THE SCIENCE BEHIND WATER & WHISKY - Part 3

Bowmore is acknowledged to be among the most perfectly balanced single malts in the world, striking just the right chord between smoky and sweet. Across the range of Bowmore single malt expressions, different facets of Bowmore’s highly complex house style are expressed, each creating a unique taste experience for the drinker.

I believe that each Bowmore expression takes the drinker on a unique taste adventure, from the fresh zesty sweetness of Bowmore Small Batch Reserve to the sun-dried fruits and dark chocolatey taste of Bowmore 15 years old Darkest.

Adding water has a different impact on each individual whisky depending upon its unique balance and composition, influenced to a large degree by wood type and age.  A distinctive bourbon cask or sherry cask influence has a significant effect on the flavour and textural changes that occur with water addition.

When water is added to whisky, in addition to the physico-chemical changes already explained in Part 1, certain other phenomena happening in the glass influence how a whisky’s unique flavor profile shifts and changes with water addition. Some Sensory Changes Occurring in the Glass

  • Neat –molecules exist ‘in equilibrium’ at bottling strength giving a consistent and reproducible flavor profile 
  • Add a little water (approx. 10 drops to 20mls dram) – the alcohol- water equilibrium is disrupted. Alcohol rich clusters burst, water- soluble components dissipate and water-insoluble components (in particular citrus oils) escape into the air, creating a change in sensory perception on nosing, often is often more fruity. 
  • Add more water (1 part : 2 parts whisky) –the liquid starts to fractionate, and water clusters start to form, releasing even more volatile oils and precipitating some larger water-insoluble molecules out as a visible ‘haze’. On tasting, the whisky may have a more creamy or waxy mouth-feel as the larger water-insoluble clusters are sensed by the tongue.


Bowmore Small Batch Reserve

Bowmore Small Batch Reserve is created from a combination of 1st and 2nd fill American oak ex bourbon casks, which are then married during a period of extended maturation.  During this time, the 1st and 2nd fill ex bourbon casks harmonise creating a vanilla elixir with ripe orchard fruits, honeycomb and teasing wispy smoke.

When water is added, subtle changes in aroma, taste and texture occur as detailed below:-

 

Neat

With 10 drops water

2 parts whisky: 1 part water

NOSE

Rounded with bourbon vanilla, orchard fruit, toasted coconut and honeycomb

Zesty and fresh.  Orange oil, eucalyptus  and fresh sea-spray  escape with hints of olive oil

Zesty and salty. Lime and lemon with salty sea-spray and subtle chalkiness

TONGUE

Silky smooth vanilla & coconut, peat and cinnamon warmth

Zesty citrus and pistachio nuttiness, soft creamy mouth-feel

Soft lime, sea salt

Chalky mineral  and creamy meringue mouth-feel

Explanation

Small Batch Reserve contains high levels of fresh citrus oils from the bourbon cask maturation. On water addition, these escape from the glass sensed by a perceived increase in fruitiness on nosing.  The liquid softens on taste as larger water-insoluble molecules precipitate out of solution, creating an almost meringue-like texture dissolving on the tongue.

Personal Choice

Personally, I enjoy Small Batch Reserve with around 10 drops of water added to my 20mls dram, enough to release the zesty citrus oils from the liquid on nosing and allow the tongue to detect enhanced fruity-salty tastes, whilst at the same time maintaining the warm vanilla and peat smoke textures.

Bowmore 15 years old Darkest

Bowmore 15 years old ‘Darkest’ is matured in a combination of both bourbon and sherry casks, with the final three years spent wholly in Oloroso sherry casks.  This finishing maturation gives Bowmore 15 Years Old 'Darkest' its rich, deep colour with the taste of chocolate, sun-dried fruits and treacle toffee.

When water is added, subtle changes in aroma, taste and texture occur as detailed below:-

 

Neat

With 10 drops water

2 parts whisky:1 part water

NOSE

Dark chocolate,

cedar wood, sun-dried fruits.

Toffee,  baked orange, liquorice

Nut oils – walnut and pistachio, some citrus. Less sweetness and oak.

TONGUE

Cedar wood, raisin and treacle toffee,  with warming oily ‘cling’

 

Toffee and blood orange

Nutty and salty tastes appear through the chewy velvety tannins

Salted caramel and walnuts, soft dried fruitcake

Explanation

The large sherry cask-derived tannin molecules that give you a velvety chocolatey mouth-feel are water-soluble.  When water is added, they dissipate in the water easily and become more soluble, thus reducing the tannin-derived thick velvety mouth-feel and perception of oak maturity.   The whisky does however soften with toffee and orange sweetness, and more salty and nutty tastes are detectable on the tongue as the water-insoluble molecules either escape or cluster.

Personal Choice

I usually enjoy my Bowmore Darkest neat or with only a few drops of water.   I find that too much water flattens the intense warming sherry cask-derived aromas and reduces the tannin-derived ‘cling’ on the palate.   A few drops of water is sufficient to release the blood orange citrus character I enjoy whilst maintaining the warm tannin-derived velvety texture on taste.

It is completely up to the drinker how best to enjoy each expression. Please experiment and enjoy the journey as you add water and find the perfect balance of aroma, taste and texture to suit your palate, mood and occasion. 

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