What’s the right way to drink whiskey?
Should it be neat, with nothing added?
On the rocks?
Or with a little water?
Whiskey contains hundreds of compounds: alcohols, fatty acids, aldehydes, and esters. But one particular compound, called guaiacol, helps give whiskey its smoky flavor. And the trick to bringing out that flavor has everything to do with water.
Here’s where the chemistry comes in: Researchers have shown that guaiacol tends to float to the surface when whiskey is diluted to less than 59 percent alcohol. That’s important because guaiacol’s smoky flavor is mostly smelled by way of evaporation. Meaning that if whiskey is less than 59 percent alcohol, its guaiacol will stay near the surface and evaporate up into your nose. And there’s your delicious smoky flavor.
So how does this settle the great whiskey and water debate?
Well, it means that if you’re drinking whiskey that’s more than 59 percent alcohol, you should definitely try cutting it with a little water. But here’s the catch: 59 percent is crazy-potent whiskey and pretty rare. Most common whiskeys are around 40 percent alcohol, which is already pretty dilute. Anyway, the research suggests adding a little more water.
Ice, on the other hand, actually slows evaporation, which means fewer flavors are reaching your nose. So ice isn’t really crucial, unless your whiskey is overpowering you, or you just want your drink to be cold.
Anyway, this could be the best chemistry experiment:
Step 1: Pour yourself three samples of your favorite whiskey.
Step 2: Leave one alone, put a little water in the second, and put some ice in the third.
Step 3: Close your eyes and take a sip of each.
Whatever you like the best, that is the right way to drink whiskey. Case closed?