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Neat or Not

Neat or Not

On my continuing travels in whisky there is an interesting debate around the inclusion of water and ice in your dram. Tradition in my house has always been to present whisky with a jug of water and let your guest choose.

At the Scottish Whisky Experience on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile they offer “Tasting Tips”, one of the entries states:


“When nosing whisky you should always add water to open up the aromas and really get the full character of the dram. Keep your mouth open slightly when nosing the whisky and nose it two or three times, identifying as many aromas as possible.”

The Scotch Whisky Experience

At the Scotch Malt Whisky they also have a “Tasting Tips” guide which states:

Add a little Scottish Spring Water

Adding a little Scottish spring water can enhance the aroma and flavour of a whisky and bring out the whiskies hidden characteristics. Don't drown it, about 20% water should be enough. Shoogle the glass, to mix the water and the whisky; you should now find the resulting mixture mellower and more drinkable. Now just follow the tasting guide above again, you might even think you taste a different single malt whisky.

From Glenfiddich interestingly they say:

"It's entirely up to you"

It’s entirely up to you. Going neat may be the ‘purest’ way to enjoy it, but it’s not the only way. Adding a few drops of water unlocks some of the hidden flavours of the dram. Temperature also plays its part. Adding ice makes for a more refreshing drink, although it can contract many of the flavours. Another way temperature impacts flavour is through heat. Take the time to warm it in your hands and you’ll taste the difference as the whisky opens up and releases new notes.

Aging Barrels

On “The Art of Tasting Whisky” they have a section devoted to whisky tasting notes, point 6 for them states:


“Only add a few drops, swirl the glass and you'll find that the mix has mellowed. Take a small mouthful along with some air, and take note of the subtle differences. If tasting a whisky with very high alcohol strength there can be an almost ‘burning’ sensation. It is usual with cask strength whiskies to dilute with up to one-third water.”

Charles MacLean

What of the industry nose and author Charles MacLean?

I read with interest in the “Whisky Mag” an interview with him about what your nose will tell you. One paragraph states:

“The next consideration is water. Whisky always benefits from a little water. It opens up the aromas – you can actually see the little oily chains of aroma-bearing compounds swirling in the glass, and your nose will give you ample proof.”

Ultimately, what matters most is your enjoyment of the dram. Clearly it’s better with water ;)

Colin Gilchrist (whisky enthusiast), guest blogger.

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