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View Full Version : Thoughts on impact of water to taste?



darylld911
07-25-2012, 09:57
Just curious what everyone's experience has been with regards to the type of water impacting the taste of bourbon. Conventional (?) wisdom is to use "pure" water, and like a lemming I bought a bunch of bottled "pure" water for cutting my drams without experimenting to see if I could taste the difference. Have folks tried different types of water and found a difference? And if so, any difference between how wheaters, rye-bourbons, and rye whiskies are impacted (maybe it has more of an effect on some over others)? I know this may differ from person to person, but just curious (as JayMonster unveiled that they have "triple filtered reverse osmosis flown at mach 5 water", and I want to get my bids in on eBay before the prices skyrocket!) :grin:

Enoch
07-25-2012, 10:35
I have even wondered if the distilleries use distilled or RO pure water when they cut their whiskey. On the Heaven Hill tour, they said Bourbon and branch should always be done with distilled water. Personally, I think it depends on the water. Here in Columbia, we have great water thanks to a very clay rich lake, and I cannot really tell the difference between RO, distilled or tap water. My step-daughter lives in Williamsburg, VA and I cannot stand the water so I purchase RO to use up there.

Rutherford
07-25-2012, 10:53
It's worth mentioning that the limestone in KY water gives them hard water, with lots of Calcium/Magnesium salts but little iron. This is the type of water used to cut bourbon traditionally as bourbon's flavor profile has evolved and developed.

This is effectively the opposite of osmosis filtered or distilled water in terms of character.

jeanraulmitchell
07-25-2012, 15:15
I wash my glass out with tap water and dry it with a paper towel after I drink the bourbon out of it.

OscarV
07-25-2012, 16:14
I wash my glass out with tap water and dry it with a paper towel after I drink the bourbon out of it.

That's my extinct in using water.
I will put an ice cube in something every now and then.
But never in a wheater.

tmckenzie
07-25-2012, 17:19
It's worth mentioning that the limestone in KY water gives them hard water, with lots of Calcium/Magnesium salts but little iron. This is the type of water used to cut bourbon traditionally as bourbon's flavor profile has evolved and developed.

This is effectively the opposite of osmosis filtered or distilled water in terms of character.

Distilleries that I know of, including us, use ro or di water to cut with. Calcium and magnesium will precipitate out of the whiskey in the bottle.

ebo
07-25-2012, 17:46
I wash my glass out with tap water and dry it with a paper towel after I drink the bourbon out of it.

Me too. Other than that, I'm strictly a "neat" guy. :grin:

JayMonster
07-25-2012, 20:26
Distilleries that I know of, including us, use ro or di water to cut with. Calcium and magnesium will precipitate out of the whiskey in the bottle.

Well that makes for a real myth busters moment. Don't most Kentucky Distillers brag about the limestone water?!?

Lazer
07-25-2012, 20:48
I wash my glass out with tap water and dry it with a paper towel after I drink the bourbon out of it.



I did that too but I found that the paper towel left a starchy residue in the glass which totally ruined the whiskey so now I just take a swig from the bottle. :cool:

JB64
07-25-2012, 23:45
I wash my glass out with tap water and dry it with a paper towel after I drink the bourbon out of it.

I do the exact same thing but after reading in Whisky Advocate about how adding a little water to whiskey brings out different flavors I thought it would give it a try. I am planning on using bottled spring water.

tmckenzie
07-26-2012, 04:24
They brag about the limestone water fro making the whiskey mash, and rightly so, you have to have calcium and agnesium for the mash to work off right. But for cutting, it may start out as limestone water, but they take the lime stone out.

darylld911
07-26-2012, 04:55
I always try everything neat the first time, and enjoy many of my bourbons that way still. I used to think it was blasphemy to add water, but after talking with more people in the whiskey business was informed how a bit of water can really open up different flavors. I've definitely found that to be the case, especially on the higher proof offerings. I don't think my palate is sophisticated enough to tell the difference, but I'm going to try to do a comparison later this evening. The tricky thing is that the amount of whiskey and water has to be exact to ensure the difference isn't from more/less water, but the type of water.

I use tap water to wash my glasses, but also found that the paper towels leave a residue (even little fibers). I use one shelf of a spice rack to turn my Glencairn glasses upside down so the opening fits down into the rack. They've drip-dried completely by morning (not that I'm reaching for them in the morning!)

Bmac
07-26-2012, 13:48
I start off my first few sips neat to get a real taste of the bourbon. Then I start adding splashes. I use reverse osmosis water.

cowdery
07-26-2012, 14:18
I use Chicago tap water filtered by Brita.

You really don't want distilled water. Distilleries don't use it. Too expensive. You certainly can drink distilled water but that's not what it's for. Most of the water we drink has some mineral content. Even most purified bottled water intended for drinking has some minerals added back in.

As Tom said, the significance of limestone water happens at the fermentation stage, not the bottling stage. Even the water used for cooking and fermentation typically gets some filtering but not much, and not purification. They use a more treated water for dilution before bottling because at that point, they don't want to change the flavor. Processing the water also ensures consistency.

IowaJeff
07-26-2012, 14:57
I have a Brita water bottle that I use for baby's bottle water and daddy's whiskey water. Its the kind you have to squeeze through the filter, so it works great as far as controlling the flow if you only want a drop or two.

fishnbowljoe
07-26-2012, 17:34
Thanks to the manager of a semi-local store, I've been fortunate to be involved in a few barrel samplings. When doing these tastings, we first taste the samples neat. The next go round we'll try the samples with a splash of water. The difference can be amazing. I've had samples that I thought were great, but adding just a little water to them took away any and all flavor. Conversely, there have been samples that I thought were just so-so, and when water was added, they really blossomed with flavor. I guess my point is that it can be a crap shoot. Sometimes it will work out okay, and sometimes it won't. You'll probably have to do a bit of experimenting on your own to find out for yourself.

Not long after I got in to bourbon, I found some guidelines (from here and elsewhere) to go by when I tasted a bourbon for the first time. I decided to give it a go, and it seems to work well for me. The first time you try something new, have a small pour neat. Wait a bit, then try it with a very small amount of water. Next, try it with a few cubes of ice. As with the barrel samples, the differences can be amazing. Do some experimenting and have some fun. It can only help and enhance your overall bourbon experience. Cheers! Joe

bllygthrd
07-26-2012, 19:30
I use RO water because I have a RO unit installed at the house ... I have also brought home ultrapure 18 megohm water from work, which showed not perceived difference from RO ... What I think is important in a bourbon diluent, is a water that lacks organic, chlorine, bromine, sulfur, biological or any other compounds/contaminants that can impart an unpleasant flavor or an adverse chemical reaction. RO fits the bill.

bad_scientist
07-26-2012, 20:22
18 megaohm? Milli-Q? Are you a scientist, too?

I heard from a person who works on GTPases that Milli-Q water has lots of phosphates in it, but I don't have a way to check it myself. She thinks it messes with her hydrolysis assays.



I use RO water because I have a RO unit installed at the house ... I have also brought home ultrapure 18 megohm water from work, which showed not perceived difference from RO ... What I think is important in a bourbon diluent, is a water that lacks organic, chlorine, bromine, sulfur, biological or any other compounds/contaminants that can impart an unpleasant flavor or an adverse chemical reaction. RO fits the bill.

LongBeachScott
07-26-2012, 22:23
I just use a little filtered tap water with some bourbons. I will normally try any bourbon neat first and then with a little water to see what I like best.

I haven't ever tried distilled water with bourbon but I have made coffee with distilled water before and it didn't work. I think there is something about the mineral content in nondistilled water that the coffee needs to "bite into". Not sure about bourbon though.

JB64
07-26-2012, 22:27
I have an RO/DI unit in my house that serves my reef tank. The RO water doesn't taste bad but I don't care for the taste of the RO/DI water. I guess the lack of taste tastes bad. When I get around to comparing bourbon neat to bourbon and water I plan on using bottled spring water.

darylld911
07-27-2012, 06:15
I did a small experiment where I tried to compare three half-ounce pours of Col EH Taylor Barrel Proof - each diluted with an additional 1/8 ounce of water (one being "purified" water, one being filtered water from my fridge, and the last being tap water). I let the samples sit for 20 minutes, and I couldn't detect any difference in the nose or taste between them. I'd heard from someone that tap water might have too much iron, or other chemicals (fluoride, etc) might interact in a negative way with the whiskey. That may be true, but perhaps it takes way longer than the diluted dram would ever spend in my glass (or the difference is so minimal that I would never taste the difference). I had bought some bottles of purified water for enjoying my higher proof bourbons (as I do find with something like a Bookers or Stagg - a bit of water does open it up quite nicely), but glad to find that I don't need to waste time doing that in the future :)

Bmac
07-27-2012, 06:26
I did a small experiment where I tried to compare three half-ounce pours of Col EH Taylor Barrel Proof - each diluted with an additional 1/8 ounce of water (one being "purified" water, one being filtered water from my fridge, and the last being tap water). I let the samples sit for 20 minutes, and I couldn't detect any difference in the nose or taste between them. I'd heard from someone that tap water might have too much iron, or other chemicals (fluoride, etc) might interact in a negative way with the whiskey. That may be true, but perhaps it takes way longer than the diluted dram would ever spend in my glass (or the difference is so minimal that I would never taste the difference). I had bought some bottles of purified water for enjoying my higher proof bourbons (as I do find with something like a Bookers or Stagg - a bit of water does open it up quite nicely), but glad to find that I don't need to waste time doing that in the future :)
Here's a better question. Can you taste the difference between the three water sources you used? If not, then you probably wouldn't have been able to detect a difference. In my house, we HAD to get a reverse osmosis system. The water, even through a Brita filter tasted like swamp-water. The reverse osmosis filtering finally strips away that terrible taste. It even tainted any teas, or drinks we added it to. Horrible stuff.

sailor22
07-27-2012, 07:37
Some of our well water in this area can smell and taste of sulfur. The city water smells of chlorine. Inexpensive bottled spring water tastes just slightly sweet. You make the call.

KYPayne
07-30-2012, 13:18
I do notice that certain flavors are brought out by water, but adding water seems to ruin the mouthfeel for me.

RWBadley
07-30-2012, 14:11
Water to whisky glass- just use a good clean water and should be fine...

As for whisky make

I think water plays a role in the fermentation process, thus having an effect on the finished product. Personally I believe yeast may have as much or more impact especially on flavor.

Note how beers of the world grew up around water source character. Soft water of Pilzn vs hard waters of Dortmund or England. Then, look at the impact yeast plays in Belgian Ales (both golden/strong styles and then the Lambic/ sour styles) A world of difference. I have yet to find this sort of huge impact flavorwise from water source that yeast choice has displayed- at least in beer.

Something I have been considering is older vs newer spirit yeast selection and resultant flavor profile. An opinion being formed is that the newer yeasts are possibly more efficient in process, yet from my own taste experience lack some characters that I have grown to enjoy flavorwise from the older versions. The supply chain is so variable, inconsistency is the norm.

Cheers,

RW

jcg9779
07-30-2012, 14:34
In my house, we HAD to get a reverse osmosis system. The water, even through a Brita filter tasted like swamp-water. The reverse osmosis filtering finally strips away that terrible taste. It even tainted any teas, or drinks we added it to. Horrible stuff.

I find Atlanta water to be very good. I lived in Plano for a while when growing up and my Aunt couldn't stand Dallas water (she's from Atlanta also). She'd go buy a gallon of water at the grocery store to use for iced tea because she couldn't stand that "root" taste - probably similar to your description of "swamp water."

darylld911
07-30-2012, 15:35
Here's a better question. Can you taste the difference between the three water sources you used? If not, then you probably wouldn't have been able to detect a difference. In my house, we HAD to get a reverse osmosis system. The water, even through a Brita filter tasted like swamp-water. The reverse osmosis filtering finally strips away that terrible taste. It even tainted any teas, or drinks we added it to. Horrible stuff.

I know what you mean - I lived in Garland for a spell and we had a Brita pitcher for any water we wanted to drink or cook with.

I couldn't taste much if any difference in the waters by themselves, but what I had heard was that minerals in the water would react chemically with the whiskey and alter the flavor - and I wasn't sure if those minerals had any objectionable taste by themselves or not. Thankfully - if there IS any impact - I can't taste it so I can stick to just filtered water.

tmckenzie
07-31-2012, 04:19
Water to whisky glass- just use a good clean water and should be fine...

As for whisky make

I think water plays a role in the fermentation process, thus having an effect on the finished product. Personally I believe yeast may have as much or more impact especially on flavor.

Note how beers of the world grew up around water source character. Soft water of Pilzn vs hard waters of Dortmund or England. Then, look at the impact yeast plays in Belgian Ales (both golden/strong styles and then the Lambic/ sour styles) A world of difference. I have yet to find this sort of huge impact flavorwise from water source that yeast choice has displayed- at least in beer.

Something I have been considering is older vs newer spirit yeast selection and resultant flavor profile. An opinion being formed is that the newer yeasts are possibly more efficient in process, yet from my own taste experience lack some characters that I have grown to enjoy flavorwise from the older versions. The supply chain is so variable, inconsistency is the norm.

Cheers,

RW

Having counsulted in small distilleries around the country, water makeup for mahing in whiskey production does effect the flavour of the product. Same mashbill, yeast and still, different water, different taste and smell. Yeast do make a difference. Most of the distilleries still use old strains. Even distilleries that bring in dry yeast are using older strains. For instance, red star's whiskey yeast is an old strain Schenley used.

tmckenzie
07-31-2012, 04:21
I should have added amount of backset used sometimes has a bigger impact on tastes than any of the above. Can't explain it, but it happens. More backset in my opinion equals bolder, richer flavors.

BourbonBaron
07-31-2012, 09:25
Distilleries that I know of, including us, use ro or di water to cut with. Calcium and magnesium will precipitate out of the whiskey in the bottle.

Our tour guide at Woodford last year mentioned they use RO water for lowering proof as well.

RWBadley
07-31-2012, 16:43
Having counsulted in small distilleries around the country, water makeup for mahing in whiskey production does effect the flavour of the product. Same mashbill, yeast and still, different water, different taste and smell. Yeast do make a difference. Most of the distilleries still use old strains. Even distilleries that bring in dry yeast are using older strains. For instance, red star's whiskey yeast is an old strain Schenley used.

Thanks for that info on the Red Star/Schenley connection.

Boils down to it ALL makes a difference everywhere down the line ;-)

tmckenzie
08-01-2012, 04:25
I am pretty sure it came from Buffalo Trace trace when they started having it grown by red star. I know the rye flavors it makes are very similar to Sazerac.