Ian Wisniewski was asked his thoughts on the question “Should you add water?”
“Whisky enthusiasts can be broken down into different groups. Some love malts and others like a mixture. Some prefer peated malts and others will not try them. The other divide is between those who add water and those who think water can only harm (or even destroy) the experience.
In order to open up a whisky, adding water is commonly thought to be the best thing to do. This common advice suggests that water will promote a richer experience. It sounds wonderful. However, it is more accurate to say that water adds another dimension to the experience.
Alcoholic strength has a significant impact on the flavour profile of whisky. Different flavour compounds can change from being soluble and insoluble at specific strengths. If a flavour compound becomes soluble, it is dissolved within the whisky. It is then not detectable. A flavour compound that is insoluble becomes an independent entity within whisky and it shows up as a flavor.
A higher alcohol strength will typically produce richer and more concentrated flavours like dried fruits and vanilla. Conversely, a lower strength will promote lighter notes like citrus. The phenolic substances (smokey, sweet notes) are becoming progressively more mellower as water is added.
Every whisky offers a variety of flavour profiles depending on the level of dilution. There is only one way of discovering the best flavour. The best way to start is to taste the whisky undiluted. With stronger whiskies, the intensity of alcohol can dull the palate and limit your tasting experience. This is a good ‘control’ to compare with other whiskies, as well as a point of reference for dilution and the search for the best.
Water should not be boiled, but spring water. Without the distinguishable characteristics of mineral water, which could confuse the experiment. You can taste the whisky again by adding water using a pipette. This is the most convenient version. You can also fill several glasses of equal size and shape with whisky. Then, you will taste the first glass straight, and then the second one with one drop of water. The third one with two drops and the fourth with three drops. This allows you to compare the effects of different levels of whisky dilution, but it requires more glassware.
Personal preference will determine whether or not water is sufficient to achieve the perfect flavour profile. My experience is that whisky at the bottling strength often shows a sequence or individual flavours. Each flavor gets their time, which I like. Adding water can often “integrate” the flavours, allowing them to appear simultaneously rather than separately. The oak notes are more prominent than the phenolic (i.e. The aroma of smoke and peat decreases. I love phenolics. But the more supple and pleasant the oak notes are, the better.
A significant change in mouthfeel is also caused by dilution. A Single Malt Scotch Whisky‘s texture can change from being soft and delicate at bottling strength to becoming rounder, more full-bodied, and even slightly creamy. The mouthfeel is an essential part of the experience. Diluting can reduce the originality of the flavour delivery. This I consider a huge shame.
One other consideration is the fact that whisky’s intensity can be reduced by adding water, which makes it more pleasant. This could be a positive thing, or cause for concern. I prefer intensity. Always.”