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Science

Dilution of Whisky -- the Molecular Perspective (nature.com) 84

From a new published paper in Scientific Report by Bjorn C. G. Karlsson and Ran Friedman: Despite the growing knowledge of the nature of water-alcohol mixtures on a molecular level, much less is known on the interaction of water, alcohol and small solutes. In particular, the nature of the interaction between the solvent and taste-carrying molecules, such as guaiacol, is not known. To address this gap, we used MD simulations to study the distribution of guaiacol in water-alcohol mixtures of different concentrations. Our simulations revealed that guaiacol is present at the air-liquid interface at ethanol concentrations that correspond to the alcohol content of bottled or diluted whiskies. Because the drink is consumed at the interface first, our findings help to understand why adding water to whisky helps to enhance its taste. A molecular understanding of the nature of taste compounds in water-alcohol mixtures allows for optimizing the taste of alcoholic spirits. [...] Overall, there is a fine balance between diluting the whisky to taste and diluting the whisky to waste.
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Dilution of Whisky -- the Molecular Perspective

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  • Some of my relatives are 'whiskey snobs' and would make fun of me for diluting it (just slightly) with water for better taste. Now I can tell them I have science to back me up!
    • Some of my relatives are 'whiskey snobs' and would make fun of me for diluting it (just slightly) with water for better taste. Now I can tell them I have science to back me up!

      Hmm... Expect mixed results. It seems many people aren't swayed by science and/or facts.

    • by taustin ( 171655 )

      Gourmet moose pee still comes out of the same end of the moose.

    • Not if its 'whiskey'. This only really applies to 'whisky'. Anyway, whenever I meet a whisk(e)y snob I mix in some coke (or Irn Bru which seems to annoy them more)

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Overall, there is a fine balance between diluting the whisky to taste and diluting the whisky to waste.

      A splash of good water will open up a whiskey, much like allowing a wine to breathe. You can taste the subtle flavors, instead of just burning your tongue with alcohol. Too much water ruins it, just like airing a wine too long turns it to vinegar.

      If you like it, drink it the way you like it. If anyone complains about how you drink it -don't drink with them.

      "Whisky, invented by the Irish, perfected by the Scottish!"

    • As a whisky snob, I have no problem adding water but it depends on the whisky, In my personal experience in some cases water brings out more flavour, and in some it kills it. When you go to a whisky tasting, taste it neat and then add a drop of water and compare it. Your mileage will vary.
    • Sorry, but being of Scottish descent I can tell you there was always a wee jug of water on the bar to add a splash to your dram.
    • Uh, whisky snobs always try their favorite whiskies at different dilutions.

      That said, the water that is already added when bottled is usually a good place to start. If it's cask strength, you can of course try the same whisky in many different ways.

    • by rtb61 ( 674572 )

      Alcohol is a toxin. The liver is specifically designed to get rid of it. Yes pour a toxin on your taste buds and they don't work so well, and all the other nonsense is just nonsense. Just like using MSG in order to stimulate the taste buds to taste more, when real flavours are missing, ahh, the bullshit taste of fake umami. Not the original of course, which was a Japanese thing, a balance of salty, sweet, bitter and sour to create savouriness, now just one bullshit chemical burning out your tastebuds and ad

    • by dwye ( 1127395 )

      I assume that they only drink cask-strength whiskey (~130 proof)? Otherwise, they really ARE snobs, rather than displaying better taste than most.

      Of course, real whiskey fans know about the effect of a small amount of water opening up additional notes. If they (your relatives) don't, well, that just proves something more.

    • When you add a few drops, it's not really any significant dilution, but as the article says, it can have significant chemical effect. And besides, you're the one drinking it. If you want to dilute to 50/50, feel free to do so. Fuck the snobs.

      As my favorite whisky club's slogan goes, "leave no nose upturned".

    • Your relatives may not be whiskey snobs. Most whiskey snobs I know recommend adding cool (not cold) water to your whiskey or bourbon to bring it down to 38% alcohol.

      Don't put ice as it will cool, hence hide the flavors.

      Use a glass that captures the aroma (like a red wine glass) or get a set of Glencairns so that you're able to savour the whiskey
  • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Thursday August 17, 2017 @04:49PM (#55036871)

    I am hoping, though, we can all come together and agree that:

    The dilution of whiskey is morally wrong.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "There must be a way to use some of this grant money on whisky..."

  • by reboot246 ( 623534 ) on Thursday August 17, 2017 @05:04PM (#55036993) Homepage
    Boss: How did like that bottle of whiskey I gave you for Christmas?
    Employee: It was just right.
    Boss: Just right? Is that all?
    Employee: Yep, if it had been any worse, I couldn't have drunk it and if it had been any better, you wouldn't have given it to me.
  • Whisky != Whiskey (Score:4, Informative)

    by lophophore ( 4087 ) on Thursday August 17, 2017 @05:13PM (#55037051) Homepage

    The authors of the article don't understand that "whisky" (from Scotland) is not the same as "whiskey" (from anywhere else.)

    The discussion that the water opens the whisky up and makes the guaiacol more aromatic does not apply to whiskey that does not have a lot of this chemical in it, that is to say NOT SCOTCH.

    Adding water to Irish Whiskey, or good ole American Bourbon Whiskey, is not going to have the same effect. Adding a couple teaspoons of cool water to your delicious smoky single malt from Islay will make a noticeable difference and open op the "nose" of the whisky.

    True "whisky snobs" know the difference.

    • by rogoshen1 ( 2922505 ) on Thursday August 17, 2017 @05:34PM (#55037219)

      just when you think audiophiles are the most insufferable cunts on the face of the planet...

      • Re:Whisky != Whiskey (Score:4, Informative)

        by pz ( 113803 ) on Thursday August 17, 2017 @08:05PM (#55037983) Journal

        Having been in and around both audiophiles and whisky aficionados, I can most certainly say that the latter are far less ... ah, annoying ... than the former. Whisky lovers, after all, like to drink. That alone eliminates most of the peccadillos.

        And, really, when it comes down to it, there are substantial differences between the various amber liquors. Just because something alcoholic is aged in wood does not mean it is like everything else that is.

        Also, importantly, the differences that audiophiles talk about are often minute and difficult to discern. The differences that whisky aficionados talk about are readily perceived by the ordinary palette.

        And while the audiophile realm is filled with snake oil salesmen who want nothing more than to separate you from your hard-earned wages, providing you with products of highly dubious value, whisky is largely --- and I do say this in the over-all sense, understanding that there are occasional exceptions --- value-based. The more you spend on a bottle, generally speaking, the better it will taste. By comparison, wire is largely wire no matter how expensive it is.

        • by zieroh ( 307208 )

          The differences that whisky aficionados talk about are readily perceived by the ordinary palette.

          And while the audiophile realm is filled with snake oil salesmen who want nothing more than to separate you from your hard-earned wages, providing you with products of highly dubious value, whisky is largely --- and I do say this in the over-all sense, understanding that there are occasional exceptions --- value-based. The more you spend on a bottle, generally speaking, the better it will taste.

          I largely agree with this, but I'll go ahead and provide one of the most egregious and notable exceptions that you alluded to: Pappy Van Winkle is surely the Pear Anjou speaker cable [gizmodo.com] of the whiskey world. Perfectly acceptable bourbon, to be sure. But not worth anything near the going price.

    • by uncqual ( 836337 )

      IMHO, a couple Tsp is a bit much for the standard drink size. Although, most of my testing has been on popular (read, "well marketed and available almost everywhere") moderately priced Islays like Lagavulin or some of the smokier Highlands so my testing is not very broad based.

      However, I expect to continue to experiment aggressively until I figure out just the right amount of water to add -- it could take decades to perfect this, but I'm willing to make that sacrifice to help humanity.

    • by taustin ( 171655 )

      True "whisky snobs" know the difference.

      You [gizmodo.com] remind [arstechnica.com] me [blogspot.com] of [soundapproach.com] true [francktchang.com] audiophiles [machinadynamica.com] [pwbelectronics.co.uk]

    • Re:Whisky != Whiskey (Score:4, Informative)

      by Sumus Semper Una ( 4203225 ) on Thursday August 17, 2017 @06:04PM (#55037393)

      The authors of the article don't understand that "whisky" (from Scotland) is not the same as "whiskey" (from anywhere else.)

      Isn't that why Scotch exists as a word used to describe a specific kind of alcoholic beverage? Also, did you even read the article? Ok, this is Slashdot, that was a silly question to ask. Anyway, here's an excerpt from the introduction stating that they are well aware of the differences in guaiacol content:

      Guaiacol is a small and mostly hydrophobic molecule that is able to interact with polar solvents via hydrogen-bonding and polar-aromatic interactions. Higher concentrations of guaiacol have been found in Scottish whiskies than in American and Irish ones. The concentration of guaiacol was found by GC/MS to be 3.7–4.1mgL1, or about 3.2105M in two undisclosed Scottish whiskies5. It is likely that the concentration of guaiacol in Isley whiskies is even higher.

      And, more specifically, they point out in their conclusions that dilution with water is only helpful to cask-strength whiskey to bring out its flavor:

      Dilution of cask-strength whisky improves its taste by increasing the propensity of taste compounds at the liquid-air interface... ...It is therefore reasonable to assume that the taste of guaiacol (and other amphipathic, semi-volatile compounds) is less pronounced at high alcohol concentrations, which explains why dilution of cask-strength whiskies results in a change in the sensory effects of the whisky.

      So diluting some off-the-shelf Jack Daniel's likely won't enhance its whiskey flavor. But adding a little water to some Scotch or cask strength Maker's Mark will enhance it.

      • Yeah, I read the linked paper and a lot of the breathless press about it, too. Thanks for asking. The press really got it wrong, and maybe that's what twisted me up. These guys got it right: http://blogs.discovermagazine.... [discovermagazine.com] -- very few of the others did.

        The reason that there is so much guaiacol in whisky from Scotland has a whole lot to do with the way that they smoke the barley. Especially the Islay whiskys. They smoke the malted barley, then ferment it, then distill it, and even after being distilled

        • by rgmoore ( 133276 )

          I think you're missing the importance of this point:

          (and other amphipathic, semi-volatile compounds)

          The authors of the study looked at guaiacol specifically, but their intention is to use it as a typical example of a large class of similar compounds that are important in the flavor of more kinds of whiskey than just Scotch. This kind of thing- studying one compound as an example of an entire class- is common when it just isn't practical to study every member of a class. They clearly can't study every flav

    • The authors of the article don't understand that "whisky" (from Scotland) is not the same as "whiskey" (from anywhere else.)

      The discussion that the water opens the whisky up and makes the guaiacol more aromatic does not apply to whiskey that does not have a lot of this chemical in it, that is to say NOT SCOTCH.

      Huh? The article's introduction specifically says that guaiacol "is much more common in Scottish whiskies than in American or Irish ones."

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It is a difference in the Gaelic pronunciation.

      Scotch Gaelic uisge beatha vs Irish Gaelic uisce beatha. Both are "the breath of life" but the difference in pronunciation became a difference in spelling. Most of the world followed the Irish spelling.

      Now days we call Scottish whisky "Scotch", American whiskey "Bourbon" and Irish whiskey "Whiskey". To further muddy the waters there are Japanese whiskys (made in the Scottish style) and rye whiskeys.

    • by zieroh ( 307208 )

      True "whisky snobs" know the difference.

      Speaking as an avid whisk(e)y drinker, I have long ago learned to spot other whisk(e)y enthusiasts. I have enjoyed a wide variety of the stuff with a wide variety of people. I think, then, that I can say with some authority that you're not a snob at all -- you're something so much more. I think the proper classification is "whisky douchebag".

      I know I'll get modded down for this, but I don't care. I've got a glass of the good stuff in one hand and karma in the bank.

  • "guaiacol"?
    GUACAMOLE ALCOHOL?! Maybe science has gone too far...
  • "Overall, there is a fine balance between diluting the whisky to taste and diluting the whisky to waste."

    I bet it was high-fives all around the room when someone came up with that one. At the very least, it makes a great heading for the conference poster/first PowerPoint slide.

  • What costs more? The article or the whisky?
  • I'm very interested in this work. I have as a rule tried to stay away from ice and even water as I didn't want to dilute the product for its own sake. But with science indicating that the flavors of the whiskey are unlocked, my favorite pastime gets a new technique!
    • You have to experiment to find the right amount of water, especially with cask strength malts. I have some at 65% that are undrinkable when undiluted, and I have others around ~63% that are just deceptively smooth and hardly need more than a single drop or two to open up beautifully.

  • by seoras ( 147590 ) on Thursday August 17, 2017 @09:35PM (#55038385)

    As lophophore correctly points out [slashdot.org] this only applies to Scottish Whisky, but I'd go further by adding that it only applies to cask strength Whisky not your off-the-shelf bottle strength (~40%) which has already been watered to taste.

    I got my education in Whisky in the early 90's living in Edinburgh where there was a private club in Leith called the Scotch Malt Whisky Society [smws.com]. 4 times a years the owners would tour the distilleries sampling casks and purchasing the ones they liked best which they then bottled and sold in the club rooms directly from the cask (hence cask strength). The distilleries allowed them to do this on the condition they numbered the bottles protecting the anonymity of each distillery which has it's own unique (blended) flavour.
    They'd organised guided tastings which I went to a number of. You'd get 3 Whisky's and be told to taste a tiny amount un-watered and then slowly add water to taste until you felt the flavours had come out. The results are dramatic and the taste of that Whisky is unlike anything you've ever tried or known about Whisky.
    They've since been bought out by a large company and are now a global franchise. If you can find one near you then I recommend trying them out.

    If you can't find them near by the I'd recommend by favourite Whisky Lagavulin.
    It comes as a standard 16 year old which is regular strength and also as a 12 year old cask strength. I always go for the cask strength one.
    Whisky's don't improve much after 12 years.

    Final tip. Try to use distilled water to dilute. As clean and neutral as you can get.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The only thing I'd add to this is "taste a tiny amount un-watered" means a truly small amount - any significant quantity of cask-strength will numb your taste buds.

    • Whisky's don't improve much after 12 years.

      I have a beautiful 20yo SMWS Laphroig on my shelf that very much disagrees with that idea :-)

  • So I was watching boardwalk empire and saw that basically they took grain alcohol (you may know it as everclear) and mixed ingrediants like... ...

    vanilla and water for rum.
    water and a little sugar for vodka.
    liquid smoke, amber coloring for whiskey.

    So I did some experimenting (having had a couple dozen whiskeys including the expensive stuff).

    It wasn't whiskey- but if you hadn't had whiskey for a few years, it was sorta in the neighborhood. I'm wondering if filtering the water thru some peat moss and then bo

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