If you’re like me, you might have been raised to believe that putting ice or water in your whiskey was some kind of cardinal drinking sin. But science would definitely quibble with my Scots-Irish grandma on this point, because chemists have the scientific proof we need to back up the idea that water (or ice) actually enhances your favorite barrel-aged flavor.
Researchers from the Linnaeus University Centre for Biomaterials Chemistry in Sweden analyzed whiskey at a molecular level to see how exactly it interacts with water.
The molecule responsible for whiskey’s smokey taste and smell is called guaiacol, and it bonds to alcohol molecules in your glass, which distributes the taste evenly. But when you add a splash of water or a couple of ice cubes, the water molecules repel the alcohol (and the guaiacol), pushing more of the taste to the top of the glass.
When that happens, your drink’s distinctive, alluring taste and smell is what fancy bartenders would call “spirit forward.”
The results of the experiments were published in Scientific Reports, and recommend diluting your whiskey to about 40-45% alcohol. Of course, most commercial whiskey’s are diluted before bottling, so just a splash of water or a couple of ice cubes should do you.
You’ll have to do some experimenting of your own in order to find the optimal amount for you, but I’m sure you won’t mind.
I’m about to do some of my own. Just don’t tell my grandma.