Water is water, right? Well no - the type of water you add to your whisky can also make a difference. Forstly, it should always be still water. Carbonated or sparkling water will effect the flavour and structure of the whisky when you add it. This is good for a nice refreshing highball-style cocktail, but not general drinking or analysing.
Monday, May 5, 2008
Explain about ... Adding Water Or Ice To Whisky
'Should i add water or ice to my whisky?' is a question that we get asked very often, particularly by those beginning their whisky journey. Adding water or ice can change whisky in both a positive and negative way. The most important thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong answer, despite what you may have read or seen. Ultimately, what you add to your whisky is all down to personal taste.
In reality, most whisky already has some water added. Many people do not realise this. The process is called 'cutting' and is done before bottling. This is in order to bring the alcohol down from the high ABV strength that it may have been in the cask (often between 50-60% ABV) to a more acceptable and drinkable level for the majority of consumers, which is normally between 40-46% ABV. The water used is usually local spring water.
Often you will see or read people saying that you should never add water. We have heard some connoisseurs saying that you should not add any water because then you are tasting the whisky in its natural form with all of the original distillery characteristics and flavours. That is their own personal prerogative and choice.
However, it is worth noting that everyone that either produces whisky or creates the products that we drink - the distillers and Master Blenders - always add water when analysing the spirit off the still or whiskies to be used in a blend or single malt. This helps them to maximise the aromas and flavours to give a full analysis. They will often add different amounts too to see how the spirit or whisky performs.
By adding water to a whisky you can open up different, new and subtle flavours that you previously had not experienced. This is particularly true when drinking cask strength whiskies with higher alcohol levels (this can be up to and over 60% ABV in some cases). With cask strength whisky the alcohol and resulting burning in your mouth can overpower even the most prominent flavours.
By adding some water this dilutes the alcohol and reduces its influence, giving both the prominent and more subtle flavours a chance to shine. Imagine drinking orange squash concentrate without any water and then with water... it's essentially the same idea. How much water you add is entirely up to your taste - a few drops, a dribble, a dash ... it's your choice, and to your taste.
Tap water is treated with chemicals, especially chlorine and fluorine, and these can alter the flavour. Do you live in a hard or soft water area? Spring water is similar as it has permeated through rock over hundreds of years, picking up salts and minerals on its journey. It is best to find the most neutral water you can - this will dilute but not add any flavour to your whisky.
Adding ice is slightly different. Rather than enhancing aromas and flavours, as water can, it actually inhibits them as the ice makes the temperature of the whisky drop rapidly. This locks down the aroma and flavour compounds. It is similar to drinking a good white wine that has been chilled down too much. It will be refreshing to drink but taste a little dull and flat, and will only start to open up and reveal its full character once it starts to warm up.
The important thing about all of this is not to get too hung up on it. Experiment with different whiskies and different levels of water to find your perfect amount and combination. By doing this you will find your own way of drinking your whisky and keep it fun.
* Please note / this post has been updated from the original - July 2020.