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Does adding water to scotch a la minute do anything different?


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It's commonly accepted that adding a splash of water to scotch opens up different flavors. But is there anything intrinsically special about the process of adding the water or is it a simple dilution? Could I add the water to the scotch in the bottle and have a readily diluted drink to pour at any time?

PS: I am a guy.

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I'm curious about this too.

One thing I do like about adding water at the last minute is that it cools it down a little when room temperature is rather high. Mind you when it's that high I'm usually adding a few pieces of ice too. Or drinking beer.

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Take a look at some of the things I posted here. The basic gist is that alcohol in high concentrations can cause a burning sensation in the mouth that is similar to the burning caused by menthol or capsaicin. However, if you dilute the alcohol, you get less burning and so are more able to experience subtle flavors. If you dilute alcohol a lot (to something like the levels found in wine), the flavor starts tasting sweet rather than "burn".

I think Dave Arnold also has tried rotovapping whisky (separating the alcohol from the water content) and tasting only the remaining booze-less result. He said you get some amazing flavors when they're not masked by alcohol burn. I think he mentioned this on episode 50 of the cooking issues radio show.

I blog about science and cooking: www.sciencefare.org

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I heard Jim McEwan's (master distiller at Bruichladdich) response to someone who said they never add water to scotch. He was querulous because this is exactly what they do when they bottle it at less than cask strength (see David Goldfarb's response above). As such, if you like your whisky slightly diluted over bottled strength, it shouldn't matter whether you do this prior to or after pouring. The only reason I'd add it afterwards is if I wanted to taste compare the undiluted and diluted whiskies.

Edited by nickrey (log)

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
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I get that water changes the taste, I'm wondering about the timing. If I add 10 mL of water to a 60 mL glass of scotch, is it going to taste different from me adding 100 mL of water to a 600 mL bottle of scotch when I first get it and then pouring a 70 mL pour?

PS: I am a guy.

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I can't offer a real answer either, but two articles that may shed some light on the subject can be found here and here. I would assume that if there are aroma molecules that become more volatile as water is added, then watering down the whole bottle right off the bat could cause it to lose some of those aromas more quickly over time. (Plus, where are you gonna fit the water in an already-full bottle? :wink:) My guess is that bottle strength was always a tradeoff between "how do we keep our shipping costs down?" and "how do we make the most money?" until 80 proof became the standard.

Matthew Kayahara

Kayahara.ca

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I get that water changes the taste, I'm wondering about the timing. If I add 10 mL of water to a 60 mL glass of scotch, is it going to taste different from me adding 100 mL of water to a 600 mL bottle of scotch when I first get it and then pouring a 70 mL pour?

Pour a bit off into a separate small bottle and try it out. I'd suggest it probably won't make any difference. But do use pure water, not some chlorinated horror.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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It's commonly accepted that adding a splash of water to scotch opens up different flavors. But is there anything intrinsically special about the process of adding the water or is it a simple dilution? Could I add the water to the scotch in the bottle and have a readily diluted drink to pour at any time?

i don't know if diluting in advance by simply pouring a measured amount of water in spirit will yield any short term differences, but i have heard of strange techniques for integrating water in spirits.

integrating at too fast a rate can sometimes cause solutions to louche and become visibly cloudy. i'm not sure if it is just a change in clarity or if easily perceivable things happen to the aroma as well.

some distilleries use equipment that slowly integrates water into a spirit with the goal of disturbing the solution as little was possible.

i think they are trying to prevent something like "bottle shock" that happens to wines that haven't been able to settle after traveling. some distillers report that their spirits taste significantly different in short periods of time after they have come out of the still. you'd think that all that has changed is the temperature by a small amount.

my guess is that dilution and any aeration that happens in the action of making a cocktail essentially "bottle shocks" the spirits (influences the aroma), but so many other competing attentional features are added that we cannot perceive the changes.

abstract expressionist beverage compounder

creator of acquired tastes

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This could be related to chill filtering. If a Scotch is chill filtered and you add water, it stays clear. If it is non-chill filtered and water is added, it goes cloudy. I have been told this cloudiness comes from the interaction between the added water and oils, the latter being removed through the filtering process. Scotch purists say that removing the oil removes flavour. My understanding was that chill filtering was introduced to keep people happy by keeping the scotch clear, which although aesthetically pleasing actually removes taste. If you look at whiskies such as Laphroaig quarter-cask, they proudly label it as non-chill filtered. This attracts me more than clear spirits.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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This could be related to chill filtering. If a Scotch is chill filtered and you add water, it stays clear. If it is non-chill filtered and water is added, it goes cloudy. I have been told this cloudiness comes from the interaction between the added water and oils, the latter being removed through the filtering process. Scotch purists say that removing the oil removes flavour. My understanding was that chill filtering was introduced to keep people happy by keeping the scotch clear, which although aesthetically pleasing actually removes taste. If you look at whiskies such as Laphroaig quarter-cask, they proudly label it as non-chill filtered. This attracts me more than clear spirits.

yeah i've seen substantial amounts of oils separating from distillates before. no doubt whatever you separate has tons of aroma. i bet the guys that chill filter collect enough of it that they know what the oils smell like. does any of that information make it into any of the book on whiskey?

i think that smokey aromas only come very late in the distillation run when the temperature starts to really climb. lots of stuff that can louche probably comes through as well so i think if you want all that smokey aroma you have to tolerate potential louching.

abstract expressionist beverage compounder

creator of acquired tastes

bostonapothecary.com

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yeah i've seen substantial amounts of oils separating from distillates before. no doubt whatever you separate has tons of aroma. i bet the guys that chill filter collect enough of it that they know what the oils smell like. does any of that information make it into any of the book on whiskey?

I learnt this through the Scotch obsessives at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, of which I'm a member. The society does its own cask-strength bottlings and does not chill filter anything. Haven't seen it written of in a book though.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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