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Why Less is More When It Comes to Diluting Whisky
Why Less is More When It Comes to Diluting Whisky
This week, scientists at Washington State University released a study that may change how we think about drinking whisky.

The study found that just three drops of water, or a single large ice cube, is the optimum way to serve whisky for those looking to reduce the strength without compromising on flavour.

The Study

During the study, a selection of twenty-five whiskies were sampled. These included Bourbons, ryes, single-malt and blended Scotches, and Irish whiskies. These drams were chemically profiled at six different dilution levels, including 100, 90, 80, 70, 60, and 50% whisky to water.

Six further whiskies, three Bourbon and three Scotch, were sampled at four dilution levels (100, 80, 60, and 40% whisky to water), undergoing the same chemical profiling before meeting an expert taste panel for sensory analysis.

The study found that a dilution level of 20% whisky to water was the most preferred, with any further dilution removing the individual characteristics of each dram, creating a more generic taste.

The study’s senior author Dr Tom Collins, commented: ‘If you want to enjoy a specific whisky, this suggests that you don’t want to dilute it by more than about 20 per cent.

‘By the time you get to 60/40 whisky to water, the whiskies are not differentiated by the panellists – they begin to smell the same, and that’s not really what you’re looking for.’

The Ice Factor

The scientists also found that adding ice cubes to whisky can, in fact, dull the flavours and aromas. These findings may surprise many whisky drinkers, who often add ice to their dram in order to cool it down. However, Washington State University scientists believe this practice may actually be doing more harm than good.

A two-inch square ice cube contains slightly more than 100ml of water. According to the study, this is ten times too much water to dilute a double measure of 50ml, which needs a maximum of just 10ml water to preserve flavour best.

For those seeking a cooler dram, a single large ice cube is recommended, with regular sipping to reduce melting. Alternatively, whisky stones offer a neat way to cool a dram without the worry of excessive dilution.

Whisky Stones

In Conclusion

So, what does this mean for whisky lovers? Should we all start adding specific amounts of water to our whiskies and ditch the ice cubes altogether?

Not necessarily. While the study (click here to read) provides some interesting insights into the effects of water and ice on the taste of whisky, it’s important to remember that everyone’s tastes and preferences differ. Some people may prefer their whisky to be slightly weaker or even chilled. It all depends on their palate.

It’s also worth remembering that each dram is different, with no two distilleries perfectly alike. What may work well with one dram may not necessarily bring out the best characteristics in another. 

Ultimately, the best way to enjoy whisky is to experiment and find what works best for you. Try adding different amounts of water to your dram, drinking it neat or with ice, and seeing how it affects the taste and aroma of your collection. You may be surprised at what you discover1

Slàinte Mhath!

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