Does Whisky Taste Better with Water? Science May Have an Answer

A glass of whisky with ice

We all have an opinion on what constitutes the finest way to take your whisky; be it straight, on the rocks or with a splash of something sparkling. While whisky enthusiasts have long debated how the beverage is best enjoyed, science may finally provide us with an answer. New research into diluting the drink suggests that mixing your whisky with water may be the way to go.

You may worry that adding water will dilute the flavour, but two chemists at Linnæus University in Sweden now maintain that adding water will intensify both the flavour and aroma of the whisky, regardless of its alcohol concentration.

However, the reasoning for mixing with water differs dependent on this concentration level. The alcohol molecules in whiskies that have lower concentrations bind with guaiacol, which are the molecules that give single malts that iconic smoky taste. When water is added, the molecules repel, with the flavourful ones rising to the top and releasing those smoky tones.

With higher alcohol concentrations, the alcohol molecules take up more space, trapping the flavour deeper in the glass, where it can mute your full sensory enjoyment of the drink. Again, this is where water comes in and does its magic; enhancing the concentration of flavour compounds at the surface of the drink.

For those of you who cannot stand the thought of mixing; do not despair! Research still has a way to go before we reach a definitive answer, and the simulation used in this study only used a square container for mixing, which raises questions as to whether the guaiacol molecule would display the same behaviour in a glass or decanter of a different shape.

The perfect balance of whisky and water, which ensures dilution to taste instead of waste, is all dependent on the alcohol concentration and taste characteristics. However, the research, from Karlsson and Friedman reveals that diluting the whisky with water from the 45% mark, like most bottled whiskies, down to 27% increased the flavour molecules at the surface by over a third.

Previous research has also highlighted how different types of water can provide very different sensory experiences on our tongues. Mineral water brings new and more intense textures with a floral undertone, whereas soft water can bring out sweeter honey and fruit flavours, which help to develop a smoother taste.

Speaking about the research findings, David Williamson, of the Scotch Whisky Association, pointed out that adding water will also reduce the overpowering taste of alcohol that can sometimes conceal the complexities of whiskies signature flavours.

When it comes to whisky, how you choose to drink it can be a particularly personal choice, but there can surely be no better way to enjoy a fine whisky than to couple it with a fine cigar, like the Davidoff Cigar, which lends itself perfectly to the beverage. Of course, whisky is still all up to personal taste, regardless of the science, but will these new findings change the way you drink whisky? Let us know your thoughts on social media.

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