Why Whiskey Is Best On the Rocks

Science proves that whiskey diluted with just the right amount of water tastes better

Estimated read time: < 5 Minutes

My bourbon—my poison. I’ll enlighten you lovely people today on how bourbon actually became my poison, and why it is going to stick around as my favourite for more than a while.

At a point of time last year, I was so obsessed with whiskey shots that they were all I drank- in a house party, party scene, or a quiet night in. I got the knack for whiskey from my dad, who is a fine whiskey drinker since more than 30 years now. When I told him about my whiskey shot capability with a proud grin, he totally dismissed me—let alone valuing the coolness quotient I thought I was then full of. He sneered and said, “Having your whiskey neat, that too in one go, is probably the experienced whiskey drinker’s worst nightmare and the proof of the stupidity of an amateur whiskey drinker.”

Why is it so hard to impress fathers? Every time I think I’ve got some news that’ll surprise him, it’s almost like he already has a comeback planned for it. Well, as much as I sulk about it, he’s right. I went on to research about the relation between whiskey and water, and I was pretty surprised about how scientifically backed a fact this was!

With the help of computer simulations, scientists now know why whiskey tastes better when sipped on the rocks—that is, diluted to just about 69% water. This correct amount of dilution can make your whiskey as tasty as it wouldn’t have been otherwise- with some mixer or neat.

The distinctive taste of whiskey is largely caused by a molecule called guaiacol, which has one section that likes water and one section that doesn’t like water. Yep, she’s kind of picky. In a study published in August in the Journal of Scientific Reports, researchers simulated what happens to guaiacol when there are different concentrations of water, and which combination makes the molecule most potent.

Of course, the liquid in your Laphroaig isn’t pure alcohol, as you already know. By the time whiskey is in the bottle, it’s usually already about 45-50 percent alcohol, though this can vary. The simulations showed that at the range of 40-45% alcohol, guaiacol is likely to be floating around at the top of the glass, which enhances both the smell and taste. So, adding just a little bit of water can improve the taste of the drink, because it pushes the molecule to the surface instead of having it dispersed weakly in the rest of the mixture.

But, when there’s more than 59% alcohol in the drink, the lack of water means that the molecule gets driven away from the surface. It floats around in other parts of the glass, which makes the taste work. Quick to adapt, that’s how my favourite drink became the lip-smacking bourbon, and trust me I can identify the changed taste—so will you!

Image Credit: Unsplash

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