Water is one of the core whisky ingredients alongside grain, yeast, and father time. The word whisky actually derives from the term ‘water of life’.

But there’s not one huge reservoir of whisky-appropriate H20 that every distillery draws from. As you probably know already, whisky distilleries collect their water from a variety of natural sources.

That’s true in Scotland as it is everywhere else and the type of water sources vary, which also means the characteristics of the water do too. Which, in turn, affects the whisky being made. To what extent it does is a matter of some debate, with some claiming that the quality and mineral content of this water contributes significantly to the flavour profile of the whisky produced.

Regardless, this blog is all about revealing the primary types of water sources used by Scotch whisky distilleries. So here goes.

The Nightcap

Water is a key ingredient and… wait. Is that a squirrel in a top hat eating a cucumber? Dammit, Hendrick’s!

What are the water sources of Scotland whisky’s distilleries?


Natural springs are a common water source for many distilleries. The water from springs is typically very pure, having been naturally filtered through layers of rock and soil. Examples include the Glenlivet Distillery, which uses water from Josie’s Well.

Rivers and streams

Many distilleries are located near rivers and streams, which provide a reliable source of fresh water. For instance, the River Spey supplies water to numerous distilleries in the Speyside region. The Speyside Distillery, for example, draws its water from the Spey River tributary The River Tromie. 


Lochs, or lakes, are another important water source. Lochs often provide a steady supply of soft water, which is ideal for whisky production. Loch Katrine is a notable source for Glengoyne Distillery.


Burns are small streams, often found in the highlands. Distilleries like Aberlour use water from local burns, such as the Ben Rinnes Burn.


Some distilleries drill boreholes to access underground aquifers. This method ensures a consistent and controlled supply of water. The Highland Park Distillery on Orkney uses boreholes to tap into underground water reserves.


Constructed reservoirs can also be a source, particularly for distilleries that require a large and consistent supply of water. For example, Glenmorangie uses water from the Tarlogie Springs, which are maintained through a reservoir system.

water in spirits-making

Glenfiddich Distillery sources its water solely from the Robbie Dhu Spring.

What is the difference between hard water and soft water in whisky production?

As you can see, distilleries typically use water from local sources, which can be naturally hard or soft. The local geology (e.g., limestone or granite) plays a significant role in determining water hardness. We split those into two categories: hard water and soft water, which we’ll quickly summarise here.

Hard water is typically rich in minerals, contributes to a robust flavour, and has historical significance in traditional whisky regions.

Soft water is lower in minerals, results in a cleaner flavour, and is preferred by some modern distilleries for consistent fermentation and neutral base spirit production.

Some distilleries may treat their water to adjust its hardness to suit their production needs. This can involve processes like demineralization or the addition of specific minerals.