in the absolute sense the answer right off the bat is of course no. There is no substitute for unadulterated whiskey - for curiosity, analysis, integrity, and romance.
But, for production whiskey, are the Four Roses Single Barrel qualitatively lesser than 4R's recent barrel proof releases because of their having been watered down?
My personal definition for "what makes bourbon special" is that it is everything in the barrel that is NOT ethanol or water. With this starting point, adding water post-dump reduces the "special" qualities commensurately with how much water is added. All the water that sat in the barrel for many years has taken on "special" qualities, but city water, branch water, or whatever the water source may be, it is solely dilution of the whiskey.
With Four Roses dumping bourbons between 100 and 110 proof where other barrel proofs hover in the 125 to 145 proof range, the proportion of whiskey to water remains very high.
Here are some simple figures:
Barrel Proof at 135 proof (Stagg ranges from 129 to 145)
Diluted to 80 proof = 59% whiskey
Diluted to Bond proof = 74% whiskey
Barrel Proof at 126 proof (Booker's and Willett releases of HH hover near this)
Diluted to 80 proof = 63% whiskey
Diluted to Bond proof = 79% whiskey
Barrel Proof at 110 proof (some Four Roses hover near this)
Diluted to 80 proof = 73% whiskey
Diluted to Bond proof = 91% whiskey
But here's where it gets really good
Barrel Proof at 105 proof (some Four Roses hover near this)
Diluted to 80 proof = 76% whiskey
Diluted to Bond proof = 95% whiskey
I'll still be on the lookout for Barrel Proof, but I can live with 95% whiskey in between!
Notice that BT products (if they are in line with the Stagg releases) are just as watered down at a respectable sounding 100 proof (like Rock Hill Farms) as the latter Four Roses example would be diluted to a lowly 80 proof.
I have intentionally blinded myself to the bean counter and legal definition that adding water post-dump to whiskey in any amount that keeps the aggregate above 80 proof is still "100% whiskey." We all know post-dump watering down is just dilution. To me, the real positive use of water post-dump is in one's glass under one's nose, so that any chemical reactions ("opening up") can be part of the experience.
But when it's only 5% dilution, well, that ain't too bad.
And, as one might expect, this train of thought arrives at the same conclusion Mike Veach has been espousing all along - low entry proof and bottling at or near Bond proof makes great whiskey.