Now miniature bottles of water from three springs in the Highlands, Islay and Speyside – matched to local whiskies – are taking the industry by storm abroad. Retailing at £4 for 100ml, the bespoke bottles are more expensive than many miniatures or poured measures.
Uisge Source – uisge being the Gaelic word for water – said it had experienced a spike in demand from resorts, including the Galaxy Macau, China’s answer to Las Vegas, and Trump International Golf Club. It said the Chinese, in particular, appreciated the ritual and “ceremony” of preparing the drink.
Scientists and experts say matching water to the whisky is logical, as it has similar properties and ensures no additional chemicals are introduced.
The rock the water is filtered through gives it different qualities. For example, at St Colman’s Well in the Highlands, water is filtered through red sandstone and limestone rock strata, making it hard and rich in minerals and an ideal partner for Highland single malt.
Uisge Source managing director Graeme Lindsay said the Asian market had been the biggest surprise customer, with the Galaxy Macau requesting up to 50,000 bottles this year.
He told The Scotsman: “They approached us after hearing about the product. Macau was not a priority market for us and I was rather taken aback but delighted. I came to realise that in Asia whisky drinkers tend to be more curious and inquisitive.
“They appreciate the ritual and take their time taken in carrying out the ‘ceremony’ preparing their single malt.”
Hong Kong-based Graeme Deuchars, who imports Uisge Source waters into Asia, said whisky appealed to a range of customers but particularly to successful young professionals who wanted to appear informed and knowledgeable.
He said: “Whisky is generally perceived to be a sophisticated drink that reflects success.
“Asia is an enormous market with huge cultural and market differences from country to country.
“In Hong Kong and Macau, it is certainly being pitched at younger professional people as a fun drink and bars are offering many whisky-based cocktails.
“There is a growing culture of appreciation of single malt whisky, with an increasing number of specialist whisky bars opening up. After dinner, groups of friends may well sit around the table in a bar, club or karaoke lounge and share a bottle of whisky until it’s finished.”
Whisky expert Charles MacLean, who appeared in the film The Angels’ Share, said matching water altered the “mouth-feel” of the whisky.
He said: “I was extremely sceptical of these waters at first, very wary. But I had an epiphany at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh. I put the ‘wrong’ water into a glass of Speyside single malt Glenfarclas and realised it just didn’t taste right.
“When I put the Speyside spring water in to complement the Glenfarclas, it utterly transformed the texture and the mouth-feel, and from that moment I was utterly converted.”