The whisk(e)y myth of not adding water to whisk(e)y has been around for a very, very long time. If you are old enough to drink whisk(e)y and have been told by your elders to not add water to whisk(e)y then you will be in for a surprise. Older whisk(e)y drinkers have told you to never, ever mix water with whisk(e)y because you will ruin the taste but, strangely enough, that is not completely true!
Those same whisk(e)y drinkers will be shocked to know that some or most distilleries have ALREADY added water to the whisk(e)y during the bottling period. I will do my best to explain the whisk(e)y process in the barrel or cask and then come in with the water adding process.
Whisk(e)y in the cask or barrel
The whisk(e)y maturation process starts once the distillery fills the equal cask or barrel with whisk(e)y that been heated to the point where the whisk(e)y is between 160-190 proof which equates to 80-95 % alcohol by volume (ABV) which is considered strong enough to either put hair on your chest or even burn off chest hair.
During the period in which the whisk(e)y is maturing, the alcohol slowly evaporates through the walls of the cask or barrel. The amount of alcohol that is lost can be approximately .5% to 1% per year. This is called the angel’s share.
Once the ABV equals approximately 50-60 percent (+/- 5 percent), whisk(e)y is either bottled as cask-strength or barrel-proof whisk(e)y. As far as dilution goes, with barrel-proof or cask-strength whisk(e)y well, it doesn’t happen during the bottling stage. Once you purchase a cask-strength or barrel-proof whisk(e)y then it’s your responsibility to dilute the whisk(e)y to your specific palate or taste. If the ABV needs to be lowered below 50 percent then the whisk(e)y would be diluted with water.
Whisk(e)y and water mixing
Adding water to whisk(e)y should be based on your personal taste. If you are new to whisk(e)y you can add or mix whatever you like to develop a liking for any of the world whiskies. I would recommend to first taste the whisk(e)y neat and then determine if you need to dilute it. A lot of higher quality aged whiskies will probably be smooth enough to your taste buds and not require dilution. I always use the cough test to judge whether or not water is required.
The cough test occurs on that initial sip of whisk(e)y when the whisk(e)y hits the back of your throat and you immediately start coughing. You will probably need a glass of water to quench the coughing and soothe your throat. The cough test also lets me know that the whisk(e)y is not as smooth as some other whisk(e)y drinkers may have determined. Therefore, you should just dilute as necessary to suit “your own taste”. If you are a drinker of different whiskies from different countries I suggest the following:
- Scottish, Japanese, Canadian, Taiwanese or Irish whiskies should be initially tasted before adding any water and if water is still needed then you can add two-three drops of Highland Spring water to the glass. This will definitely open up the Scotch whisky. If you don’t have Highland Spring water available then I suggest using either Evian or Volvic bottled water. If you happen to have a drinking water system (3 or 5 stage reverse osmosis) on your kitchen sink then experiment with how the water affects the whisky taste. Most of the Canadian and Irish whiskies will be blended, so taste before you add water.
- American whisk(e)y also needs to be tasted prior to diluting with water. I would suggest trying Old Limestone Mixing Water before using regular tap water when you are drinking bourbon whisk(e)y. The tap water dispensed from your kitchen tap may have some additional minerals that can affect the flavor of the whisk(e)y. The water recommendation for #1 can also be used for experimentation with American whisk(e)y.
The properties of hard or soft water has a bearing on how water affects the taste of the different whiskies. Lastly, if the above water recommendations are not readily available you could use distilled water.
Finally, always remember that not one person in the world has the right to tell you how you should drink your whisk(e)y and how much water to add. Just drink and enjoy it however the heck you want to!!