Whisky enthusiasts know that adding a little water can sometimes enhance the flavor of their drink, but a recent study led by researchers at Washington State University shows that there’s a limit to how much water should be added. According to the study, adding more than 20% water to a whisky may cause it to lose its unique aroma and flavor.

In the study, researchers analyzed the chemical changes that occurred when water was added to a set of 25 whiskies, including bourbons, ryes, Irish whiskeys, and both single malt and blended Scotches. They also had a trained sensory panel assess six of those whiskies, three Scotches and three bourbons. The results of both tests indicated that adding a little water could change how the whiskies smelled, but after 20%, they may start to have the same aroma, which likely affected their flavor as well.

WSU Assistant Professor Tom Collins, senior author of the study published in the journal Foods, said that “by the time you get to 60/40 whisky to water, the whiskies are not differentiated by the panelists; they begin to smell the same, and that’s not really what you’re looking for.” The researchers also found that at 100% whisky, the panelists could easily tell all the whiskies apart from each other, and at 80/20 whisky to water, they could still differentiate whiskies within each group, but after more water was added, that changed.

In addition to the sensory panel, the researchers also conducted a chemical analysis of the whiskies, which showed that the changes in volatile compounds in the headspace, or the area above the liquid, were consistent with the panelists’ observations. For instance, many of the Scotch whiskies started out with a smoky, “peat” aroma, but as they were diluted, they moved toward a fruitier aroma known as “pome.”

Collins said that the findings of the study can help whisky makers better understand how their customers will experience the drink if they choose to add water or have it “on the rocks.” The study also supports the practice of serving whisky with a single, large ice cube, as it allows the drinker to enjoy the whisky before it gets diluted to the point that it loses its distinct aroma and flavor.

Overall, this study provides valuable insights into the chemical changes that occur when water is added to whisky and suggests that adding too much water can have a negative impact on the drink’s aroma and flavor. It’s good news for whisky enthusiasts who want to enjoy the full range of flavors in their favorite drink.

Source WSU Insider