Wealth Blog

The great whisky and water test

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 September, 2013, 6:54pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 September, 2013, 2:54pm

You may recall a few of us discovered The Macallan Bar in Macau a few weeks ago, buried deep in the Galaxy complex on Taipa.

Against the improbable backdrop of blazing log fire when it was about 34 degrees centigrade outside, (OK, fired by gas, but a blazing hearth nevertheless), we were offered something new: extremely expensive water from the same Scottish region as the spirits.

I promised a proper blind tasting of this water, which was selling for an astronomical HK$128 per 110ml bottle in the Galaxy. With a free one thrown in, apparently, but even so, astronomical. But I thought we should see how it stacked up against Watson’s and more reasonably priced bottled water such as Highland Spring. Would we be able to taste the difference in our whisky?

The expensive Scottish stuff comes in three choices: Uisge Source - Highland, Speyside and Islay – all priced at something north of HK$128 per 100ml bottle in Galaxy, which made the water more expensive than many of the whiskies it was supposed to complement. The posh water even comes with pipette, so you can drop it into your glass.

Ordinary bottled water like Highland Spring costs about HK$20 for a litre in Hong Kong, so up against this the Uisage Source seemed ludicrously expensive. 

Having established that Uisge Source was imported by a company called Pure-Water and that a chap called Chris Lillingston-Price was a director, I realised I already knew him as a motor racing enthusiast, and had no idea he was into water. He rashly agreed to a blind tasting of the stuff at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, paired with appropriate spirits.

Serious blind tasting 

Three serious single malt drinkers: Robin Lynam, Alastair Monteith-Hodge and Steven Irvine, pitted their palates against bottles of Laphroaig, Glenmorangie and The Glenlivet, diluted by several different waters, to assess what went best with what.

The methodology involved nosing and tasting each of those waters, plus Watson’s Distilled and Hong Kong Tap, then the whiskies undiluted, and finally, blind, the whiskies in various combinations with the waters – a good slug of both. Pipettes were not used.

The whisky and water combinations were marked out of five, and the total number of points scored by each added up to determine a winner.

Club etiquette precludes spitting out drinks, so the findings, particularly in the latter part of the session, may not be 100% reliable, admits Robin Lynam in the FCC’s Correspondent magazine. “Taste is, in any case, subjective, but the results were interesting,” he concludes.

Lynam, a renowned expert in this field, says that water is usually added to whisky for two reasons – to reduce the alcoholic strength and to release the aromas. “All of the waters did both jobs quite respectably – we decided in the end not to bother with Hong Kong Tap because it was almost undistinguishable from Watson’s Distilled - but the aromas from each combination were markedly different,” he noted. 

It would be nice to report that we unanimously chose the whisky and water from the same region as the optimal match, but that wasn’t quite the case, he adds.

For Glenmorangie, a Highland whisky, the highest scoring water was Uisge Source from Islay. For Glenlivet from Speyside, it was a tie between the Speyside and the Highland Uisge Source, and for the Laphroaig, from Islay, Watson’s Distilled won by the narrowest of margins over the local Uisge Source.

“A revelation for me was that I consistently scored Watson’s Distilled high, possibly because it seemed to alter the character of the spirits least. Apparently I should have been buying that instead of Highland Spring,” says Lynam. 

According to Graeme Deuchars of Uisage Source, Pure-Water’s recommendation to bar managers is that they should cost about the same as a single measure of the bar’s cheapest single malt, and one bottle will serve to dilute two or three drinks.

Since I am no expert, I stayed out of the official scoring. But I did try whisky with the different waters and for me, Watson’ Distilled won every time. The experts say that’s possibly because it’s what I’m used to. I don’t know, but I’m quite happy to continue drowning my drinks in Hong Kong’s finest green top.