Firstly, let’s start by welcoming you to the wonderful world of internet whisky debates. There’s many of them, and they can get, unexpectedly, a little heated. So, we’re here to cool it down and let you know that the world of whisky doesn’t have to be as daunting as you expect – and to address the most commonly asked question in the whisky world… Can I add water to my whisky?
Short answer. Yes. It’s your whisky, you can drink it however you like.
WHISKY AND WATER
Long answer. Every whisky is made up of two core elements, ethanol and water, along with a sizeable list of other tasty compounds in smaller proportions. These are what gives each whisky its unique flavour and are created during the distillation and maturation process. These compounds are things like ethyl caprylate, which is formed during fermentation and tastes like pineapple, and vanillin, a compound commonly found in oak casks that tastes like, well, vanilla. Whisky brings all these elements together, which brings us to the most important part of the flavour equation. You.
How you perceive these elements in your nose and on your tongue is the most important part of the whole drinking process, and every person is different. The addition of water can be good for you and your dram for a number of reasons.
1. Breaking suspension. Adding a dash of water can help release some flavour from the liquid and into the air, making them much easier to detect. Our sense of smell is fundamental to the way we taste, so making things easier for your nose is a big help.
2. Reduce alcohol burn. Lowering the relative quantity of alcohol will soften the liquid, reducing potential burning sensations in your nose and mouth, meaning your brain can focus more on the flavours and less on what else is going on.
3. Combat palate fatigue. Tasting high intensity things repeatedly in one session will knock your ability to perceive flavours for six. Lowering the alcohol percentage gives you a longer window of opportunity to taste more.
Temperature will also play a big role in how a whisky will taste to you. Chilling (e.g. with the addition of ice) can dampen alcohol sensation, but also dull sweetness and some aroma. Conversely, warming a dram can bring more flavour compounds and ethanol out of solution, a double edged sword, making flavours easier to detect whilst also making it harder for your nose to keep up.
So what does this all mean? It all comes back to personal preference. You might enjoy whisky for the sensation, you might prefer picking apart as many flavours as possible. You may even be here just for the heritage and prestige, enjoying the theatre as much as the liquid itself. All valid reasons for pouring a dram.
WHISKY AND WHATEVER YOU LIKE
Whisky buffs be warned – blasphemy coming up. As well as water, you can really add whatever you like to your whisky. We’re not here to hammer home the rules about what you can and can’t do, so if you want to drink it with ginger, drink it with ginger. If you want to add soda, feel free. And if you are feeling really adventurous, you can take a look at our cocktail recipes for our whisky-gin hybrids here.