Two waters, three uses

IN

There are two vital sources of water that feed The Botanist Gin production – one for the distillation and one for bottling. However, it is less straightforward than simply one type of water for one use…

The first water source is used only as cooling water and comes from the burn that runs beside the distillery. This water would be considered ‘peaty’; it’s brown in colour having run down the hills through soils and peatland. It is not coming into contact with the spirit at all. It is only the cooling properties of this water we require. It runs through the shell and tube condenser on the gin still ‘Ugly Betty’.

Like in our whisky stills, cold water runs through the copper tubes inside the main shell and cools the vapours to form liquid.

Requirements for one distillation can be 160,000 litres of cold water but this is variable as the burn’s water temperature fluctuates throughout the year, sometimes we need more, sometimes less and we can regulate this volume as needed. Once it’s done the job of cooling, any residual heat the water holds is converted into heat energy for the distillery offices, visitor centre and bottling hall.

But where does this cold water originate? The burn’s flow can be increased by releasing water from An Torran dam which lies uphill 1.2km behind the distillery. After a big rain, the burn runs fast and water is plentiful, it’s simply piped from a small holding dam about 50 metres from the stillhouse. But in drier times, the flow is supplemented by the controlled release of the water held up the hill in An Torran. The whole pipeline is gravity fed and allows the constant supply of cold water… As long as we’ve had the rain to fill the dam.

Mary McGregor who works in our distillery visitor centre and whose great grandfather helped to build the dam in 1880, prior to the opening of the distillery in 1881, remembers as a child that there was a jetty and boats up there. “Folk would come up of an evening and do some fishing. Every summer the distillery men used to go up and dig and tidy it up when it went dry”.

An Torran’s water is considered ‘peaty’ but all we require are its cooling properties.

The second source of water is Islay spring water.

Sitting on the edge of Octomore farmland, our spring is protected by the small green shed nestled in the glen and is know affectionally as ‘the well of the true water’ or ‘Tobar an Uisge Fhìor’ in Islay Gaelic.

Although the spring is situated right by a small river, Abhainn Gearach, which again is a ‘peaty’ burn, it has no influence on the spring. The spring water percolates from deep underground through Gneiss rock (pronounced ‘nice’) 5-6km thick. The surrounding geology in the Rhinns of Islay is estimated to be 1.8 billion years old. Gneiss is metamorphic rock, changed over millennia by heat and pressure. In Islay there are two types all folded and sheared into each other, seemingly evidence of an ancient volcanic faultline which connects Islay to parts of North America, Greenland and The Baltic. [Masses more detail about the rocks here >]

The water itself has an undetermined length of time underground but is filtered up through this rock, producing beautiful crystal clear water. It has high levels of natural minerals and so it’s not surprising that this spring was once the source of Port Charlotte village – where residents were purported to live to a grand age in good health.

The spring water is used in two stages.

Firstly it is used within Ugly Betty combined with our grain spirit and our core botanicals – Islay spring water brought directly to the distillery from the spring by Farmer James Brown of Octomore.

Secondly, water from the well is used to reduce the strength of our spirit for bottling. This is done in our own bottling hall at the distillery.

Kevin Wiggins, a Rhinns resident himself and the man in charge of the water operations, says –  “Always James’ water, has to be James’ water, wouldn’t be the same without it.”*

*This information was given within earshot of Farmer Brown at a local sheep sale.

Whatever Kevin’s biases may be, it is absolutely true that everywhere the gin goes, it’s taking that little bit extra of Islay with it, because of the spring water it is made with.

>> Here you can listen to James tell you the shortened version of the story of the well himself

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