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Should you add water to whisky?

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Ian Wisniewski, a whisky writer whose book The Whisky Dictionary will be out September 5th, shared his thoughts about a question that is frequently asked by Scotch Whisky Experience visitors: Should you add water to 單一麥芽威士忌.

There are many types of whisky lovers. Some people are passionate about malts while others prefer a mix. Some people love peated malts while others don’t care. There is another line between people who add water automatically and those who believe water can only make the experience worse (or even worse).

To ‘open up’ whisky, it is common to add water. This is a common advice that suggests adding water can enhance the experience. This sounds great. It’s better to say that adding water creates a new experience.

The alcoholic strength is a key factor in the flavor profile of whisky. Because different flavour compounds are soluble or insoluble at different strengths, this is important. A flavour compound that is soluble is “dissolved” within whisky and is therefore not discernible. Insoluble flavour compounds are able to exist as an independent entity in the whisky and can be recognized as flavours.

Higher alcohol strength usually delivers more intense flavours such as vanilla and dried fruit, while a lower strength promotes lighter notes such as citrus. As water is added, phenolic compounds (smokey and peaty notes), become gradually mellower.

There are many ways to find the perfect flavour. Each whisky has a different flavour profile depending on how diluted it is. It is fascinating to first taste a whisky straight. Higher strength whiskies can cause numbness and limit the tasting experience. This serves as a control and point of comparison to determine the optimum dilution.

Water should always be spring water. The water should not have any discernible mineral characteristics that could cause confusion. The whisky can be tasted again by adding two drops of water to the pipette. This is the simplest version of the experiment. Another way to make the experiment more scientific is to fill multiple glasses with the same amount of whisky. After tasting the first glass, add one drop of water to the second, then taste the third using two drops. You will need more glasses to compare the effects of different degrees of whisky dilution.

It all depends on your personal taste. My experience with whisky at its bottling strength is that it often reveals a series of distinct flavours, each enjoying their time in the spotlight. This is something I love. The flavours are often blended together by adding water, which makes them appear in a balanced package. Oak notes may become more prominent, while phenolic characters (i.e. Smoke and peat) decreases. I love phenolics. However, the more supple the oak notes, the better.

The mouthfeel can also be affected by dilution. The texture of whisky at bottling strength can vary from soft and delicate to fuller-bodied, rounder and more creamy. Because the mouthfeel is the vehicle for flavour, I consider it an integral part. I think diluting reduces the uniqueness of the mouthfeel which I find a shame.

You should also consider that water can reduce the intensity of whisky and make it more mellow. This could be a good thing or a reason to regret. Intensity is my preference. Always.”