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I'll Take Mine with a Splash of Guaiacol

On the rocks. Neat. With soda. Even mixed with ginger ale. There are quite a few ways to enjoy your whiskey, but one of the most enduring and popular choices is with a splash of water. Now, researchers out of Linnaeus University in Sweden have figured out why adding a bit of water to your glass can make whiskey even more enjoyable...

Of course, the mix of water and whiskey begins long before it hits your glass. When it is first distilled, whiskey has an alcohol content (ethanol) of about 70 percent, which is then diluted to about 40 percent (80 proof). This makes the beverage smoother and a lot more enjoyable than if it remained at full strength before bottling. But it turns out that further dilution with water in your glass can boost the aroma and flavor of whiskey even more.

The researchers came to the conclusion that the reason has to do with a molecule called guaiacol. This substance is produced when grain is dried over peat smoke in the production of malt whiskey and it is what imparts that distinctive smoky flavor to the spirit. In the study it was found that just the right amount of water added to ethanol causes the molecule to rise to the top of the spirit, increasing the drink's smell and taste.

But just how much is the right amount of water?

While the researchers say this is a matter of individual taste, by doing computer simulations, they discovered that dilution of the spirit to contain 27 percent ethanol (about half whiskey, half water) increased the amount of guaiacol at the surface of your drink, where it meets the air. This in turn brings more flavor and aroma to the surface. Conversely, whiskey with an ethanol content of 59 percent or more had less guaiacol at the air-liquid barrier at the top of a glass.

So go ahead and add a few splashes of water to your whiskey. And if anyone tells you you're ruining the drink, just tell them that you have science on your side.



Posted by Jason Stone on


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