Quality water, quality bourbon

The tulip-shaped glass has become the barware of choice for many bourbon connoisseurs. The mouth of this type of glass funnels the aroma and harmonizes it with the taste.

Some bourbon aficionados drink out of a tulip glass to help them compile elaborate tasting notes—maybe something like this: “A soft caramel aroma combines with a faint sweet corn taste; hints of vanilla and oak linger in the depths.”

But even though these notes are often highly detailed, they almost never mention one of the most important ingredients: the water with which the bourbon is made. And the quality of the water definitely makes a difference.

“Water is the only thing that can be added to bourbon before it is bottled,” notes Brittany Allison, Executive Bourbon Steward and Economic Development Manager for Louisville Forward. “No additional flavoring or colors can be added to Kentucky straight bourbon,” she says. “The flavor, aroma and color we enjoy comes from the barrel-aging process, and water is added to reach the desired proof. Consequently, the quality and flavor of the water is critical.”

According to Mark Campbell, a scientist in Louisville Water Company’s Water Quality Treatment & Research Department, “Out of all of the types of beverages produced, brewers and bourbon distillers will be the ones to tell you that water is one of the most important components of their products. They know that it is essential to understand the source and quality of the production water, as it plays an important role in determining the quality of the final product.”

“In bourbon distilleries,” Campbell adds, “an ideal source water can provide the basic characteristics required to produce a great beverage. Alternatively, poor quality source water can pass on potentially undesirable flavor compounds to the final product as well as negatively affect the fermentation process.”

Fortunately for fans of bourbon produced in the Louisville area, Louisville Water takes as much care crafting their product as the distillers do. The water company’s scientists conduct about 200 daily tests to ensure quality.

Relationships between Louisville Water and local distillers date back more than a century and half. Louisville Water began operations in 1860, and company documents note a distillery was first listed with a service connection in 1869. By 1906 there were 24 distilleries with a water service connection.

Today, more than a dozen bourbon makers throughout the Louisville area still depend on Louisville Water’s award-winning product to make their own award-winning beverages. 

All of the distillers depend on the quality of the water as well as the value Louisville Water provides to carefully craft bourbons that taste great no matter what type of glass you use to drink them.