Passionate whiskey lovers can be particular about their preferred way to enjoy their drop. While savouring it neat is widely regarded as one of the best ways to honour top shelf uisce beatha, now science has given a strong argument to those who choose to dilute it slightly with water.
A recently published study titled “Dilution of whisky – the molecular perspective“ by scientists Björn C. G. Karlsson and Ran Friedman from the Linnaeus University Center in Sweden tested the assumption that whiskey’s flavour improves when diluted with water. The idea came to the researchers after Friedman visited Scotland and observed people doing that to their Scotch.
They carried out computer simulations of what would happen to Scotch at different concentrations testing the water-ethanol mixtures in the presence of guaiacol, an aromatic oil that is to thank for the beverage’s smoky flavor. They found out that “guaiacol is preferentially associated with ethanol” and that it becomes more perceivable when the alcohol percentage lowers by the addition of water.
While hard to appreciate at 59% AVB (the alcohol content to which whiskey is generally distilled), guaiacol becomes more evident at 40% ABV (the average strength of a bottle) as ethanol accumulates in the surface, carrying the compound with it. At 27% ABV “ethyl groups [become] oriented towards the gas-phase”, they explain, meaning that they rise to the surface and begin to aerosolise, which, as you taste, will allow you to sense the aromas with more clarity.
To reach a dilution of 27%, you’d need to mix 67.5 ml of whiskey (at 40%ABV) with 32.5 ml of water. If you don’t fancy getting the scale out, aim for two thirds of Scoth and one of water. Make sure it’s room temperature and neutral flavoured water.
More information: nature.com