mayflower on its initial departure from Southampton, England, on August 15, 1620. When the Speedwell proved unseaworthy and was twice forced to return to port, the Mayflower set out alone from Plymouth, England, on September 16, after taking on some of the smaller ship’s passengers and supplies. Chartered by a group of English merchants called the London Adventurers, the Mayflower, after a 66-day voyage, first landed on November 21 on Cape Cod. The ship remained in port until the following April when it left for England. The true fate of the vessel remains unknown; however, some historians argue that the Mayflower was scrapped for its timber, which was then used in the construction of a barn in Jordans, Buckinghamshire, England. In 1957 the historic voyage of the Mayflower was commemorated when a replica of the original ship was built in England and sailed to Massachusetts in 53 days.

Before going ashore at Plymouth, Pilgrim leaders (including Bradford and William Brewster) drafted the Mayflower Compact, a brief 200-word document that was the first framework of government written and enacted in the territory that would later become the United States of America. 

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Friday 19 May 2023


 The International Wines and Spirits Competition 2023


Founded in 1969, the International Wines and Spirits Competition (IWSC) is an acclaimed annual wine and spirits competition. It has since grown to become one of the largest such competitions in the world. Spirits submitted for this competition are evaluated on a 100-point scale, and awards given based on the points obtained. Gold Outstanding represents (98-100 points), Gold (95-97 points), Silver (90-94 points), and Bronze (85-89 points).

This year, as many as twenty-four Scotch whiskies were rated 98 points or higher, winning Gold Outstanding medals. Of these two dozen entries, as many as twenty-one were single malt whiskies and the other three blended whisky expressions. The top-ranked Scotch whisky, scoring 99 out of 100 possible points, surprised most competitors and spectators alike.


The highest-scoring Scotch whisky was Glenturret Triple Wood 2022 Single Malt Scotch Whisky. Historically, most of Glenturret’s production was slated for the Famous Grouse Blended Scotch Whisky. In recent years, the single malt offerings have expanded to include 7 YO, 10 YO, 12 YO, and 15 YO expressions, as well as its Triple Wood. The 7-YO and 10-YO expressions are both peated. There are also 25 YO and 30 YO expressions that are impossible to find and several limited-release bottlings. Details about the distillery are at this link. 

Basically, Glenturret is a small, farmhouse-style distillery that continues to use traditional methods of whisky production to this day, including hand-mashing and was transformed by owner Edrington into The Famous Grouse Experience in 2002. The water supply for the Glenturret comes via its own pipeline from Loch Turret which has its origin in Ben Chonzie. As the water used is stated as contributing much of the individual taste and character of the whisky, the purity and quality of the water are essential in the whisky-making process. Ben Chonzie is part of the Grampian Mountain Range and is a granitic intrusion, with a diorite composition. This geology has resulted in the extreme softness of the water of Loch Turret making it a suitable source for the whisky.

The IWSC judging panel described the Glenturret Triple Wood as a summer Turkish delight of sweet raisin, marmalade, and orange blossom aromas with a rich fruitcake palate, hints of brown sugar and honey, with a creamy toffee texture on the finish. Own notes are:

Nose: Porridge, coconut cream and maple syrup. Cinnamon latte. Crystallised pineapple chunks and coconut macaroons. Fresh quince and Bramley apple, with a hint of quince jelly (membrillo).

Palate: Medium. Stewed plums, apricots and spiced oat crumble. A little full-fat milk cappuccino. Ground nutmeg and clove. Wholewheat sponge cake and raspberry jam. Underlying caramel sweetness.

Finish: Medium-long, on that wholewheat sponge with jam and sweetened cream.

Comment: The fruitiness would make it a great afternoon tea accompaniment or for autumn walks setting up dinner.


Five peated Scotch whiskies received Double Gold medals: Talisker 30 YO Single Malt Scotch Whisky; The Balvenie, 19 YO Week of Peat Single Malt Scotch Whisky; East Asia Whisky Company 31 YO Bowmore, 1990 Mizunara PX Sherry Cask Finish; Bunnahabhain Moine 2004 Tokaji Finish, Single Malt Scotch Whisky and, interesting enough, the Loch Lomond 10 YO Single Malt Scotch Whisky. The last named is worth a closer look.


Loch Lomond 10 YO Single Malt Scotch Whisky

Loch Lomond was set up by its former owner to be Scotland’s self-sufficient distillery. Rather than playing the normal game of exchanging the spirit one made for fillings of grain and malt for one's own blends, it made all its requirements itself. That meant being innovative.

The original distillery held a set of pot stills with rectifying plates in their necks (also known as Lomond stills), allowing different flavour streams to be produced. With continuous expansion to date, especially the addition of more Lomond stills, Loch Lomond has the capability to produce 11 different distillates for its whisky brands (not including the spirit coming from Glen Scotia). Wine yeasts have also been used to help create different flavours. 

Loch Lomond 10 YO is only slightly peated. Aged to perfection in three types of American Oak casks - bourbon, refill and re-charred, the expression is a classic combination of spirit styles from Loch Lomond's unique stills to create the distinctive fruit, honey and soft smoke character only found in Loch Lomond single malt. An average price of around $30 makes it an outstanding value for one of Scotland’s top-rated whiskies. The IWSC Judging Panel described Loch Lomond 10 YO as featuring:

A fruit-driven nose showing tropical fruits, especially pineapple, combining with bonfire smoke aromas. Tropical fruits linger on the palate where the gentle smoke is integrated, ending with a vanilla sweetness in the finish. Good malt character, estery and fruity. 

The Bunnahabhain Moine, and the Bowmore 31 YO Mizunara Cask both underwent a cask finishing of several months in casks that previously held sweet wines. The Bunnahabhain Moine was described by the IWSC Judging panel as expressing:

Rich and savoury aromas predominate with underlying nutty notes and a touch of iodine, leading to a soft, sweet, smoky palate and a streak of salinity and finely-tuned tannins. “The perfect whisky.”

Interestingly, Islay malts-both peated and unpeated finish well in sweet wine casks used for finishing. They create an intriguing mix of smoky and sweet, dried fruit flavours, and the expression “barbecue whiskies” is quite apt since they would go well at barbecues or even make an ideal, albeit expensive, base for a barbecue sauce.

Among older, top-ranked Scotch whiskies, the Double Gold medallists included The Glendronach 21 YO Parliament Single Malt Scotch Whisky; Deanston 21 YO Sherry Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky; Tomintoul 21 YO, Single Malt Scotch Whisky; Balblair 25 YO, Single Malt Scotch Whisky; and Pulteney 25 YO, Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

The Balblair 25 YO was described by the IWSC Judging Panel as exhibiting:

Warming first impression on the nose showing aroma characteristics of orange peel, blackcurrant, dried fig, dark chocolate, and oak influences shown as spice, nutmeg, and cloves. Full-bodied style showing balance with rich dried fruits and overall sweet indications; a woody finish.

The Pulteney, on the other hand, a whisky that typically exhibits a pronounced maritime influence, was described by the Judging Panel as showing:

A rich, sweet, and complex example with indications of maturity showing vanilla, honey, dried and exotic fruits on the nose and palate. Full-bodied style with oak influences shown as toast, dark chocolate, and spice, which keep on lingering in the finish.

The Glendronach 21 YO has been a perennial winner in international whisky competitions, winning Best Scotch Whisky on several occasions. Once little known, the brand has become increasingly visible and appreciated under the steady hand of Master Blender Rachel Barrie, a Master Blender since 2003, working with Bowmore, Auchentoshan, and Glen Garioch single malts before succeeding Billy Walker as master blender at Brown-Forman-owned BenRiach Distillery Company in 2017. There she assumed responsibility for the BenRiach, GlenDronach, and Glenglassaugh distilleries.

Unfortunately, its newfound prestige has also meant Glendronach’s price has steadily climbed. Gone are the days when you could pick the 21 YO for around $100. Today it will cost you three times as much.

The Balblair and Pulteney are lesser-known distilleries coming into their own today. They produce outstanding whiskies, as their IWSC recognition makes clear. Both expressions sell for around $500/750 ml bottle, an exceptional value considering that the average price of a 25 YO Scotch whisky is now approaching $1,000.


Several younger expressions also scored Double Gold Medals. These included: Craigellachie 13 YO Single Malt Scotch Whisky; Glenfairn Highland Single Malt Scotch Whisky; Glenfiddich 15 YO Solera, Single Malt Scotch Whisky; Loch Lomond Inchmurrin, 12 YO Single Malt Scotch Whisky and Glenmorangie The Accord, 12 YO Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

Inchmurrin single malt whisky is an interesting brand, coming off the Loch Lomond stills, produced using those unique pot stills and producing a whisky that is typically lightly floral and grassy. Inchmurrin’s intensely fruity new make spirit, which evolves into the said lighter flavours of grass and flowers, is the result of a high cut point from a pot still equipped with rectifying heads at the versatile distillery in Alexandria.

Previously a bit-part player in the blends-heavy Loch Lomond operation, Inchmurrin has acquired a more significant role under the new ownership of Colin Matthews and Exponent Private Equity and is part of the still-developing Loch Lomond Island Collection malts range.

The IWSC Judging Panel described the Inchmurrin 12 YO as featuring:

Matured impression on the nose with gentle smoke, vanilla sweetness, red currants, and new season strawberry aromas shining through, combined with spice, chilli, and smoke on the palate where the fruity body complements the overall complexity with a long finish.

Given an unknown provenance, the inclusion of the Glenfairn Highland single malt Scotch whisky is a surprise, considering that it is available only at Tesco. Owners Goldenacre Wines deal with customers through Meta; the bottler is Macgregor & Ross (McGR). The quoted price for a 70Cl 40% ABV bottle is under £20. Amazon describes it as rich and enticing with aromas of moist fruit cake, marmalade, marzipan and roasted coffee; the palate is bursting with flavours of walnuts, ripe bananas, bitter chocolate and maple syrup. Incidentally, the owners have a trio at a total under £60, with a Speyside and ‘Islay’ bottling as well.

Since the label and carton did not provide too much data, it is believed that the Highland expression could be from Ben Wyvis, Dalmore or Fettercairn, with the latter being most likely. The Speyside could be from the Whyte and Mackay Group’s Tamnavulin. The Islay source is probably a misnomer and likely comes from Whyte and Mackay’s Jura. I think it's best to stay away from this trio.


In addition to the two cask-finished peated whiskies, five other, non-peated, cask-finished Scotch whiskies won Gold Outstanding Medals: Glen Moray Elgin Edition 10 YO Cabernet Cask Finish Single Malt Scotch Whisky; Glenmorangie Palo Cortado 12 YO Single Malt Scotch Whisky; Glencadam Reserva Andalucia Oloroso Sherry Cask Finish Single Malt, The Balvenie 21 YO Portwood Single Malt Scotch Whisky and The Scotch Malt Whisky Society 55.74 Crazy Flamenco Bravura Single Malt Scotch Whisky. The last named is identified by its code numbers 55.74, where 55 stands for Royal Brackla and 74 for the 74th bottling by the Society from that distillery.

The IWSC Judging Panel described The Scotch Malt Whisky Society’s 55.74 as a good balance of rich dark fruits with cereal notes, esters, and wood extracts on the nose combining with spiciness, figs, and bourbon cask influences on the palate where the strength of the alcohol comes through. A balanced finish ending with oak.

In the Blended Whisky category, three whiskies scored Double Gold medals: Chivas Brothers took top honours for its Royal Salute 30 YO Key to the Kingdom Blended Scotch Whisky and Royal Salute 62 Gun Salute Blended Scotch Whisky. Also taking a Double Gold Medal was Sassenach Spirits, Blended Scotch Whisky.

The Lomond Sassenach Limited Edition Blended Scotch Whisky

Ancient peaks, hidden glens and rising morning mist, fresh water and firm oak run deep in its veins. The Sassenach is an award-winning blended Scotch whisky from the Lomond stable, with a distinct character and smooth flavour, suitable for any occasion. Inspired by the highland landscape, the exceptional blend has an underlying rich character that rises to the forefront. A gem of a 46% ABV blend, it costs around £75, nowhere near its co-winners that can punch a real hole in your wallet.   

Nose: The citrussy nose is packed with clementines, apricot cake, raisins, caramel, a hint of cinnamon, almonds, and vanilla. Upon tasting, the Sassenach carries on from where the nose left it.

Palate: The taste delivers flavours of peach, apricot, honey and butterscotch. It is velvety smooth but distinctive leading to an unmistakable finish.

Finish: Sweet, with added flavours of almond, cinnamon and nutmeg.

Royal Salute was among the very first premiumized blended Scotch whiskies. The IWSC judging panel described the Royal Salute, 30 YO as exhibiting nicely weighted and complex with flavours of bacon fat and barbecue sauce. Sweet spices shine through with hints of geranium leaf, candied ginger, polished oak, and figs. Well balanced, with a lovely traditional character.

The 62 Gun Salute was described as showing old leather and polished mahogany on the nose with an intense sweet and spicy palate. Flavours of sultanas, dried figs, and nutmeg shine through. The finish is bright with some sugar and pineapple syrup. Outstanding.

The 24 Single Malt and three Blended Scotch Whiskies represent the best of the hundreds of Scotch Whiskies judged by the IWSC in 2023. Price-wise, they range from relatively inexpensive, under $50/750 ml, to very expensive. The Glenturret Triple Wood, which the IWSC judged the Best Scotch Whisky in the 2023 competition, retails for around £45.

There are plenty of whiskies to explore here for any pocketbook. If you do nothing else, grab a bottle of the Glenturret. There’s not much of it around, and at £45/bottle, it’s a fantastic value for the world’s best Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

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Thursday 11 May 2023



For years the only controversy about water and whisky was over whether you should add a drop (or more) to your dram. Evangelists took up arms on either side of the great water debate and argued either that a splash of water releases the serpent, i.e. opens up the spirit or spoils the distiller’s art. Fortunately, those days are largely consigned to the past and you’ll find very few committed whisky drinkers, ambassadors or experts who will answer the question, "Should I add water?" with anything other than, "If you like."  Alex Mennie, Whisky Magazine

If the question of whether to add water to whisky has been resolved, the next question must be how much should one add? Again, for some time now this has been left to personal preference, but a recent study, led by Washington State University, has now concluded that there is a point at which individual preference may begin to adversely affect the enjoyment of the dram.

The study assessed the impact of differing ratios of whisky to water across a range of 25 samples, including bourbon, rye, Scotch and Irish whiskies, and concluded that while adding a little water had a noticeable effect on the smell of the whisky, at 80:20 whisky to water, the samples started to share the same aromas. By the time dilution reached 60:40, the trained sensory panellists were unable to distinguish them.

Tom Collins, a WSU assistant professor and senior author on the study, explains that these results are due to the way dilution affects what’s happening in the "headspace" in the glass. In short, more complex compounds, such as those associated with smoky aromas (particularly in peated whisky) or vanilla and oak (particularly in whisky matured in bourbon casks) disperse first, leaving fruitier aromas behind.

With science supporting the conventional view that some water will open up the spirit, but that ‘too much’ will drown it, the next variable to consider is the choice of water – a debate that opens up a whole world of complexity with argument and counter-argument, science and faux science, and a lot of use of the word ‘pure’.

With a wide variety of waters available – tap, spring, natural mineral, and a number of offerings ‘designed for whisky’ – consumers can be forgiven for deploying a level of cynicism to a product that is consumed by everyone, but truly understood by very few. Natural mineral water, for example, a term found on a range of bottles from Buxton to Evian and beyond, is a strictly regulated legal designation (not unlike single malt Scotch whisky) and refers to a product from a recognised source that can provide stable mineral composition, is microbiologically pure, and is bottled at the source – which is expected to be the most prominent feature on the label – as a badge of provenance. As a result, it is fundamentally very different to the liquid that flows from your tap and can range in mineral content from close to zero to more than 1,500mg of total dissolvable solids per litre depending on its source.

To avoid sounding like a boffin, or perhaps for their own commercial ends, those who focus on whisky have for years proposed that if you want to add water, you should use that which is as close as possible to the water that made the whisky. This is the basis of the preference for water from the same 'terroir' for Scotch and Irish whiskies and ‘branch water’ in the southern United States, understood to mean water from the same river or stream the distillery uses for production.


It’s also the belief underpinning the Uisge Source brand, which supplies water from three highly regarded springs close to some of Scotland’s most popular distilleries. With differences in soil and rock types across the country, founder Graeme Lindsay explains that his brand is inspired by the variations this creates in the water from the main whisky regions. Water from the Highland region is generally hard (high in minerals), water from Speyside is soft (low in minerals), and water from Islay has a higher natural acidity due to the impact of the local peat.

While Uisge Source recommends experimenting with different waters to accompany your dram, acknowledging that personal taste will play a big part in consumer preferences, Lindsay does believe that “waters with the same chemistry as the water used to make the whisky allow for greater appreciation of the dram”.


We will consider the effect of adding various types of water to two specific and widely separate brands of whisky, The Glenlivet 12 YO and The Ardbeg 10 YO.

The water: Uisge Source

  •       The Glenlivet 12 Years Old

Uisge Source Speyside brings out a dry, dusty wool blanket note that one doesn’t get from the same whisky undiluted, and maintains the classic pineapple flavours you expect from this dram.

Uisge Source Highland produces the wooden dustiness of an old wardrobe and a feinty sweaty note.

  •       Ardbeg 10 Years Old

Uisge Source Islay makes this much more aggressive on the palate, but also adds a pleasant pink peppercorn and sage element.

Uisge Source Highland finds sweeter peat smoke and some soft salted caramel.

For many, however, purchasing a tasting set of regional water may seem excessive, when a somewhat similar substance comes out of the tap in your home. Inspired by a belief that all water tastes basically the same, that their palates aren’t attuned to noticing the differences, and that when adding a couple of drops to a highly complex single malt the choice of water will have very little impact on the phenols, esters and aldehydes in your glass, some consumers opt for a simpler choice.

John McCheyne, Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) master ambassador, explains that the society carried out taste testing amongst its team and members, comparing commercially available whisky waters to “the wonderful water that flows into our Scottish venues through the tap”. The members decided that the latter was “good enough” primarily because it was what they would enjoy their whisky with at home.

While Scottish tap water is often compared favourably to that from other parts of the UK, the SMWS does admit to the use of the public water supply in its London tasting room, which is presumably similar to that which flows into homes in the capital.

The water: London Tap Water

  •         The Glenlivet 12 Years Old

Far more red fruit and light floral perfume.

  •         Ardbeg 10 Years Old

On the nose, the same sage note that was drawn out by the Uisge Source Islay, but dominated by a honey syrup sweetness. On the palate, white wine notes and enhanced smokiness.

Further north, however, where belief in the quality of the local water can take on an almost religious fervour, Bertie’s Bar at the Fife Arms in Braemar, Aberdeenshire has embraced the legend of nearby Ballater, which was ‘founded on its water’ after a local woman claimed bathing there cured her of scrofula in around 1760. As a result, the hotel bar decided it didn’t have to look too far from its doorstep to find the perfect accompaniment to its 365 whiskies, and it is Deeside mineral water that fills their jug.

Deeside Mineral Water flows from natural springs within the protected Cairngorms National Park, close to Balmoral Castle. Since 1760 visitors flocked to drink the “miracle waters” which flow under their own pressure from the historic Pannanich Wells and became famous for their curative qualities.

Modern research confirms it has a special combination of natural properties, which hydrate cells more effectively, supporting vitality and well-being at a deeper level.

Combined with its unusual purity and clear taste, this living water is a gift from nature which can be enjoyed as part of your healthy lifestyle or in a fine restaurant.

Only a fraction of what the springs provide each year is used, preserving the balance of nature in the local water cycle. As custodians of this unique, limited resource is to protect the springs for future generations, local authorities retain absolute control over its dispensation.

Whisky ambassador Katy Fennema explains that with a low pH and a low mineral content (just 63mg per litre) the local water “doesn’t pack a punch, but will open up just about any dram you add it to” and was "a natural choice" for the intimate and luxurious surroundings of Bertie’s Bar.

The natural properties of Deeside Mineral Water have been associated with good health as these qualities are created by the pure Scottish rainfall and local geology, with the water filtering gently underground for 50 years. The result is a special blend of characteristics not found in other waters, which have been shown to promote well-being when present in the correct proportions. This effect is very rare, but flows naturally from these springs – a source of living water.

The water: Deeside Natural Mineral Water

  •         The Glenlivet 12 Years Old

The nose was sweeter, with much more pineapple evident and some vanilla. On the palate, the sherry spice came through much more strongly.

  •         Ardbeg 10 Years Old

On the nose, it enhanced the coastal dampness, oiliness, and woodsmoke. The palate was much sweeter, very woody with less of the smoke, salinity, and spice on the tongue. Finishes with a soft kick of peat.

With interest in the provenance of ingredients not limited to those listed on the menu, Bertie's Bar whisky ambassador Katy Fennema admits that choosing the most local water was a win-win for the bar, and satisfies those consumers that ask, "What’s in the jug?". But she is also a firm believer in the special role that romance and narrative can play in any whisky-drinking experience, particularly for those who may have travelled a long way to drink whisky in a luxury Highland hotel and seek that additional connection to Scotland.

This romance is also accepted by certified water sommelier and CEO of Aqua Amore Michael Tanousis, but only insofar as it comes down to enhancing the relaxing or pleasant enjoyment of a dram. When it comes to the science, Tanousis is far more forthright and advises that it is crucial first of all that consumers understand the difference between natural mineral water (a highly regulated product), spring water, and table water, before seeking out a liquid that will either allow the core characteristics of the whisky to sing, or enhance a particular flavour note that you enjoy.

He gives examples from his own experiments, referring to a comparison of the effect that two different medium (around 600mg per litre of total soluble solids) mineral waters had on a sample of Laphroaig. While one “failed to retain the character that is key to a medicinal whisky” another “amplified the salty, briny, mineral quality” while with Lagavulin, a good pairing “enhanced the smoky bacon flavours and viscosity” while a bad pairing, this time London tap water, “introduced chemical and plastic flavours”.

Evian is a uniquely sourced spring water that’s always refreshing and naturally hydrating, with nothing added for taste or enhanced with extras - so you can reach your natural peak. Evian gets its unique cool, crisp taste from its years-long journey through the French Alps. It starts as snow and rain and travels slowly through layers of glacial rocks where it becomes naturally filtered and enhanced with electrolytes and minerals. Nature gives it everything it needs, but it affects whisky in strangely different ways.

It turned out to an unsatisfactory performer, but Tanousis believes that it is not as simple as avoiding minerals in the water you add to your whisky. It is possible, he says, to find a high-mineral content water that may enhance the natural characteristics of the whisky. This could be a water that makes the dram more enjoyable, opens it up in a harmonised way, or takes it in a new direction.

The water: Evian

  •       The Glenlivet 12 Years Old

The nose has bags more orchard fruit and plenty of depth. On the palate there’s a little spice and a little bite, overall this accentuates the sweeter caramel and vanilla notes to the detriment of the dram overall.

  •         Ardbeg 10 Years Old

The water flattens the nose overall but brings out more vegetal / geranium leaf. The palate is more astringent, with more alcohol burn, a greater salinity and a hint of petrol.

Larkfire Wild water is sourced from the Isle of Lewis in Scotland; its very low mineral content and purity help you to get more from your dram, free from the influence of additives found in tap water and mineral-heavy bottled water. Too often though, harder mineral or tap waters are added which can easily spoil this subtle and complex drink. As whisky drinkers, they wanted to find the purest, softest water untainted by minerals and this led them to the remote Isle of Lewis. Hard to get to, but worth the effort.

According to Larkfire, die-hard whisky fans know that tap water and bottled water interfere with the delicate flavours of whisky, due to the mineral content and added chlorine or fluoride. But Larkfire is a pure, naturally soft ‘wild’ water from Scotland that creates a natural chemistry, offering the very best for those enjoying a dram at home.

The water: Larkfire

  •       The Glenlivet 12 Years Old

A little woody and a little biscuity, but the vanilla notes, fruit, and spice seem diminished here.

  •         Ardbeg 10 Years Old

Enhances the oily fish and creosote notes on the nose, and while some remain on the palate, the peat smoke is much diluted and the flavours feel a little subdued overall.

As with much in the world of whisky, true pleasure will lie in the palate of the beholder and experimentation will be key. While there is plenty to be said of the romanticism of a particular water with a particular whisky in a particular time and place, it can’t be the case that the aqua is just there to play a neutral supporting role to every dram. The best water for each individual whisky must be out there somewhere, just waiting to be tapped.

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