Is It a Good Idea to Add Water to a Fine Scotch?

Does a little water in your whiskey really make it taste better? That’s the conclusion of Swedish chemists whose research appeared in the August issue of the journal Scientific Reports. Bjorn Karlsson and Ran Friedman of the Linnaeus University Center for Biomaterials Chemistry used computer simulations to study three important molecules in the drink -- water, ethanol, and guaiacol. The latter is a molecule commonly found in single-malt Scotch whiskies. The researchers found that when whiskey is diluted, the ethanol and guaiacol molecules cluster at the surface of the glass, bringing their impact to the forefront and amping up the whiskey's taste.

Bottoms up:

  • Chemically, guaiacol is similar to other whiskey aroma compounds, such as vanillin and limonene. These flavor compounds are repelled by water, and are more likely to be trapped in ethanol clusters.
  • The researchers think that the position of these flavor molecules in the glass has a big impact on the smell and taste of the whiskey.
  • Whiskey enthusiasts say that adding water "breaks the surface tension" of the drink, allowing more aroma to escape. Karlsson says he thinks that the team's research supports that theory.
More Info: Smithsonian magazine

Discussion Comments


This is not really new news as others have frequently made this point. Now at least it is chemically proved. However, it doesn't answer the real question. How much water? Sounds silly, but I've seen guys with eye droppers.

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