In life there are many things grey that just doesn’t conform to things black and white. And whisky isn’t a stranger to this too, there’s the:
- Bourbon vs Tennessee debate – simple, straightforward but still unsettling!
- Whisky vs Whisk’e’y – this one doesn’t seem to be going anywhere!
- Whisky Origin – Ireland or Scotland?! – Does it really matter?
- Whisky neat – whisky water (Two Ws) debacle– Says who? Says where?
Let’s be honest, cocktails and highballs have become immensely popular among the younger segment of Gen Y while the ‘whisky-water’ mix seems more common with the more older millennial population. Asians too seem more inclined to highballs and water mixes as their palates are accustomed to lighter, less spirity drinks. And considering whisky is still an early bloomer within the region, it might take some time before which they begin to down it neat. And though this practice might seem foul to a whisky enthusiast, or might even invite scorn from bar tenders at most pubs, in all honesty people have the right to enjoy their whisky in a way that suits them best!
A few days prior, I was involved in a debate on why whisky should NOT be tainted. And like most debates the outcome never did bring out a clear winner, just loud banter, finger pointing that almost led to the point of name calling and chest thumping!
Now there’s no denying the role water plays in whisky manufacturing – right down to the mashing (fermentation) all the way to the bottling(dilution). And though I might not necessarily advocate more than a teaspoon, I do ask those that prefer ‘over-dilution’ give due respect to the whisky and take necessary precautions when making these mixers so as to gather maximum flavor out of it – and hence the topic!
To begin with mixing water is not taboo; Master Blenders themselves advocate the addition of a few milliliters of water helps open up the spirit and brings down some of the burn- and let no connoisseur talk you out of it!
Now before throwing in that H-2-O into your favorite whisky tumbler (or the Glencairn to the enthusiast), here are a few tips that might be worth considering.
Diluting a drink should in no way rid the whisky of its core flavor, which is where it is important to pay heed to the choice of whisky. An Irish, Japanese or a Lowland Scotch might need lower amounts of water due to its light and soft, easy going flavor profile. A Highland, an Islay and more so a Bourbon have stronger, bolder and less restrained flavors which allows better tolerance to increased dilution. Having said that, I would not recommend a whisky to water mix beyond a 1:1 ratio as anything beyond this would really push the flavors into near oblivion.
Composition and source:
Distilleries themselves take great care in ensuring the water being used is of the right chemical composition – ideal amounts of calcium and you’ve got yourself a smooth fermentation process, while above median proportions of iron or any other heavy metals can darken the spirits, making it unfavorable. So it only makes sense that the water chosen for mixing also needs to follow a few such precautions. For one, near neutral pH levels tending to alkaline form most appropriate for mixing. Mineral rich water could contain heavy metals and salts which could adversely affect the flavor while ‘soft water’ might in fact enhance certain flavors albeit minutely.
Much of this composition is tied to the source and so choosing the appropriate source might ensure an appropriate experience as well. In general I wouldn’t opt for tap water as it wouldn’t be easy to gauge whether it was mineral rich, acidic or basic; not to forget the presence of chlorine which can also be counter productive. Bottled mineral water can also pose some risk, unless you are sure of it to be ‘soft’. The safest bet, and probably the most viable would be the use of deionised water, which frees it from any reminiscent chlorine or salts.
Whisky is best served with water that is at room temperature, as it allows the spirit to breathe. Many of the flavors housed inside your favorite whisky are at times too convoluted and dense and this water allows these flavors to be more spread out and quantifiable. The neutral temperature also encourages increased fragrance delivery to the nose making the overall sensory experience more pleasurable. Water that is cold by nature condenses the fluid and tones down much of your taste buds limiting what you can ideally feel on the palate and the nose. Warm water on the other end might release a lot more on the nose, but may not be pleasing to the palate. Having said that, some traditions/cultures do encourage the use of warm water but I don’t see the need unless what you have in your glass is of sheer poor quality where you are trying to expose flavors that would otherwise be near non existent.
Soda (Sparkling Water):
Mixing whisky with soda (sparkling water) shouldn’t be any different while keeping the above considerations in mind. And though I agree the fizz does add zest and a certain liveliness to the drink, it does however alter the pH levels of the mix as carbon dioxide is acidic in nature.
Bottom line, how you drink your whisky is a choice left only to you; the intention here was to merely suggest how you might as well enhance the overall experience while you continue to choose a style that fits your liking.