Pretentious whiskey aficionados will tell you that whiskey is ruined by adding water at some point. However, I noticed that even distilleries provide water at tastings. I was extremely curious about the actual effect off mixing whiskey with water. Is it something that you should do?
Yes, when tasting a whiskey you should at some point add some water. The water will open up different aromas of the whiskey, making some notes and flavors more accessible. Adding just a couple of drops of water to a glass to dilute it is ideal.
Drinking whiskey can be a fascinating experience. There are many different ways to drink different kinds of whiskey. It is important for you to know why you would add water and what the effects are. Also, what kind of water should you add? These topics are all covered here!
Why add water to your whiskey?
Many people have experienced the effect of adding just a bit of water to their whiskey. It can “open up” the whiskey in ways that I can not describe to you when you have never tried it. When first starting to drink, taste and try out different whiskeys it can be challenging to identify different notes and aromas in a whiskey.
Believe me, it is hard to identify things like vanilla, butterscotch, lime, fresh fruit or whatever other names people give to the subtle differences in aroma.
For many whiskeys, adding water to it can open up the whiskey and make different aromas more accessible to the nose and palette. While the water can decrease the amount of alcohol in the whiskey, this is not the only thing that happens.
Therefore, I encourage you to try adding some water to a whiskey that you are familiar with to see if you can spot the change. Many professional whiskey tasters will add water to a whiskey at some point.
Preferred whiskey and water ratio
How much water you should add to your whiskey depends on your preference as well as the strength of the whiskey. If you are drinking cask-strength whiskey you should add more water when you want to dilute it down to your preferred proof, compared to adding water to a “regular” 80 proof whiskey.
The best way to find out how much water your want to add is by trial and error. When I was travelling in Scotland I attended a couple of whiskey tastings and I have visited many distilleries. When we were tasting whiskey, they almost always provided a small jar of water to add to our whiskey. They recommended to first taste the whiskey neat and after that decide whether you want to add water.
If it is the first time you are tasting a whiskey, it is always a great idea to try the whiskey without and with water to see how you like it best.
Without diving into the science and throwing some chemical names at you that both you and I probably do not understand, you should know that some Swedish scientists proved that adding water to whiskey opens up new flavors. They simulated the interaction between ethanol (the alcohol), water and the chemical that gives the peat smoke smell. Alright! The chemical is called guaiacol?but to who does that matter.
They proved that the smell is more prominent when the whiskey is diluted to under 45% Alcohol By Volume (ABV), but diluting a whiskey of 40% ABV would still contribute to the effect.
Adding water to single malt Scotch
When it comes to adding water to whiskey, there is not difference between a bourbon whiskey, a Scotch whisky or any other whiskey out there. Therefore, adding water to a single malt Scotch is perfectly acceptable. Whenever you are drinking whisk(e)y with friends chances are that you might have to defend your choice for adding water to your drink.
There are people who will tell you that you are ruining the taste of the drink. Well, unless they are drinking cask-strength whiskey, there is already water added to the (already water containing) whiskey. Next to that, they are probably missing out on some new notes and flavors that are revealed by adding water.
Adding water to whiskey is not only for people that find the ethanol fumes too prominent. Although it can help taking the sharp edges of the smell and feel of the whiskey.
If you are drinking extremely expensive or old Scotch, I would feel a little more hesitant to add water to my drink. After trying it without water I would form my opinion on adding water to this particular whiskey. What I would never do is adding ice to a more expensive whiskey, as ice does mute a part of the flavor of the whiskey.
But that is my opinion, drinking whiskey is all about finding the way you enjoy your drink most. You are free to do whatever you like.
Now that you are reading this article and came this far, listen to this. I have been thinking about writing “Best Islay whisky” or “the top 15 best whiskeys” but there is just no way of accurately ranking these as my taste will differ from yours. I will have to think a bit more about this before I start writing it. But this was just a short, irrelevant intermezzo.
Best water to add to your whiskey
The ideal water to add to your whiskey is flavorless, odorless water. Preferably you want to add the water that you usually drink, because you are accustomed to the taste. This can be tap water, bottled water or spring water. The only thing that you want to be careful with is adding water that has a strong mineral taste. If the water already has a taste it will affect the flavor of the whiskey you add it to.
The temperature of the water should be room temperature. Some people recommend adding water that is as cold as you can get it. When you add water that is as close to freezing as possible, it will have somewhat the same effect as adding ice. If the whiskey is cold, it will mute all the delicate flavors a whiskey have. Therefore, I would recommend against adding cold water and instead add room temperature water.
If you have ever been to Scotland, you will have noticed that they sell “Scottisch spring water” that came straight from the water that they used for making whiskey. While I can understand it would be best to add the same water of which the whiskey is made, I thought it was a bit of a marketing scam to sell overpriced water.
There is some truth to adding this water, as the water that is used by the distillery to create the whiskey plays an important role in the taste of the whiskey. Many distilleries use local water, which cause whiskey that is brewed close to the sea to have salty, maritime notes.
Is drinking whiskey with water good for your health?
When you drink responsible, drinking whiskey with water is not bad for your health. However, this has nothing to do with the fact that you have added water. It is not some magic trick to improve your health.