Whether you are a long-time fan or complete newbie concerning the world of whisky, there is always something new you can learn about the wonderful spirit.
There are some unwritten rules about Scotch and the ways one should sample it, and without someone to help you along you might find yourself afraid of doing something wrong and enraging fellow whisky lovers while on an outing to the new whisky bar in town.
It’s important to remember that there is no “right” answer, and any real whisky fan should never judge another on how they choose to drink their whisky. Well, that’s actually not true. Judging someone who adds lemonade or cola to their single malt is completely acceptable!
At the end of the day, adding ice, water, or neither to your Scotch is up to you, and we recommend trying each way to see what you like. These additions should only enhance and make your whisky experience more pleasant. A whisky drinker may want the very most out of the experience, alcohol burn, intense flavours and all, while a newbie might need that cube of ice to make the whisky more drinkable.
Nonetheless, the more you know the better. So here is a little guide on the ways to consume whisky, and how the flavour can be affected by adding ice or water.
Whisky purists frown when someone adds ice to a glass of good Scotch. But have you ever wondered why?
Ice doesn’t destroy a good Scotch or anger the whisky gods, as many may believe. It simply changes the experience. By adding ice the temperature of the whisky rapidly drops, and this temperature drop is known to calm the alcoholic burn of Scotch and make it more refreshing.
However, the downside and main reason whisky fans avoid adding ice to rare single malts, is that the colder the whisky gets, the less you can taste. Think of an overly chilled white wine, or a freezing cold pale ale. The colder many alcoholic beverages become, the more the flavours within are inhibited. That is why global lager companies serve their beer ice cold – to suppress the less-than-impressive flavour.
Whisky is affected in the same way. Only when a Scotch reaches room temperature will the real experience begin, with bursting aromas, and smooth and sharp flavours coming through to the nose and palate.
Ice isn’t the evil form of water many fans think it to be, it just doesn’t allow drinkers to experience the full glory of the single malt they are sampling.
If, however, you are just starting out and can’t really handle the intense alcohol burn of straight whisky, add an ice cube or two, and get used to the taste.
Water is much more accepted than ice, as many whisky connoisseurs recommend adding a few drops of water to your dram in order to let the whisky truly “open up.”
Many whiskies, especially cask strengths bottles, can be very high in ABV, some reaching over 60%. When drinking such whiskies, the sheer alcohol burn can be more than enough to overwhelm your palate and overpower even the more evident flavours in the whisky. So imagine what happens to those subtle and delicate flavours within the single malt.
In such cases, a splash of water will aid in slightly diluting the whisky, thus allowing more flavours and aromas to shine through. Unlike ice, the water won’t reduce the whisky’s temperature that much, so you needn’t worry about subduing the flavours.
Everyone’s palate is different, so experiment with the amount of water you add to the whisky. Just don’t go overboard! You aren’t mixing a vodka and soda.
As It Is
Many fans worldwide greatly believe in tradition, and insist that a single malt should always be consumed straight, without the addition of water or ice.
This way, one is tasting the whisky in its true form, as it was bottled at the distillery where it was created and aged. All the undertones and flavours imparted from the cask are believed to be most evident this way, and none of the whisky’s characteristics are dulled by lower temperatures and dilution.
Nowadays, the rules are less strict and many believe that adding some water delivers more flavour than a whisky consumed straight will.
Once again, it’s all about trial and error. Order a Scotch, take a sip, and then add some water. It’s the best way to know what works for you!
Have a look through the Whisky Foundation’s cask strength collection and sample one of the whiskies straight, with ice, and with a splash of water. Considering the high ABV percentages found in our cask strength bottles, you’ll be able to truly determine the difference between a straight whisky and a dram with some water added to it!