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Chilling out

Warren and gold ‘snipers’ Emiel Djikman (left) and Leon Kirk had plenty of water available if they needed to add a splash to their drams

into a cask inside the distillery itself. I’m here with a crack international

team of pioneering gold panners who are pushing the boundaries of panning. Where they’re really forging ahead is with gold ‘sniping’ – immersing themselves in freezing rivers and clearing gravel from the rocks beneath in search of tiny amounts of gold caught in the grooves, which they then pluck from the rock with specially designed tools. None of this is as far-fetched as it sounds

because Scotland is home to some of the UK’s most fertile gold- panning territory. Scotland’s first goldmine has just been granted permission to mine an estimated £184m-worth of gold from the hills around Tyndrum, just 40 miles from Glenturret in the heart of whisky country. With such significant gold reserves deep in the rock, it stands to reason gold could also be found in smaller amounts in the neighbouring rivers. When I later put it to Glenturret distillery manager Stephen Stewart


(pictured below), a man who is much more familiar with the Turret, that there may be gold stashed inside its banks, he raises a surprised eyebrow. “I’m amazed,” he says, “I’ve never once heard of anyone panning for gold around here.” Stephen knows this river better than

most, as it’s integral to the distillery and the key reason in Glenturret being located where it is. As a recent British Geological Survey (BGS) report on the crucial relationship between water and whisky puts it, “the presence of water has always controlled the siting of distilleries”. Not only is water supply

key to distillery location, the water itself can also affect the whisky it becomes a part of. According to the BGS, rainwater falling on bare mountains made of crystalline rocks

“will have little chance to interact with the underlying

rocks and often has a low mineral

content”. It will also be remarkably soft. This is the exact situation much of the water in Scotland, particularly in

whisky-producing regions, finds itself in. So it’s no coincidence that the BGS report quotes the saying, “soft water, through peat, over granite” as the ideal combination for whisky mashing water. Although soft water is prized for

distilling, Glenmorangie is unusual among distilleries in using hard water from the Tarlogie Springs, which the distillery claims is a key component to its whisky’s character. Back at Glenturret, Stewart simply says,

“water is whisky”, and agrees the rock type a water has filtered through may have a subtle influence on a whisky’s flavour. Subtle is the key word as distilling,

wood and barley clearly play a much stronger part. But as the BGS report explains, it’s no coincidence that the Bowmore distillery on Islay draws its water from a source which passes through a mix of all the rock types water filters through on the island, and its whisky is perhaps the most balanced of the feisty Islay drams into the bargain. Back in the River Turret, the gold panners are less worried about the water’s mineral content or the whisky flavours it may one day produce, and are far more concerned about just how

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