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  1. #1
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    Tour of Whisky Chemistry and Water

    There is a very good article on the Royal Society of Chemistry [RSC] website on the chemistry of "whisky" and the theory behind adding a "bit" of water to "open up" our favorite beverage.

    It can be viewed HERE.

    http://www.rsc.org/chemistryworld/Is...WhiskyTour.asp

    OK, its geared towards Scotch whisky, but it explains why bourbon can have that hint of sweet vanilla. The article also has a "flavor" wheel, which lists what organic compound families can contribute to the nose and flavor profiles of whiskey.

    As a new member, I tried to search and see if this link had been previously posted. If I missed it and it has, I apologize.
    bllygthrd
    Sto lat!!!

    bllygthrd

  2. #2
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    Re: Tour of Whisky Chemistry and Water

    As to that "bit" of water, I have heard that as little as two drops can make a difference. I believe that I can detect the difference, but there are many on this board who swear otherwise, that water added only dilutes.

    Tim
    Self-Styled Whisky Connoisseur

  3. #3
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    Re: Tour of Whisky Chemistry and Water

    Quote Originally Posted by ratcheer View Post
    As to that "bit" of water, I have heard that as little as two drops can make a difference. I believe that I can detect the difference, but there are many on this board who swear otherwise, that water added only dilutes.

    Tim
    Tim
    Dilution may very well change the matrix of the bourbon, and with the addition of water, allow some of the less volatile organic compounds (VOC) to be released. The science is sound ... but I'm not sure that my nose/palate is sophisticated enough to detect the difference. Give me a cryogenic focused GM/MS ... and I could tell ya!
    bllygthrd
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    bllygthrd

  4. #4
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    Re: Tour of Whisky Chemistry and Water

    Good read, thanks for the link.

  5. #5
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    Re: Tour of Whisky Chemistry and Water

    Not all non-C.S. whiskies, speaking just of the Scotch group for a moment, are 40% of course. Many are 43% or, like the Ardmore I'm looking at, 46%. And of course American whiskey proofs are all over the map over 40% ABV. So, water has already been added, by your favourite distiller or bottler. Maybe what was added made the taste better, worse, or was so slight no one could tell the difference from a taste standpoint (as opposed to an alcohol concentration standpoint). So, deciding whether you should add more seems an impossible decision except on an individual sensory basis for each whisky. In some cases, the whisky is perfect at 43% (or C.S. before it was let down to 43%, or at 47% but they kept on going down!) so adding more water should be out of the question. In other cases, the ideal dilution point may be under those levels, so water should be added. How do you know in each case what baseline you are even starting from? It all comes down to individual preference and the whiskey before you, IMO.

    Gary

  6. #6
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    Re: Tour of Whisky Chemistry and Water

    Quote Originally Posted by Gillman View Post
    Not all non-C.S. whiskies, speaking just of the Scotch group for a moment, are 40% of course. Many are 43% or, like the Ardmore I'm looking at, 46%. And of course American whiskey proofs are all over the map over 40% ABV. So, water has already been added, by your favourite distiller or bottler. Maybe what was added made the taste better, worse, or was so slight no one could tell the difference from a taste standpoint (as opposed to an alcohol concentration standpoint). So, deciding whether you should add more seems an impossible decision except on an individual sensory basis for each whisky. In some cases, the whisky is perfect at 43% (or C.S. before it was let down to 43%, or at 47% but they kept on going down!) so adding more water should be out of the question. In other cases, the ideal dilution point may be under those levels, so water should be added. How do you know in each case what baseline you are even starting from? It all comes down to individual preference and the whiskey before you, IMO.

    Gary
    Gary,
    Valid points ... but think of bourbon as:
    1) women, what works for one may not work for another [or, what works for one on Tuesday may not work for her on Saturday], and
    2) effects of water added to bourbon may be a continuum ... the VOC present, the water/ethanol ratio and all the other contributers are a complex matrix .. don't poo poo the hypothesis based on limited data.
    No disrespect intended ... just an alternative perspective.
    bllygthrd
    Sto lat!!!

    bllygthrd

  7. #7
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    Re: Tour of Whisky Chemistry and Water

    I'm not challenging the theory at all, on the contrary, it makes good sense to me. I'm just thinking that in practice it would be different to implement it (at consumer level) given it is hard to know the starting point and that each bottle can be different in texture and taste to a degree. Thanks for posting it if I didn't mention it, I found it very interesting. (Perhaps in time computer analysis will help guide the consumer, i.e., based on experience in labs with hundreds of whisky profiles and proofs. Water too - water type - would need to be factored I think, given that we read e.g. vodka profiles can be so dependent on different types of water).

    Gary

  8. #8
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    Re: Tour of Whisky Chemistry and Water

    Quote Originally Posted by ratcheer View Post
    As to that "bit" of water, I have heard that as little as two drops can make a difference. I believe that I can detect the difference, but there are many on this board who swear otherwise, that water added only dilutes.

    Tim
    See also http://www.maltmaniacs.org/malt-111.html. E-pistle 2009/03 by Nabil Mailloux is an interesting and, in my experience, convincing explanation of how water opens up the nose of whisk(e)y. Adding water need not be just a way to adjust the proof--2 drops in 1/5 oz would hardly do that. In chemical terms, it really does open up the nose. (And the chemistry takes place whether you detect it or not.)
    If God made anything better than bourbon he must have kept it for Hisself.

  9. #9
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    Thumbs up Re: Tour of Whisky Chemistry and Water

    Quote Originally Posted by Flyfish View Post
    See also http://www.maltmaniacs.org/malt-111.html. E-pistle 2009/03 by Nabil Mailloux is an interesting and, in my experience, convincing explanation of how water opens up the nose of whisk(e)y. Adding water need not be just a way to adjust the proof--2 drops in 1/5 oz would hardly do that. In chemical terms, it really does open up the nose. (And the chemistry takes place whether you detect it or not.)
    Thank you. That is an excellent addition to this discussion.

    Tim
    Self-Styled Whisky Connoisseur

 

 

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