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Scientists Discover Why Whisky Tastes Better With Water

I'm either trying to savor that fine barrel-aged flavor straight up or I'm trying to catch a buzz when I drink whisky, and either way water seems like a waste of time to me.

But scientists Björn Karlsson and Ran Friedman have proven people were right about adding water to whisky- because the water helps enhance the flavor compounds on the surface of the whisky and release complex aromas:

"The taste of whisky is primarily linked to so-called amphipathic molecules, which are made up of hydrophobic and hydrophilic parts,” explained Karlsson. “One such molecule is guaiacol, a substance that develops when the grain is dried over peat smoke when making malt whisky, providing the smoky flavour to the whisky.”

The scientists found that guaiacol was more likely to be present at the “liquid-air interface” of a whisky with concentrations of ethanol up to 45%. “This suggests that, in a glass of whisky, guaiacol will therefore be found near the surface of the liquid, where it contributes to both the smell and taste of the spirit,” said Freidman.

“Interestingly, a continued dilution down to 27% resulted in an increase of guaiacol at the liquid-air interface. An increased percentage, over 59%, had the opposite effect, that is to say, the ethanol interacted more strongly with the guaiacol, driving the molecule into the solution away from the surface.”

The study therefore concluded that the taste and aroma of guaiacol – as well as other similar compounds in whisky – are “enhanced when the spirit is diluted prior to bottling, and this taste may be more pronounced on further dilution in the glass”.

-Via The Spirits Business

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This was more true when aged liquor was bottled full strength. These days most is watered down at the bottling plant to a consistent 80 proof (40%).
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