A recent study conducted by two Swedish chemists proves that adding a bit of water to whisky does in fact improve the overall taste. I know that adding water to whisky is common but I always thought it was the equivalent of asking for ketchup at a nice steakhouse. I have a great uncle who did that and it’s still a running joke in my family… tip don’t do that in a steakhouse. The team conducted a series of tests to determine how and why adding water contributes to the taste enhancement by specifically focusing on the presence of guaiacol, an organic compound found in drinks like whisky and coffee.
Guaiacol is used in the creation of flavors such as vanilla and can be found when wood is smoked or burned, such as the charred barrels that global distilleries use to create their finished whisky products. This study centered on the presence of ethanol (main ingredient of whisky) and what happens when it is diluted from its common 70% alcohol by volume to its standard 45% alcohol by volume state. Yes, whisky already had water added to it when you buy it, so why would anyone want to add more?
The team discovered that adding a bit of water (starting with a few drops) causes the ethanol content of the drink to rise to the surface because it has a higher density. Guaiacol isn’t a fan of water and tries to stick closely to ethanol which is now concentrated on top of the drink. Adding water actually makes the taste more potent and enriches the aroma of the drink and if you’re a foodie like me, you know that smell has a lot to do with taste.
The study also warns whisky connoisseurs not to overdo it because, “There is a fine balance between diluting the whisky to taste and diluting the whisky to waste.”
So there you have it, adding an ice cube or a splash of water to your whisky will enhance the flavor, so bottoms up and cheers!
You can read the full study published here.
Just for fun, check out The Chemistry of Whisky infographic published on compoundchem.com.