The Whisky Tasting Club The Whisky Tasting Club

JUST ADD WATER?

I want you to enjoy your whisky, but personally if something is bottled at cask strength I want to at least try it at full strength initially. When I add water I do so a few drops at a time, sampling the whisky again between additions until the point where it blossoms in the glass. It is easy to go beyond this point, so proceed with caution, as the flavour of some whiskies becomes diluted by the addition of even a little water. I find this happens with one of my favourites, Ardbeg Renaissance, the subtle balance of which I prefer to enjoy at full strength (56%). This whisky is getting hard to find so if you spot a bottle, buy it! The same happens with some really old whiskies, the fragile structural integrity being at first flooded and very quickly drowned by the addition of water. However, if you find a whisky is too strong, too overpowering or smells only of alcohol, try adding a bit of water and see what happens. Each whisky reacts differently and some will open up beautifully as the water unlocks a range of flavours that were previously inaccessible. When you find one that is transformed in this way you are experiencing whisky alchemy.

Of course science seeks to demystify this process by finding an explanation for what is going on in your glass, but a little chemistry doesn't have to spoil our enjoyment (bear with me on this one). "Adding water to whisky increases the volatility of alcohol-soluble compounds such as the fruity esters, increasing the fruity aspects of the whisky's flavour." So adding a little water to a strong Speyside malt could well enhance your enjoyment. However, in contrast "smoky phenolics are water-soluble so their volatility is reduced with water addition which reduces the smoky aspect of the whisky's flavour." Perhaps this is why I favour a conservative approach to adding water, because its chemical action is likely to reduce the peaty, smoky flavours that I like. Once again, like in so many whisky tasting matters, it comes down to personal preference. Luckily for us experimenting with whisky is a whole lot more fun than a science lesson.

However, don't let me catch you adding ice to your whisky unless you are drinking a whisky cocktail!

The addition of ice reduces the temperature of the whisky, reducing the volatility of all the compounds, leading to a reduced aroma and a diminished taste.
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