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Issue 59 - Whisky with water

Whisky Magazine Issue 59
October 2006


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Whisky with water

Sounds simple enough,but there is more going on as Ian Wisniewski finds out

Enjoying whisky in the form of a long, refreshing drink, or a sophisticated cocktail, certainly has its appeal.

But to savour a malt whisky a typical recommendation is diluting with water, on the basis that it ‘opens up' the character.

While this implies that the existing aromas and flavours will simply become more accessible, adding water actually initiates a series of complex changes within the whisky.

As these changes are still not fully understood, opinions on this subject inevitably vary.

However, diluting can significantly alter a malt's balance and intensity, which in turn affects the aroma, flavour profile and mouthfeel. So, while still the same whisky, it can show different nuances.

Malt whisky already contains a certain amount of water, with an alcoholic strength of 40% ABV for example meaning that approximately 60 per cent is water (a combination of ‘process water' added during mashing, and ‘reduction water' added to reduce the strength for barrelling and bottling, as required).

An initial consequence of adding water is lowering the alcoholic strength. This sees a reduction in any possible pungency or ‘alcohol tingle'.

A related factor is that alcohol at a certain strength can overwhelm some taste buds on the tongue, which limits the detection of particular characteristics. This effect peaks of course in cask strength whisky, when the palate has to deal with a significant or excessive level of pungency, and diluting is required in order to assess the...

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