There is an age old question, water, ice, or neat? The article addresses those who add water or ice. Science has found the answer to how to enjoy whisky with the perfect amount of ice or water.
The question of how much water is too much for whisky was chemically examined by Washington State University (WSU) researchers. The study found that the point at which it becomes too much is at about 20%.
Three drops of water, or a single large ice cube, is the optimum way to serve a whisky, according to researchers.
Researchers used chemical analysis to determine how a group of 25 whiskies, including bourbons, ryes, Irish whiskeys, and both single malt and blended Scotches, behaved to the addition of water. Additionally, they had a trained sensory panel evaluate three Scotches and three bourbons.
In both experiments, it was discovered that a small amount of water may alter the scent and flavor of the whiskies, but at 20%, they might begin to smell the same. Since taste and smell are frequently connected, this probably also had an impact on the flavor of the spirit.
“If you want to enjoy a specific whisky, this suggests that you don’t want to dilute it by more than about 20%. By the time you get to 60/40 whisky to water, the whiskies are not differentiated by the panelists; they begin to smell the same, and that’s not really what you’re looking for.” ~ Tom Collins, a WSU assistant professor and senior author on the study.
Although the aromas of each type of whisky grew more similar, the larger groupings of whiskies, both single malt and blended, remained distinct from the bourbons and ryes of the United States.
Many Scotch whiskies initially had a smoky, "peat" aroma, but as they were diluted, they transitioned to a fruitier aroma known as "pome." When more water was added to the American bourbons they began to take on more aromas of the corn and grains used to make them, whereas at first they were mostly associated with vanilla and oak scents.
The research can assist whiskey producers in better understanding how consumers would perceive the beverage if they choose to add water or consume it "on the rocks."
Additionally, it lends some support to the custom of serving whisky over a single, sizable ice cube.
“This study helps to understand why those large, square ice cubes have become so popular because you can actually enjoy the whisky before it gets diluted to the point that it’s not the same whisky,” ~ Tom Collins
Next up on their list of things to research is investigating the compounds that give Scotch whiskies their smoky aroma. Stay tuned as they will present their findings at the Worldwide Distilled Spirits Conference in Edinburgh, Scotland taking place May 9-11.