Whisky basics

Did you know?

Ensure that you use still water not carbonated. Also the water or ice you add should come from a mineral source or be distilled. Tap water in most locations world wide contain high levels of chlorine and this will partially mask the flavours of the whisky.

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Adding water or ice

'Should I add water or ice to my whisky?' is one of the most commonly asked questions about whisky. Adding water or ice changes a whisky in both positive and negative ways. Most whisky that has an alcohol level of between 40 and 46% ABV already has some water added anyway. This process is called 'cutting' and is done before bottling in order to bring the alcohol down to a more acceptable level for the majority of consumers. The water used is usually spring water that is found locally to the distillery.

Adding nothing
Many whisky drinkers believe that you should not add any water to your whisky under any circumstance. This is because you are tasting the whisky in its true natural form with all of the original distillery characteristics and flavours from the cask in which it has been maturing. This view is now seen as out of date. However, we recommend always trying a whisky as it comes from the bottle in the first instance - then you can make up your own mind and take it from there.

Adding water
By adding a few drops of water to a whisky, you can open up different, new and subtle flavours that you previously had not experienced. This is especially true when drinking cask strength whiskies that have higher alcohol levels (these can be up to and over 60% ABV in some cases). With cask strength whisky the alcohol and resulting burning in your mouth can overpower even the most prominent flavours. By adding some water, this dilutes the alcohol and reduces its effect, giving both the prominent and more subtle flavours a chance to shine. Imagine drinking a fruit cordial or concentrate without any water and then with water - it is essentially the same idea. How much water you then add is entirely dependent on your taste.

Adding ice
Ice is slightly different. Rather than enhancing flavours, it inhibits them as the ice makes the temperature of the whisky drop rapidly. It is the same as when you drink a good white wine that has been chilled down too much. It will be a more refreshing drink and calm the burn of alcohol, but can make the whisky taste dull and flat. The aromas and taste will only start to open up and reveal their full characteristics once the whisky starts to warm up to room temperature.

Different whiskies deserve different treatment
Despite the myths about adding or not adding water or ice, don't feel ashamed to drink a cheap American bourbon or Scottish blended whisky with a mixer as they are often produced for this treatment. If you plan to drink an expensive single malt avoid adding any other flavours, as you are buying this whisky for its unique flavour. If you can, try a sip before adding ice or water as we have mentioned. You will often be surprised at the difference in the flavours and you will learn more about the whisky that you are drinking.

It is really up to you
Ultimately, what you add to your whisky is all down to your own personal taste and the situation that you are drinking in. For instance, there is nothing better than enjoying a whisky cocktail or whisky 'on the rocks' on a hot Summer's day. There are no right or wrong answers - if you have spent money on a shot of whisky or a bottle, then you can drink it how you like.

Brian Kinsman, Master Blender - Williams Grant & Sons