Water, Give it a go!
I get asked more about the right way to drink whisky in terms of the use of water than pretty much anything else in my job. It happens a lot and causes big debates but there is no right or wrong way and there are no definitive rules. It is all about you and how you feel!
A prime example of this for me is Bowmore’s Tempest expressions. All first fill bourbon matured, all 10 years old and all cask strength but all very different. When you add water to them they all become very different again. Let’s take the latest one, Tempest 4 as an example of how this whisky changes with and without water.
All four releases of Tempest in one place is a rare sight!
Initially on the nose remembering this is cask strength (55.1% ABV), minty and fresh, saltiness, vanilla and zesty citrus with a balance of that Bowmore smoke. Wonderfully Bowmore and all the ex-American bourbon cask flavours are there combined with the Bowmore house style.
Again when you taste, I take a small sip and move it around the mouth almost to make my mouth aware of the strength. The second sip I get some of the tastes coming through, but still plenty of alcohol. This whisky has great sweetness and plenty of vanilla and lemon citrus tang with that sea saltiness on the side of the tongue. Also I find a slight peppery spiciness and that wispy Bowmore smokiness coming through at the back. It finishes with a strong warming finish you would expect for a cask strength whisky with those first fill American white Oak aromas abound.
With water, this whisky changes and when I add a few drops the first thing that becomes clear is the aromas on the nose seem much more apparent. The sweetness seems more intense on the nose and smokiness, but possibly a little more woody and oak spice aromas coming from those casks.
When you taste, I am struck by the seemingly more intense sweetness at the front of the tongue and then the creamy mouth feel becomes hugely appealing. The sweetness of the whisky comes through bringing the lush flavours of the bourbon casks with lemon opal fruits and vanilla cream combined with that sea salt tang but then the smokiness reappears stronger on the palate towards the end. The finish is mellow but complex with those balanced flavours lingering on.
It is an incredible whisky which then becomes hugely different with water. Sometimes I drink it straight, sometimes with water but also sometimes I drink the first half without water and the remainder of my dram with water. It depends on so many things!
For the purpose of water and whisky, I also wanted to get the objective of a man I know well and someone who is well qualified to talk about the addition of water and whisky. He is continually tasting whisky for the Whisky Magazine and also he is the organiser of the World Whiskies Awards which are awarded every March. Rob Allanson is a good friend and former colleague has been editing Whisky Magazine for 6 years.
"Water is one of those wonderfully contentious issues. How many times have you been in a bar and been told: "You cannae add water to that sonny, sacrilege." Rubbish! Water has this great effect on whisky where by it opens up all those flavour chains, both on the nose and the palate. If the water issue comes up in a masterclass I would normally slowly pour some into a cask strength number to show off those whorls. Why would you not add water when you are missing out on all these extra dimensions. Water softens and mellows, but it also reveals. Add water to high strength whiskies and it's incredible what the alcohol can mask; both in good ways, revealing more layers and complexities; and some times bad, off notes.
"So it is ok to add water to your whiskies...in fact I would encourage it. Go on..."
So there you are…………give it a try……..it is only water!!
Rachel Barrie our Master Blender explains the science behind adding water to the superbly balanced 12yo.... click here