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sku
05-17-2011, 20:01
Like many folks who post here, I mostly drink my whiskey neat...that's just how I like it, but I occasionally add a few drops of water. One thing I find with bourbon is that water pretty consistently brings out the sweetness of the bourbon. For me, this is often not a good thing as it tends to throw off the balance, and I like a dry, woody bourbon.

I'm wondering if others have this experience as well or if it is just me.

I'm also wondering why this is (assuming it's not just me). Are there certain compounds that are water soluble that are giving way to the sugar or is the sweetness just a stronger flavor that sticks out more when the whiskey is diluted.

Thoughts?

callmeox
05-17-2011, 20:17
I was thinking about the the other night and I decided that it was total bunk.

All of the bourbon that we consume has water in it, no matter if it is at barrel strength or lower. Any water soluble compounds in the bourbon would already be in solution due to the fact that there is already water *in* the bourbon. If they weren't in solution, the compounds would have to be saturated and as solids would be obvious to the eye.

For a few drops of water in a pour to make a difference, there would have to be something mystical about the water that was added OR the bourbon would have had to be cut to just above some mythical sweet spot before bottling for it to make a difference.

I'd love to hear from Beakerboy or etohchem on this. Any other chemists around care to chime in?

My opinion on the water soluble compounds myth:

http://archer.gamebanana.com/img/ico/sprays/mythbusters_busted_spray.png

ODaniel
05-17-2011, 20:50
I could see it giving the impression of being sweeter, but from a technical standpoint it would only dilute it. Water dilutes the bourbon, decreasing abv, therefore decreasing heat, so certain flavors may be more evident. Also, alcohol is lighter than water, so more water would give the impression of having more body to the drink (as far as straight hard liquor is concerned). Having more body, and tasting certain flavors more due to decreased heat, could give the impression of more sweetness.... maybe.

etohchem
05-18-2011, 04:19
short answer: water affects you, not the bourbon.
Long answer: Industry standard for tasting is to dilute to 40 proof. At this level the flavors can be distinguished and the effect of alcohol on the trans geminal nerves are reduced. Make note: this is for evaluation, NOT for enjoyment. The dilution allows you to see all of the nuances and at 40 proof there is still enough alcohol to carry the nose.
The drink isn't sweeter or any chemical reaction, the pain goes away and you can taste better.
Alcohol is a direct stimulator of the trans geminal nerve. So are CO2, capsaicin, ammonia(smelling salts) and others. The first sensation when drinking is pain and annoyance on this nerve. Alcohol itself is said to have no flavor or odor just a trans geminal reaction. When this nerve is stimulated repeatedly it becomes accustomed to the feeling and turns it to a pleasurable sense, requiring stronger stimulation to receive that feeling. Hence as some on this board say they want higher and higher proofs as they get deeper into spirits. You also see this effect with hot sauces and hot wings, hotter and hotter becomes the quest to stimulate this nerve. The stimulation becomes key vs flavor enjoyment.
Ever hear at a college party" I can't taste the alcohol in this punch, this is great" means that the trans geminal nerve isn't being stimulated.

sku
05-18-2011, 06:27
short answer: water affects you, not the bourbon.
Long answer: Industry standard for tasting is to dilute to 40 proof. At this level the flavors can be distinguished and the effect of alcohol on the trans geminal nerves are reduced. Make note: this is for evaluation, NOT for enjoyment. The dilution allows you to see all of the nuances and at 40 proof there is still enough alcohol to carry the nose.
The drink isn't sweeter or any chemical reaction, the pain goes away and you can taste better.
Alcohol is a direct stimulator of the trans geminal nerve. So are CO2, capsaicin, ammonia(smelling salts) and others. The first sensation when drinking is pain and annoyance on this nerve. Alcohol itself is said to have no flavor or odor just a trans geminal reaction. When this nerve is stimulated repeatedly it becomes accustomed to the feeling and turns it to a pleasurable sense, requiring stronger stimulation to receive that feeling. Hence as some on this board say they want higher and higher proofs as they get deeper into spirits. You also see this effect with hot sauces and hot wings, hotter and hotter becomes the quest to stimulate this nerve. The stimulation becomes key vs flavor enjoyment.
Ever hear at a college party" I can't taste the alcohol in this punch, this is great" means that the trans geminal nerve isn't being stimulated.

Thanks for the great response! So if you smell ammonia a lot, will it become pleasurable too?

Brisko
05-18-2011, 06:50
I was thinking about the the other night and I decided that it was total bunk.

All of the bourbon that we consume has water in it, no matter if it is at barrel strength or lower. Any water soluble compounds in the bourbon would already be in solution due to the fact that there is already water *in* the bourbon. If they weren't in solution, the compounds would have to be saturated and as solids would be obvious to the eye.

For a few drops of water in a pour to make a difference, there would have to be something mystical about the water that was added OR the bourbon would have had to be cut to just above some mythical sweet spot before bottling for it to make a difference.

I'd love to hear from Beakerboy or etohchem on this. Any other chemists around care to chime in?

My opinion on the water soluble compounds myth:



I am not a scientist by any stretch, and I'm not disagreeing with those here who are, but I recall reading a monograph that claimed that the long chain fatty acids in whiskey tend to ball up over time. Adding water causes them to unroll, at least for a while, and this contributes significantly to the flavor change. Apparently, given enough time, these long chains roll back up.

Again, just reporting what I remember.

Brisko
05-18-2011, 07:39
Here's the article I was remembering: http://www.maltmaniacs.org/malt-111.html#09-03

bgageus
05-18-2011, 10:23
Was actually thinking about this the other day while sipping on some of my own aged whiskey. In my pensive moment I decided to go back to my grade school days an look up where tase buds are on the tounge to help me determine flavors by where I tasted them as well as what I tasted.

Apparently we taste sweet with the tip of our tongue. Which happens to be the place where the whiskey will hit first. Theoretically it will be at its higest proof there before mixing with saliva and being diluted. The thought is that the heat (echoing the statements above) will be its greatest at that point when it hits the area of your tongue that detects sweet flavors. By adding water it reduces the heat and helps you detect the sweet flavor.

I have no authority on this topic, but it makes sense to me.

the Duff
05-18-2011, 10:36
I have noticed that adding any amount of tap water, even filtered, changes what's in my glass ..... and not in a good way. The chlorine?

sailor22
05-18-2011, 11:34
. The chlorine?

That would be my guess. Stick with spring water.

Flyfish
08-19-2011, 07:17
That would be my guess. Stick with spring water.
At Heaven Hill, if memory serves, our tour guide was asked how she drinks her boubon--straight, with water, on the rocks? She said she puts her glass in the freezer. The frost that forms is condensate (no chlorine) and, when it melts in the bourbon, it releases just enough water to open up the flavors without diluting them the way ice will do.

emr454
08-19-2011, 08:33
I notice this when I add a couple drops of water to OGD 114. It did actually seem sweeter.

Eric

nor02lei
08-19-2011, 11:47
I notice this when I add a couple drops of water to OGD 114. It did actually seem sweeter.

Eric

Iím not sure about the sweetness in general when adding water, but on a couple of accessions when the whether has been real hot in the last 2 summers I have put ice in OGD114 and it has become sweeter. One thing I am sure of though is that older bourbon and single malts as well for that matter get woodier when I put water in them.

Leif

emr454
08-19-2011, 12:03
I’m not sure about the sweetness in general when adding water, but on a couple of accessions when the whether has been real hot in the last 2 summers I have put ice in OGD114 and it has become sweeter. One thing I am sure of though is that older bourbon and single malts as well for that matter get woodier when I put water in them.

Leif

I had not noticed this sweetness with any other bourbon until I had the OGD114, which may be my new favorite bourbon. I was sad to see that bottle go.

I wonder if this can be explained by an evolving palate, becoming more sensitive to different flavors in whiskeys?


Eric

T Comp
08-19-2011, 14:55
I generally prefer whiskey bottled at barrel proof or close to it but often add my own bit of water to bring them down to 100 proof (a couple of vocal cord nodules and surgery for them help reinforce that 100 proof sweet spot for me). I notice that WTRB and FR barrel proofs do not take as kindly to my added water as Stagg, WLW, Handy and OGD 114. With RB, the char and bitterness actually increases some and with FR, the fruits get a little washed out...enough to unbalance them from their original incarnation...and now I leave out the water for those two. OGD 114 is the only one that I would say gets specifically sweeter with some water.

Dramiel McHinson
08-19-2011, 17:53
I learned a long time ago that certain people added spring water or distilled/filtered water to scotch to "crack" the spirit. This was a technique for nosing and tasting to open up the flavors. I began to try this and my experience was scotch got drier and the wood tannins more pronounced. Bourbon had a similar reaction. Then there were the exceptions... For the most part a little water goes a long way for me. It appears the the ole trans geminal nerves are constrained by the brain they are attached to so our experiences may differ more as a function of interpretation than traceable chemical reaction.

ethangsmith
08-20-2011, 04:55
I used water from the faucet a few times and it was a HUGE mistake. We are on public water, which is rich with chlorine, flouride, iron, and other minerals. And we also have a softener. Yuck! It made the bourbon taste like some sour, bitter, buttery chemical. It's amazing the effect unpure water can have on a beverage.

emr454
08-20-2011, 06:19
I used water from the faucet a few times and it was a HUGE mistake. We are on public water, which is rich with chlorine, flouride, iron, and other minerals. And we also have a softener. Yuck! It made the bourbon taste like some sour, bitter, buttery chemical. It's amazing the effect unpure water can have on a beverage.

This isn't the first time I've heard this, but I have yet to notice a difference between using tap water v. distilled or spring water.

Of course, if the water is extremely chlorine-y I won't use it.

Eric

ILLfarmboy
08-21-2011, 12:50
I learned a long time ago that certain people added spring water or distilled/filtered water to scotch to "crack" the spirit. This was a technique for nosing and tasting to open up the flavors. I began to try this and my experience was scotch got drier and the wood tannins more pronounced. Bourbon had a similar reaction. Then there were the exceptions... For the most part a little water goes a long way for me. It appears the the ole trans geminal nerves are constrained by the brain they are attached to so our experiences may differ more as a function of interpretation than traceable chemical reaction.

You're not the only odd man out.

This has been my experience as well.

mrt
08-30-2011, 14:05
I tried to add drops of water to my bourbon a few times and -to be honest- I didn't like it. I feel as if water addition makes my drink somewhat dull and not sweeter. However, as I like most drinks cooler than the room temp. and this applies to bourbon as well, I may enjoy my bourbon on the rocks at times. Slow dilution caused by the ice melting and that cooler feeling is good for me.
One thing more: Waterback is something I prefer to water addition, too. It's also good for stomach I guess, since it makes the dilution inside :)

toddinjax
09-04-2011, 16:13
Just how much do you folks consider "a little water" when added to 1.5 - 2oz of spirit? A teaspoon, more, less?

Bourbon Boiler
09-04-2011, 17:37
My rule of thumb for adding water was 6 drops of water per ounce of bourbon. Who knows if that was "right", but it worked well for me. Due to laziness more than anything else, I stopped adding water. Now it doesn't taste normal to me to add any water.

emr454
09-04-2011, 17:46
Generally 5 or 6 drops to whatever amount I pour. I don't measure it so YMMV.

Eric

Dramiel McHinson
09-05-2011, 15:58
I use a carefully calibrated bloop of filtered water. A bloop is that amount equal to the amount necessary to produce a bloop sound when it strikes the target bourbon. I have been criticized furiously by those elite bourbon drinkers not sufficiently educated to the science of measurement using intuitive intrinsic measurement standards like the ear, eye, or palate. Bloop away I say and enjoy your bourbon as you see fit.