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How to add water to whiskey

I used to get in debates almost every time I drank whiskey on whether or not it was appropriate to add water to the stuff. A few aficionado friends would always argue that the only way to drink whiskey was straight up, and I was ruining it with a few drops of H2O. I’d argue most whiskeys were a bit better with a few cubes of ice or a tiny bit of water. The fact of the matter is you should enjoy it however you prefer it, but now there’s actual science to back up my water claims.

To be fair, I’m far from the first person who has claimed water improves the taste of whiskey. While once taboo, connoisseurs have been embracing the fact that water can release some of a whiskey’s aromatics and enhance its flavor for a while. When I was traveling in Scotland earlier this year, distilleries actually provided tiny water pitchers with every tasting and encouraged drinking some bottles a little diluted. We all know some whiskey can taste a bit better that way; however, a group of Swedish scientists actually set out to discover why.

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According to their research, the ethanol and guaiacol molecules in whiskey stick together, and they don’t really mix uniformly with water. Guaiacol is the stuff that gives something like scotch whisky a smoky smell and taste.

Researchers found that when water is added to a whiskey, the guaiacol molecules make their way to the top of the glass rather than remaining evenly distributed throughout. That means you’re getting more of that smell and taste up front when you take a sip.

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The higher the ethanol concentration is of the whisky when it’s bottled, the more it will benefit from having a few drops of water added when it comes time to drink it. According to the study, Cask-strength whiskeys (which tend to be higher in alcohol than others) in particular can benefit from a tiny bit of dilution in order to increase “the propensity of taste compounds at the liquid-air interface.” Read: the flavor you taste when you drink it.

Does that mean you have to add water to every whiskey? Absolutely not.

I always suggest that when someone is trying a whiskey for the first time, they pour a small amount and drink it straight up. Afterwards, try another tiny portion with a few drops of water and decide which version you like best. Let me emphasize the few drops part. Don’t add more water than you have whiskey (or do, but I can’t support you in that endeavor).

I’ll add a small amount of water to most scotch whiskeys, but when it comes to Japanese whiskey I prefer to drink them straight up rather than adding anything or putting them in cocktails. In the end, it’s all up to your personal preference.

That said, if you’re a water fan sometimes like me, it’s nice that we have a little science to back us up in that next bar fight.

Why is Scotch whisky so intimidating? There's something about this spirit—which is really nothing more than malt or grain-based whisky made in Scotland—that's got an intimidating rep.

Well, once you know how to drink Scotch—and learn that it's not so scary after all—you'll be that cool, breezy bar-goer sipping Scotch like it's no biggie.

First, the basics: all Scotch whisky has to meet certain legal standards to be granted it's name. Chiefly, it must be aged in oak barrels for at least three years.

Scotch comes in two forms, single malts (all the 100% malt whisky comes from one distillery) and blends (different single malts are blended together, often with added grain whisky). Naturally, within these two categories there are a million potential distinctions—they vary in their peaty-ness (smokiness), brininess, and heaviness. But before you start arguing about the merits of one blend over another, you've got to know how to drink Scotch the right way. Here's how it's done.

One expert way to drink Scotch: The Winterized Penicillin.

Photo by Chelsea Kyle, Food Styling by Matt Duckor

1. Pour it

When it comes to boozing, glassware is especially important when it comes to taste. Most Scotch nerds will agree that tulip-shaped glasses, also known as "whiskey snifters," are ideal, especially when sipping whiskey neat. In theory, this glass shape "traps the whisky aromas in the glass and concentrates them all in one place." Of course, if you go to a bar, they'll likely serve you Scotch in a rocks glass. That's fine, too.

2. Dilute it

Experts recommend adding a few drops of water to a particularly special Scotch—the water helps bring out flavors that might otherwise be overshadowed by the flavors and aromas of pure alcohol. If you're cracking open a super-old, expensive bottle that's been sitting on a shelf forever, you may want to add even more water—a teaspoon or two—to open up the flavors.

Why You Shouldn't Buy Your Dad Whiskey Stones for Father's Day

3. Ice it

Professionals may think it's gauche, but Scotch over ice isn't an unusual preference for whiskey drinkers. Some people appreciate a colder Scotch-drinking experience, and, plus, ice essentially does the same job as adding water—a little diluting, a little opening up of flavor. If you're going to use ice, though, opt for one of those big cubes—it'll melt slower, keeping your drink from getting so watered down that you can't appreciate it's nuances.

4. Or put it in a cocktail

Scotch and soda? Classic. Ditto for the Rob Roy and the Rusty Nail. But Scotch also plays well with grapefruit and honey-ginger syrup, as well as with sweet vermouth and orange, and even pear nectar and ginger ale. Just because your grandpa only drank Scotch neat doesn't mean you have to. After all, you're an expert now—you can drink it any damn way you like.

Sub in Scotch for any other type of whiskey in these cozy cocktails for a very happy winter.

Should you add water to your whisky? Some scientists say adding water yields a more flavorful whisky, but the amount is a personal choice. Legendary bourbon distiller Pappy Van Winkle believed 50% ABV (100 proof) was the ideal alcohol concentration for whiskey. He resisted selling anything at lower proof because, he said, “I see no sense in shipping water all the way around the country.”

Van Winkle recognized, of course, that some people liked additional water with his whiskey, so he suggested adding the whiskey to the water instead. “That way you make a poor thing better rather than a fine thing worse,” he reasoned.

Of course, there is always water in whisky. By U.S. law, bourbon, rye, and corn whiskey can be distilled to no greater than 80% ABV. That means the distillate leaving the still contains at least 20% water, and for most distillers it is closer to 30%, because the sugars, phenols, lactones, esters, acetaldehydes and other chemicals that give whisky its flavor attach themselves to the water, not the ethanol. Whisky without water in it is vodka. More water is added before bottling to adjust the whisky to the preferred proof. Van Winkle’s bourbon wasn’t 50% ABV by accident—he made it that way.

So should you add additional water to your whisky (or the other way around)? That is entirely up to you—it’s a personal choice. There is no other right answer. But once you’ve decided the whisky proof that suits your palate and offers the most personal enjoyment, there is a way to accurately water your whisky to taste.

Most people who add water to whisky just wing it. They pour some whisky, and splash in a little water. Some people say to add just a drop or two to “open up” the whisky, but there are benefits to greater dilution. Most straight spirits bottled at 40% ABV or more give off an “alcohol bloom” that can block your appreciation of other flavors. Adding a little room temperature water dampens the alcohol so those other flavors can come through. Impressions of sweetness and bitterness on the palate also decrease in concert with temperature. (But again, it’s your choice: drink it cold if you like it that way.) Because bourbon is so robust, experts such as Booker Noe say you can dilute it up to 1:1 (equal parts whiskey and water) without losing the essential flavor structure of the spirit. Of course, it’s helpful to know exactly how much water to add to reach your ideal proof, or perhaps to adjust two whiskies to the same proof for a better comparative tasting.

How To Find Your Perfect Proof

Experiment to find your ideal proof. Start with a known volume of whisky, say 2 ounces. Pour a known volume of water into a graduated cylinder. Add small amounts of water to the whisky until you like the taste. Look at the cylinder and note how much water you have added.

The formula to determine your perfect proof is ((amount of whisky)/(water added + amount of whisky) x (bottle proof) = (perfect proof)

For example, if you start with 2 ounces of 100 proof whiskey and add 1/2 an ounce of water, you end up with 80 proof.

Once you know your perfect proof, this calculator will tell you exactly how much water to add to any amount of whisky to reach it.

Once you know how to proof your whisky precisely, try using the formula when comparing whiskies of different proofs, adjusting them all to the same proof to level the playing field. Among other things, you can determine if it’s worth spending the extra money for a higher proof whisky that you will water to your taste.

Does The Water Matter?

You want to taste whisky, not water, so choosing the right water to add matters. That doesn’t necessarily mean distilled water or something fancier. The best water to use is the same water you usually drink, whether it’s bottled, filtered, or straight from the tap. Why? Because that is the flavor you are accustomed to. The exception to this is if your preferred water has strong mineral flavors, which could impact the flavor of the whisky.

If nothing else, playing around with water is a cheap and easy way to add a little variety to your whisky drinking experience.

How to add water to whiskey

How to add water to whiskey

With smoked brisket on the menu, we explore different pairing opportunities with bourbon neat and in a refreshing summer cocktail.

How to add water to whiskey

How to add water to whiskey

With just four ingredients, this simple recipe for candied ginger will make your cocktails look and taste better.

How to add water to whiskey

How to add water to whiskey

More than just a garnish, adding homemade candied ginger to your cocktails puts a personal touch on a Mule, Sour, or other classic.

Should you add water to your whisky? Some scientists say adding water yields a more flavorful whisky, but the amount is a personal choice. Legendary bourbon distiller Pappy Van Winkle believed 50% ABV (100 proof) was the ideal alcohol concentration for whiskey. He resisted selling anything at lower proof because, he said, “I see no sense in shipping water all the way around the country.”

Van Winkle recognized, of course, that some people liked additional water with his whiskey, so he suggested adding the whiskey to the water instead. “That way you make a poor thing better rather than a fine thing worse,” he reasoned.

Of course, there is always water in whisky. By U.S. law, bourbon, rye, and corn whiskey can be distilled to no greater than 80% ABV. That means the distillate leaving the still contains at least 20% water, and for most distillers it is closer to 30%, because the sugars, phenols, lactones, esters, acetaldehydes and other chemicals that give whisky its flavor attach themselves to the water, not the ethanol. Whisky without water in it is vodka. More water is added before bottling to adjust the whisky to the preferred proof. Van Winkle’s bourbon wasn’t 50% ABV by accident—he made it that way.

So should you add additional water to your whisky (or the other way around)? That is entirely up to you—it’s a personal choice. There is no other right answer. But once you’ve decided the whisky proof that suits your palate and offers the most personal enjoyment, there is a way to accurately water your whisky to taste.

Most people who add water to whisky just wing it. They pour some whisky, and splash in a little water. Some people say to add just a drop or two to “open up” the whisky, but there are benefits to greater dilution. Most straight spirits bottled at 40% ABV or more give off an “alcohol bloom” that can block your appreciation of other flavors. Adding a little room temperature water dampens the alcohol so those other flavors can come through. Impressions of sweetness and bitterness on the palate also decrease in concert with temperature. (But again, it’s your choice: drink it cold if you like it that way.) Because bourbon is so robust, experts such as Booker Noe say you can dilute it up to 1:1 (equal parts whiskey and water) without losing the essential flavor structure of the spirit. Of course, it’s helpful to know exactly how much water to add to reach your ideal proof, or perhaps to adjust two whiskies to the same proof for a better comparative tasting.

How To Find Your Perfect Proof

Experiment to find your ideal proof. Start with a known volume of whisky, say 2 ounces. Pour a known volume of water into a graduated cylinder. Add small amounts of water to the whisky until you like the taste. Look at the cylinder and note how much water you have added.

The formula to determine your perfect proof is ((amount of whisky)/(water added + amount of whisky) x (bottle proof) = (perfect proof)

For example, if you start with 2 ounces of 100 proof whiskey and add 1/2 an ounce of water, you end up with 80 proof.

Once you know your perfect proof, this calculator will tell you exactly how much water to add to any amount of whisky to reach it.

Once you know how to proof your whisky precisely, try using the formula when comparing whiskies of different proofs, adjusting them all to the same proof to level the playing field. Among other things, you can determine if it’s worth spending the extra money for a higher proof whisky that you will water to your taste.

Does The Water Matter?

You want to taste whisky, not water, so choosing the right water to add matters. That doesn’t necessarily mean distilled water or something fancier. The best water to use is the same water you usually drink, whether it’s bottled, filtered, or straight from the tap. Why? Because that is the flavor you are accustomed to. The exception to this is if your preferred water has strong mineral flavors, which could impact the flavor of the whisky.

If nothing else, playing around with water is a cheap and easy way to add a little variety to your whisky drinking experience.

How to add water to whiskey

How to add water to whiskey

With smoked brisket on the menu, we explore different pairing opportunities with bourbon neat and in a refreshing summer cocktail.

How to add water to whiskey

How to add water to whiskey

With just four ingredients, this simple recipe for candied ginger will make your cocktails look and taste better.

How to add water to whiskey

How to add water to whiskey

More than just a garnish, adding homemade candied ginger to your cocktails puts a personal touch on a Mule, Sour, or other classic.

While whisky nuts obsess over every tiny detail of the production of their favourite dram, they typically devote very little attention to the water they add to it. That’s a big mistake, says Felipe Schrieberg.

How to add water to whiskey

We whisky geeks are an obsessive lot, ever-hungry for news and information about our favourite tipples. Maturation, differences in distillation processes, types of barley and grains sourced. All these factors, and plenty more, determine the flavours that grace the whiskies we enjoy.

Yet one very basic factor stays constant: when drinking the water of life, we are often actively encouraged to add water to whisky after we first try it neat. Water adds new flavours and textures by releasing compounds and oils in the whisky that at first are hard to detect. In fact, researchers have recently gone further, even claiming that whisky is at its tastiest with water added.

However, by adding that water we are subtly altering the taste beyond simply releasing that ‘something’ already in the whisky. All drinkable water contains combinations of minerals with distinct flavours – and that inevitably can affect our whisky in various ways and to varying degrees.

Therefore, we should take our choice of water seriously: I firmly believe that the whisky tasting experience can be compromised through a poor choice of water.

I’ll use as an example the global Evian bottle brand, one that I have seen handed out at whisky events quite regularly. Compared to other water that I’ve tried, it’s not one I enjoy. It has an astringent taste that I find unpleasant.

I found the answer to this when looking at the bottle’s label, which almost always describes the mineral content of the water. The level of bicarbonates was at 360 milligrams per litre (mg/l), a fairly high amount compared to other brands. Other waters that I’ve tried with similar bicarbonate levels also share that astringency.

For me, having Evian at a whisky tasting is a bit like being offered Heinz tomato ketchup to slather on Kobe beef. The steak will still be delicious, but you’d expect a bit more class from the condiment.

Large amounts of other minerals can also result in quite strong flavours. As I see it, water that is to be added to whisky should be as neutral as possible in taste – so water with low mineral content should be used when possible for events and tastings.

In her 2014 book Whisk(e)y Distilled, Heather Greene notes that most distilleries aim to use ‘soft’ water, containing fewer minerals, and will treat ‘hard’ water with a higher mineral content (usually magnesium and calcium) so that it becomes softer for distillation. Whisky event organisers should aim for equivalent standards.

Easy does it: Using the wrong water could ruin your experience, says Felipe Schrieberg

So, what should these standards be, and what should we as whisky (and water) consumers watch out for? Here’s what I think:

1. Read the label. I personally avoid anything with more than 150mg/l of bicarbonates (HCO3, can be astringent), 75mg/l of calcium (Ca, makes it a bit sour), 75mg/l of sodium (Na, salty), or 75mg/l of chlorides (Cl, also salty, as chloride is an ion that bonds with other minerals to create salt compounds). Other minerals, such as magnesium and various sulphates, can also appear, but I can’t say I’ve had water where these are present in high enough quantities to be able to have an opinion about their taste. Generally, I would play it safe at less than 50mg/l for anything else.

2. Aim for a water below a total of 300-400mg/l of minerals, while keeping an eye on those individual thresholds in point one above.

3. Water with an acidity of 6.4-7.5 pH tends to have the most neutral taste.

4. Distilled water, without any minerals, is a great choice and to me the ideal answer to accompany your whisky. However, it’s a specialised product, tastes unpleasant on its own and is dangerous in high volumes.

5. Avoid using bottled water if possible. Especially in Scotland, tap water often tastes better.

Do feel free to find out for yourself. Buy four or five different water brands that are varied in their mineral content, and add each to a separate glass containing the same whisky (preferably something light and delicate for the purposes of the experiment, in my opinion). I guarantee that you will taste a difference between some of them.

Keep in mind that this advice is based solely on my personal experience and judgement – a whisky-water focus group of one, and I am no water sommelier (and yes, that’s a thing).

Others will probably have different, and perhaps more qualified, views. However, I do hope that this serves as a good place to start thinking about the H2O you add to your water of life, and to help create a refreshing and delicious experience for you and those with whom you share a dram.

Explore more

The whisky virgin 25 June 2019

Are you bored of drinking the whiskey regularly? Do you want to see what goes well with the whiskey? They can be water, soda, apple cider, sweet vermouth, and also coffee. According to alcohol’s chemistry, some additives like water should be added to enjoy whiskey’s real flavor.

To know why you should add water to the whiskey, read here!

Why Add Water To Whiskey?

Water is not a new component to whiskey makers. One of the main ingredients in any whiskey is water. Water is critical in the distillation process. Every famous whiskey brand always tries to balance chosen flavors, ethanol, and water when they make a whiskey. Ethanol and water always work to hold all the flavors together. They give the best combination out of all these ingredients. In general, before whiskey is bottled, some water is added to dilute the whiskey to reach about 40 percent of alcohol by volume.

When We Add Water, What Happens To Whiskey?

When we add water to the whiskey, it is going to bring certain flavors out of it. It is like opening up the flavors distributed and sometimes deposited at the bottom and letting them emerge. This deposit happens because water will rearrange all the existing molecules of the whiskey resulting in new flavors.

The interaction of water with flavors varies between types of whiskey. Some flavors might react very strongly with water, whereas some may not show any impact of this. Some might even extract new flavors out of the whiskey and bring out a fresh aroma.
So it is conditional and differs from component to component.

Some molecules might have a slight reaction with water and stay with it in the glass, whereas some might come out from the glass when they repel in the form of aroma, giving out a pleasing smell of the flavors. You can enjoy this smell by pulling the glass close to your nose and then take a sip of your whiskey.

Does The Type Of Water Matter?

It indeed does because the type of water you add will influence the flavors in the whiskey. It necessarily need not be distilled water; it can be the regular water you drink because that taste is familiar to your taste buds. Remember, you should avoid water with any new type of minerals because it will influence the whiskey’s flavor.

Why Add Drops Of Water To The Whiskey?

If you want to give new flavors to your whiskey, you can add drops of water to it. Adding little drops of water will always enhance or give out new flavors or aroma to the whiskey. It is going to disturb the molecules in the whiskey and give out new flavors.

Why Add A Splash Of Water To The Whiskey?

When you find the whiskey very strong or too bitter, you can add a splash of water into it. Adding a splash of water will reduce the bitterness and make the drink subtle; you can taste it now. If you find it still bitter, you can add more water and then sip it up if you like the taste.

When You Add a Splash Of Water – What Happens?

When you add a splash of water into the whiskey, it will disturb the evenly distributed molecules or molecules settled in the whiskey’s bottom. The aroma and other flavors come out of it.

What Else Can We Add To The Whiskey To Bring Out Flavors?

Below are examples of five options that we can mix with the whiskey to bring out different flavors.

Lemonade: Lemonade is one of the childhood favorites of all. When you mix it with bourbon whiskey, it is going to give the best barbecue flavor. Also, adding up fruits like blueberry or blackberry will add a fruity flavor to the same.

Soda: When you add soda to your whiskey, it will have a neutral effect on the whiskey as soda tastes neutral. But the output drink out of this will have fewer calories.

Sweet Vermouth: As the name indicates, sweet vermouth will add a sweet flavor to the whiskey. Do try it with bourbon because it will give out a lovely sweet version of the new cocktail. When added in the correct ratio, two parts of some whiskey and one part of sweet vermouth give out Manhattan.

Apple Cider: The Addition of apple cider when it is hot or cold gives out beautiful flavors in the whiskey. Adding hot apple cider will make a hot cocktail, whereas cold gives out oak and caramel flavors from the whiskey.

Coffee: Having a whiskey spiked with coffee is the best. Add two ounces of bourbon and add an equal amount of coffee and hot chocolate to it. This combination is going to taste bitter, and you will love it. If you like the flavor, try more of such combinations to enjoy the whiskey.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is It Ok To Add Water To The Whiskey?

Adding water to the whiskey is ok. It either does these outcomes once added. The addition of water can bring out new flavors in the whiskey d.or it may not show any effect on certain flavors. Sometimes if there is no variation in taste, the aroma can be seen when you add water.

How Much Water Can You Add To The Whiskey?

The quantity of water to be added depends on one’s taste. If you want to experiment to see new flavors, you can add a few drops. But if your drink is very strong or tasting bitter, you can add a splash of water-based on taste.

Which Water Can You Add To The Whiskey?

You can add the regular drinking water we use in the house to the whiskey because this has a familiar taste to us, and a change in the flavor of whiskey won’t be that much of an issue to us.

How Much Water Is In The Whiskey Before We Add It?

Water content in the whiskey varies from type to type. Whiskey is a combination of flavor, ethanol, and water. The amount of water, in particular whiskey, depends upon the distillation process applied. Water content depends upon the proof coming out of that whiskey.

Does Drinking The Whiskey Diluted In Water Will Deteriorate The Taste Of The Whiskey?

Not necessarily; when we answer this question, we have to consider two factors. One factor is a change in the taste based on the flavor’s reaction and the quantity of water added, and how it is drunk? Is it gulped or taken as sips. You can relish any whiskey when taken sip by sip.

Conclusion

Having a whiskey is all about satisfying our taste buds. Explore more and enjoy the unique flavors it offers. Try adding some water into your whiskey today and get the taste of a new flavor. If our article is useful, please share it further, and share your comments and suggestions

How to add water to whiskey

True whiskey connoisseurs will tell you that adding a couple of drops of water to your glass actually improves and enhances the taste of the drink. A popular phrase used to talk about the phenomenon is that a drop or two of water helps to “open up” the taste of the whiskey.

This may seem counterintuitive, and logic would dictate that it’s just watering down the flavor. However, it’s not just an urban legend — science backs the theory up.

When water was added to the whiskey, guaiacol, a compound partially responsible for the peaty smell and flavor of scotch whiskey, was more present at the surface of the whiskey, while it was driven away from the surface when water wasn’t added. When the guaiacol was at the surface of the whiskey, it’s easier for the nose and palate to experience the flavor and smell that it imparts on the drink. The scientists report that this reaction occurs when the percentage of alcohol is lowered by the water (via LiveScience).

What type of water to add to whiskey

How to add water to whiskey

It’s acknowledged that most whiskey lovers just “wing it” when it comes to how much water is best to add, but there’s even a website with a built-in formula calculator to help you determine e your preferred proof (a measurement of twice the alcohol content in a spirit) (via Whisky Advocate). Because different whiskeys have different alcohol contents, the amount of water that should be used can vary as well.

Of course, you shouldn’t be adding water from just any source. If you’re spending big bucks on a bottle of whiskey, it would be a shame to spoil it with water from the tap, especially if you live in a place where the tap water has a noticeable flavor (via Vice). In fact, some entrepreneurs have even begun selling pure Kentucky stream water to be mixed with bourbon.

Artisan droppers for whiskey water

How to add water to whiskey

You may be asking yourself what type of instrument you’d be expected to use to introduce some water to your whiskey. Pouring water out of a bottle seems somewhat heavy-handed, and using something like a soup spoon doesn’t seem particularly elegant or well-suited for a tipple either.

If you’re a frequent whiskey drinker, you might consider investing in some sort of dropper or pipette to use as your tool of choice for adding a bit of water to the whiskey. There’s no better way to ensure a precise level of control than being able to control the amount of water you’re adding — down to the drop.

Fancy droppers have come on the market in recent years, such as the Angel’s Share Whiskey Dropper (via Sip Dark). Instead of a rubber top, the dropper is all glass and is made by hand in Scotland. It’s on the small side, measuring 200 millimeters, and uses suction to release a drop at a time. Submerge it in water to fill it, place your finger over the hole in the glass, and position over your glass to drop the water in, drop by drop when you remove your finger just slightly. The top of the dropper is fashioned to look like the top of a whiskey pot still, something which a true connoisseur will notice (via Whiskey Still). If you’re clumsy or you’ve had a few whiskeys already, it might pay to steer clear of this creation as it appears to be quite fragile.

There are other unique ways to add water to your whiskey

How to add water to whiskey

If you don’t want to shell out the same price you would pay for a bottle of whiskey for a fancy version and would prefer to go the generic eyedropper route, a rubber-topped eyedropper is something that you can easily pick up at a pharmacy or drug store. However, you can also purchase an eye dropper that comes attached to a bottle as the dispersal method with a product called Uisge Source Water of Scotland (via Thrillist). Like the aforementioned Kentucky stream water used to mix with bourbon, Uisge Source (Uisge being the Gaelic word for “water,” via Uisge Source) offers a line of three types of water that come from three different regions in Scotland: Islay, Speyside, and Highland.

Each of these regions produces whiskey with different flavors and characteristics, and each water is specifically sourced for whiskey from that particular region. The Islay water, for example, has slightly higher levels of natural acids that help to cut the smokiness of Islay scotches. Water from the Speyside region, on the other hand, contains soft (low-mineral) water.

How to add water to whiskey

If you’ve been following RackHouse Whiskey Club for long, you already know that water is one of the most important partners to whiskey. Not only is it a key ingredient in how whiskey is made , adding a drop or two of water to your glass actually helps to “open up” the taste of the whiskey. We even examined the scientific reasons why you should add water to your whiskey: further diluting your whiskey with water once it’s in your glass will increase the boldness of the flavor. Science aside, the water debate really boils down to a personal choice.

Of course if you asked legendary bourbon distiller, Pappy Van Winkle, he’d tell you you’re crazy for even bothering with water. He believed 50% ABV (100 proof) was the ideal alcohol concentration for whiskey. And although water is a key ingredient, he flat out rejected making his whiskey at a lower proof because he “saw no sense in shipping water all the way around the country.” For those who did enjoy diluting with water he suggested adding the whiskey to the water and not the other way around. “That way you make a poor thing better rather than a fine thing worse,” he famously reasoned.

If whiskey didn’t have water as a main ingredient while it’s being made, you’d wind up with vodka. Before the whiskey is bottled, more water is sometimes added to adjust it to a specific proof. In order to get your whiskey to your preferred proof, exactly how much water should you add? Turns out, there’s a scientific solution for that, too!

How much water should you add to your whiskey

As we mentioned, whether to add water to your whiskey is a personal choice. If you do want a splash of H20, the first step in deciding how much to add is to figure out the whiskey proof that you most enjoy personally. Once you know what proof suits you, then you can figure out a more accurate way to water your whiskey.

If you’re in the camp of wanting to just “wing it,” that’s totally acceptable, too! Some people pour their whiskey and add a couple of splashes. Others like to drop a two in through a dropper to open up the flavors. Greater, more precise dilution can offer increased benefits. When you first take a sip of a spirit bottled at 40% ABV or more, the first thing you may notice is a strong “alcohol” flavor that overpowers any other taste. Adding water means it gives a chance for other flavors of the whiskey to rise to the surface and meet your taste buds. And room temperature water is better! Here’s why: sweet and bitter flavors change depending on the temperature of the water. The colder it is, the less those flavors come through.

Once you find your ideal proof, start with a standard serving size, like 2 ounces. Measure out an amount of water to start with. Add small amounts of the water to the whiskey and then taste it. Keep repeating this step until you arrive at a taste you like. And then take note of how much water you’ve added so you can repeat this process in the future. With bourbon, you can dilute up to a 1:1 ratio (equal parts whiskey and water) because the flavor is robust to begin with.

An easy formula to determine your ideal whiskey proof is as follows:

Amount of whiskey divided by water plus the amount of whiskey times bottle proof equals your ideal proof. Here’s a concrete example:

If you start with 2 ounces of 100 proof whiskey and add ½ an ounce of water, your ideal whiskey is 80 proof. (2/2.5 x 100 = 80).

Is it true that adding water to whisky improves its flavor?

The burning, pungent qualities contributed by the high proportion of alcohol in whisky can make it hard to evaluate nuances. Adding water dilutes the alcohol, which reduces the burn and allows other properties to reveal themselves. But there’s also something significant happening on a molecular level. Aroma molecules share more chemical likenesses with alcohol than they do with water. As such, they tend to bind with alcohol. Adding water frees up more of the aroma molecules to evaporate into the taster’s nose. Since appreciation of flavors happens at least as much in the nose as on the tongue, “watered-down” spirits actually seem more flavorful.

To experience the science at work, we had tasters sip 1 1/2-ounce samples of 80 proof whisky neat and then with water added in increasing 1-teaspoon increments. While they noted that the neat sample of whisky had aromas of honey and caramel, flavor comments fell mostly in line with descriptions like “boozy” and “lots of burn.” With just 1 teaspoon of water added, the alcohol receded and tasters picked up on sweet, vegetal flavors and subtle aromas like hay and apple. Most tasters preferred the addition of 2 teaspoons (which diluted the alcohol to 65 proof), allowing flavors such as vanilla, apple, and pear to really come to the fore. By 3 teaspoons the whisky began to taste watered down to many tasters, though one found it beneficial to add up to 5 teaspoons.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Adding a little water to whisky will open up the nose and bring out more nuanced flavors, but the ideal amount of water will vary depending on the drinker.

Father’s Day is next month (Sunday 16th June 2013) and a typical gift for most fathers is a bottle of whisky or whisky-related gifts (see our blog post for ideas). Though many of us may have often wondered why do you add water to whisky? Should I serve it neat? Or is it better to add ice?

How to add water to whiskey

Should I add water to my whisky?

At this point it is important to point out one undeniable fact; drinking whisky ultimately comes down to personal taste. There are no written rules on how you should drink whisky only advice and what we believe in, experimentation!
In most cases whisky already has water added to it. This is true for whisky with 40-45% alcohol level/strength. This is known as ‘cutting’, as it allows the alcohol to be bottled at an acceptable and reasonable level for the majority of consumers.
Whisky connoisseurs and enthusiasts will debate constantly about whether you should add any water to whisky. Those against adding water believe you should enjoy whisky in its “natural form” with the original characteristics straight from the cask. However, it is argued that adding water can open up new flavours and tastes; subtle notes that perhaps you would usually miss.
Cask strength whiskies can often be described as overpowering and can leave a burning, tingling sensation in your mouth. Therefore adding water can reduce the strength which allows you to appreciate and recognise more of the flavours.

Is there a big difference when you add water to whisky?

The best way to find out is to taste whisky neat, then a whisky that has had a little water added to it. The best comparison we can give is to imagine drinking a glass of orange squash undiluted, then a glass of diluted squash. Yes this may be an extreme example but it fundamentally highlights how water can sometimes be of benefit. Please bear in mind this is not the case for all whiskies.

How much water should I add to whisky?

This is entirely up to you. Add a little at a time and then taste; find the perfect amount to suit your taste buds. We do suggest that first of all you try the whisky as it comes out of the bottles before adding any water. Then you can decide whether it needs any water.

How to add water to whiskey

What happens when I add ice to whisky?

Adding ice to whisky is different to that of water. Adding ice to whisky can cause it to taste dull and flat albeit refreshing. When the whisky begins to warm up the flavours and bouquet of aromas will be released.
However adding just one or two ice cubes can benefit some whiskies.

Managing Director Chris Wellman’s top 5 whiskies

Chris Wellman shares with us his top 5 whiskies at the moment…
1. Aberlour A’bunadh (pronounced ‘Abber low (as in allow) er –- Aboonah’
2. Old Pulteney 17 year old Single Malt
3. Glenrothes 1991
4. Bruichladdich First Growth Cuvee E Sauternes (Chateau D’Yquem) 16 Year Old
5. Scotch Malt Whisky Society Bottling Single Cask no 30.71 (Burnt Crumpet and Highland Toffee)

We know whisky tasting is an art which takes years to master. It also requires a decent whisky glass. Good job we have a few years of tasting under our belts…

One thought on “Drinking whisky: Why add water to whisky?”

I wish more and more people see this and genuinely understand how to drink whiskey the right way. Thank you for sharing this.