The Great Whisky & Water Debate

21 July 2015

So, here we are again, a few friends sitting around a table asking that long debated question. When should you add water to whisky?

Before I begin, let’s get something straight. When it comes to whisky, blended, malt or otherwise, there are NO RULES. I hear all sorts of “you must always” or “you should never” in my travels, which make me shiver. The whisky we drink today is rather far removed from its origins, so over time, rituals and rules have been added to create a sense of belonging. You know the rules - you join the club.

But that’s the problem I have with rules – they keep everything safe and discourage new people who don’t know the rules, and can’t find the rulebook, from enjoying a dram.

Look, you bought it. You’re entitled to drink it how you please and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Either have it straight up, full-strength, over ice, with a mixer, in a cocktail and yes, with water.

There are ways of bringing out the best in your dram with water, but every whisky is different. So I suggest trying a couple of small drops at a time, tasting as you go, until you feel the whisky is right for you. Mineral water is best, as tap water can vary from place to place. I prefer mine to be just below room temperature, as I like the change of character as it warms with the whisky.

Not all whisky likes water; it’s all about hydrophobic reaction and the clash of H20 with the oils. To some, this is beneficial and to others, deadly – drowning the whisky and losing its edge.

With Glenfiddich, I find just a couple of drops in our 12 Year Old really helps bring out the fresh pear notes and calms the sharper oak and alcohol peaks. But then, with our 15 Solera and 18 Year Olds, I don’t tend to add anything, unless I’m making an Old Fashioned cocktail, but that’s another story.

As we move up through our range, the 21 Year Old and the 26 EXCELLENCE are both comfortable with a drop, but be careful with the 26 Year Old. With its maturation 100% from American white oak casks it is delicate and can easily be pulled apart with an overzealous tip of the water jug.

At Glenfiddich, we release many cask strength variants, which are a different beast altogether. Some will be tamed, but again, it’s a case of trying BEFORE you add water and then a little at a time. Everyone will react differently, just like we all react differently to whiskies we try – so why should anyone tell you that the way you drink your whisky is wrong? I certainly won’t – unless it’s not a Glenfiddich.

Let me know how you enjoy the perfect dram on Twitter or Instagram.

Mark Thomson
UK Brand Ambassador