New water at the whiskey mill
The whiskey world is full of rituals and difficult-to-understand spells. Should the whiskey be enjoyed ice cold or at room temperature, in a rum glass or a tumbler, and is a splash of water a welcome elixir or a definite mortal sin?
Two Swedish researchers from Linnaeus University Center in Kalmar have tried to provide a scientific basis to discuss the last question. It is a known fact that water has a clear effect on the aroma and taste of whiskey. The question is of course why?
Not the pure water
The Swedish researchers, Björn Karlsson and Ran Friedman, chose to focus on guaiacol, which is one of the most famous aromatic oils in whiskey. Guaiacol occurs when wood burns, and stems from the alcohol's interaction with the roasted barrel.
The Swedes' study showed that guiaiacol wants to bind to the ethanol, and that a little water in the glass can help break this bond. The effect is especially noticeable if the alcohol percentage is above 59% or close to cask strength. When water is added, there is more space for the oils in the top of the glass, and thus the whiskey releases more aromas.
According to the Swedes, it is likely that other aroma substances behave in the same way as guaiacol. Whether this is enough to convince the water-skeptical part of the whiskey community is uncertain - but now we at least know that water can taste more.
You can read the entire Swedish study here .