For many whiskey connoisseurs, enjoying their favorite brown alcohol any other way than neat is bordering on sacrilegious. But according to science, a bit of water makes the libation taste even better.
While whiskey aficionados have long held that adding a few drops of water to your drink will allow the aroma and flavors to bloom even more, there hasn’t been much science to back it up.
Meanwhile, in Sweden…
That is until now. A team of Swedish chemists set out to find out why and how dilution enhances the taste of whiskey.
Writing in a study published in Scientific Reports, researchers said they performed computer simulations of how water and ethanol mixes with a molecule called guaiacol, which helps give Scotch its distinctive, smoky taste and smell.
They found that ethanol molecules and guaiacol molecules tend to stick together, and are both “hydrophobic” — which means that don’t mix uniformly with water.
The researchers’ simulations aimed to determine at what ethanol levels had the most impact on guaiacol, or rather, the taste and smell of whiskey.
When the whiskey with an ethanol concentration of 59%, the taste and smell was mixed throughout.
In a glass of whiskey, which typically exhibits alcohol concentrations of 45% or 27% if diluted, guaiacol will thus be found near the liquid surface, where it greatly contributes to both smell and taste of the spirit.
“This indicates that the taste of guaiacol in the whiskey would be enhanced upon dilution prior to bottling,” the researchers wrote.
It should be noted that the report does not mention if ice would provide the same effect as water, although, as we all known, the key ingredient in ice is, well, water.
So What’s This Mean?
In the end, the researchers believe that their simulations found that the higher the ethanol concentration at the time of bottling, the better the whiskey will be when it is poured and diluted.
“Dilution of cask-strength whiskey improves its taste by increasing the propensity of taste compounds at the liquid-air interface,” the report notes.
But don’t expect your next bottle of whiskey to come diluted. Adding water to the libation before bottling would add costs, and it might not fit everyone’s preference. Because, after all, you should just drink your whiskey how you like it.