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How Much Water To Add To Your Whisky? Science Now Has The Answer

whisky glasses ice and water - desktop

First of all, if you’re the person who adds Coca-Cola or other aerated drinks to your whisky and people give you a tough time for it, just ignore it. Drinking is supposed to be a personal experience and nobody should tell you how to enjoy it or what to add to your drink, which is ironic because we’re going to do just that. But this is not from a place of superiority, it’s from a place of curiosity and scientific discovery. 

Adding water to whisky has been around for a very long time, centuries even. And there’s no historical record that points towards who, where, and how, probably because someone was too afraid to take the blame, but we see this as credit. If you add a few drops of water to Scotch, the act is coronated in Gaelic as “the water of life” and is a practice that is deeply ingrained in Scottish whisky culture. Adding water also releases the aroma, enhances the flavours, and makes the overall experience delicious. 

If you’re still not convinced, here’s why it should be added. Primarily, it significantly reduces the alcohol burn. If you’re a new whisky enthusiast, this really helps in ensuring a sustained interest as the first sip won’t burn your palate and you’ll actually be able to taste the whisky. Funnily enough, dilution actually causes to enhance the flavours. It also releases the more volatile compounds in the whisky and makes for a better-tasting experience. 

whisky water ice glasses

But if you’re a stickler and need the science to back this, researchers at Washington State University have discovered that if you have 60 ml of whisky, you should add no more than 20 per cent of water, which would be about 12 ml. Adding more than this homogenises the whisky and makes it taste the same. Now, this is problematic because whisky has an influx of flavours and is such a complex spirit that it’d be a crying shame if you could not taste all the flavours that went into making it. 

But, all jokes aside, these researchers tested the volatile compounds (organic and diverse chemical compounds like esters, phenol, ketones, etc, that make the aromas and flavours of whisky) of 25 different kinds of whiskies. Later, they got experts on board to see how much water added tastes good. 

According to the study, some compounds in the whisky are attracted to the water and some are repelled by it, which completely changes the flavour profile. Apparently, peated whiskies became more fruity; bourbon, which has such a distinctive vanilla and oaky flavour, became more grainy. When they went to the classic 60:40 ratio, they found that sensory experts were having a tough time telling one whisky apart from another. Now, if you love your whiskies or a connoisseur, you know how big of a red flag that is. Each whisky is delicately and carefully distilled with traditional and tested processes that make it so distinctive and regionally unique. So, for them to begin to taste the same is a big no-no.

whisky glasses pouring  

So, this study is just the stamp that most scotch distillers have been waiting for to officiate what they’ve been saying all along. Furthermore, the hope is that this research will support and encourage people to add a single big ice cube to their glass of whisky instead of multiple tiny cubes as the dilution process is severely slowed, and you’ll be able to finish your drink before it reaches the 20 per cent threshold and then you can chew the wonderfully flavoured ice as a final treat.

Finally, it’s still entirely up to you how you like enjoying your whisky. Drown it in cola if that floats your boat, but if you’re the sort that strictly follows recipes, this is the one to follow! 

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