Making a splash

Prefer your whisky diluted rather than neat? Henry Jeffreys reports from the Boisdale versus Larkfire Wild Water challenge

May 4 2020


Do true Scots put water in their whisky? It’s one of the great imponderables, and you get a different reply from whoever you ask. It’s a bit like the Irish question from 1066 and All That – every time the English came close to answering it, the Irish changed the question.

But if you do add water, which should you use? My grandmother would splash Schweppes soda water into her Famous Grouse, but for single malts you should probably use something a bit more subtle. Tap water, depending on where you live, often has a chlorine tang, but some bottled waters are no better, with a pronounced taste from the minerals that they pick up from rock. One brand, however, claims to be the answer: Larkfire Wild Water, from the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. The local rock is called Lewisian Gneiss, which sounds like a strange animal from Alice in Wonderland but is actually an incredibly hard and insoluble substance, so that the water trickling through it doesn’t pick up any minerals. Hard rock, soft water; very easy to remember.

So confident is the Larkfire team, it held a taste test at Boisdale of Belgravia, pitting Lewis’s purest against the Borough of Westminster’s finest tap water. The Big Country versus the Big Smoke! A team of tasters was assembled, including broadcaster Nick Ferrari and the cream of the British drinks writing community: Joe Fattorini from ITV’s The Wine Show, Tom Harrow of the Financial Times, Bill Knott from The Oldie, and, representing The Spectator and Boisdale Life, Bruce Anderson. If a bomb had fallen on Belgravia that day, there would be a bottle-sized hole in newspapers and magazines up and down the land. Nobody would know what to drink, leading to panic in the wine aisles of Waitrose.

Crack team assembled, we sat down in front of eight glasses – two each of four whiskies provided by Moët Hennessy UK. There were two peaty offerings from Ardbeg – the classic bourbon cask-aged 10-Year-Old and the fearsome 57% ABV Corryvreckan – and at the other end of the scale, two from Glenmorangie – the fruity Original 10-YearOld and the richer sherry cask, Lasanta. There were two glass water jugs on the table, one containing Larkfire Wild Water and the other containing bog-standard tap water. But which was which?

The serious business of the tasting began. We put a little of each water into the appropriate glass and our highly-trained noses went in. There was much sniffing and swirling, slurping and discussing. At first, it was difficult to tell the difference, but gradually, to me at least, the whiskies seemed slightly more expressive with one of the waters – the one labelled with a blue dot. I plumped for blue, and downed my glass while enjoying Bruce Anderson’s contribution to the great transgender debate. With either water, the whiskies tasted superb, especially the Glenmorangie 10-Year-Old – an often overlooked dram because of its ubiquity.

Then the glasses were cleared away and we settled in for a classic Boisdale meal of smoked salmon, haggis and neeps, and venison – all washed down with a very nice lunchtime claret, Château des Antonins 2016. Then it was time for the big reveal: There were 14 votes for Larkfire Wild Water; 7 votes for Belgravia tap. Larkfire was the clear winner. And how did I do? Not very well, I hate to say. I preferred the tap water, which must mean my palate’s become a true Londoner.