The Science Behind Whisky and Water

Think your whisky should still be neat? Bowmore hopes to change your mind with its new water program

We make the case over and over again — water in your whisky is a good thing. And now the distillers are showing us why. 

The women behind Bowmore Single Malt Scotch Whisky, master blender Rachel Barrie and marketing manager Cara Laing, have launched a new water program that includes water-dispensing units to encourage more bars to serve whisky and water. Barrie in a release explains why adding water to Bowmore, or any whisky, changes the flavor and experience completely. "Bowmore is an amazingly complex and harmonious whisky with an enigmatic flavor spectrum," she says. "... Adding water allows the drinker to unlock Bowmore’s waves of flavor on a journey through its creation. The taste adventure is just beginning."

So what's the physics of the water when added to the whisky? Barrie breaks it down: 

What you see: "Viscimetric whorls develop. These are the eddies and threads created when fluids of different viscosities mix."
What you smell: "As the alcohol and water combine, energy is released and the temperature of the liquid is initially increased by about 2 degrees Celsius (an exothermic reaction), allowing the liquid to 'open up' and release more of the volatile aromas. By reducing the higher alcohol strength, it enables our sense of smell to work better and the aroma paradoxically seems to increase in intensity when first adding water."
What you taste: "The addition of water and the dropping of the alcohol strength creates a 'cooling' effect on the tongue and makes us more receptive to salty and fruity tastes, rather than sweet and spicy. Therefore, we discover different facets of Bowmore’s taste profile than a dram taken neat."

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While most say that single-malts and whiskies should be enjoyed with plenty of water, others may prefer it with ice — good thing there are plenty of Scotch-specific ice cubes (and some silly ones, too) to open up your drink.