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Should You Drink Scotch Whisky With Water or Ice / On The Rocks?

Updated on May 6, 2014
Be careful not to add to much water.
Be careful not to add to much water.

Basic rules of whisky drinking

One of the most hotly debated questions in the world of whisky is "Should you drink your whisky with water or ice?". Ultimately, the most important thing to remember when drinking whisky is to enjoy it whichever way you like. Mix it with milk if it really does it for you, just don’t invite me along! There are however some fundamental rules that most whisky lovers generally agree on.

Firstly, if you’re going to mix your whisky with coke, lemonade, milk or anything else really, please don’t waste your good whisky doing it. There is room for a whisky and coke every now and then or even in some cocktails, but by the time you’ve added a mixer you will have lost all the subtle, delicious flavours of a good single malt. So when you’re wife says she’d like to try a whisky and coke hand her the bells or famous grouse as she won’t be able to tell the difference anyway. You’re much better off using a blend and saving your money and single malts for another day.

Your other basic rule is not to add ice to your whisky. The coldness of the ice will numb your taste buds and reduce the sensations and delicious flavours that you will get from the whisky. Why would you spend $80 on a bottle of good Scotch whisky only to dull the flavours that you’re paying for? Again cheap blends are a much better option if you like to add ice to your drink. Try Bells or a cheap Irish whiskey like Jameson’s with ice, but keep your single malts either straight or with a dash of water.

Looks nice, but you won't taste a thing...
Looks nice, but you won't taste a thing...

Whisky with Water?

Which brings us to the real issue here; do you add water to your whisky? This issue divides nations and people from across Scotland and the globe. The general consensus is, in theory anyway, that a dash of water opens up the flavours by breaking up amino acids in the whisky and creating a chemical reaction that literally releases new compounds called esters which have flowery, fruity tastes and smells.

But how much should you add? I took a whisky tour and tasting at the Glengoyne distillery in Aberfoyle, Scotland and was informed that the master blenders generally dilute their whisky to about 75% water; this is so remove the taste of the alcohol so they are just getting the taste of the whisky. This is probably way too much for most of us and I personally hate nothing more than finding that you’ve added too much water to the whisky and are left with an overly diluted insipid drink. Your only option then is to add more whisky...

As part of the Glengoyne whisky tasting I tried a 21 year old cask strength whisky that was 60% alcohol; for whiskies this strong you generally need to add some water or you’ll burn the hairs of your chest! However, the guide added the water for me and added way too much, I couldn’t believe it. It ruined the drink for me, but that’s probably how he likes it.

How Do I Like My Whisky?

When I do drink my whisky with water i add just 3 drops. I think this is the perfect amount as it lets the flavours breathe but not dilute the taste. I have a pipette i use to add the water to ensure I can control how much I add. I find using a jug or glass to pour it in is just too unreliable and you can easily over pour and end up with the dreaded watery drink. Also it is important for the water to be room temperature, if it’s too cold it will dull the flavours like adding ice.

My general rule is to always try a whisky neat first and if I feel a little water will add to it, I’ll put a few drops in. Rarely more than 3 though. My personal preference is to drink it neat usually and use water for the really smoky, peaty whiskies like Laphroaig and Lagavulin as these have the most flavour to develop. Others might tell you to add water to the milder whiskies as it brings out the subtleties, but that’s just preference. I will usually add water to a cask strength whisky; I have a Laphroaig Quarter Cask which really benefits from a drop of water, but my Glengoyne 12 year old I actually prefer neat, that tastes great straight from the bottle though.

My advice is to experiment; I would try a whisky neat first, then add a few drops, then on your next dram add a few more and see what your level is. Always get your nose into the glass before tasting to enjoy the smell and whatever happens always enjoy your whisky and have fun doing it.

As always i'd be really interested to hear whether you drink your whisky with water so please leave a comment.

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    • dommcg profile image
      Author

      dommcg 3 years ago

      Thanks for the comment. I just love drinking out of crystal glasses and drinking out of a nice glass really adds to the experience for me. I know other people would prefer the Glencairn glass, and they probably can enhance the experience and nose of the whisky, but it detracts from the experience for me. Just personal taste though! Thanks for stopping by.

    • profile image

      Logan 3 years ago

      Just came across this and was wondering why you don't like the "soul less" glen cairn glass? Thanks!

    • dommcg profile image
      Author

      dommcg 4 years ago

      Hi Mercury, glad you enjoyed it. I hope you were enjoying a nice whisky while reading it...

    • dommcg profile image
      Author

      dommcg 4 years ago

      Thanks for stopping by. I hope you were enjoying a nice single malt while reading it...

    • sunilkunnoth2012 profile image

      Sunil Kumar Kunnoth 4 years ago from Calicut (Kozhikode, South India)

      Excellent and informative. I share it on FB. Let people understand the real thing.

    • mercuryservices profile image

      Alex Munkachy 4 years ago from Honolulu, Hawaii

      Cheers!

    • dommcg profile image
      Author

      dommcg 4 years ago

      Now Bourbon and Irn Bru is a new one on me! Glad to see you stick to water with the good stuff though. Thanks for stopping by.

    • gavelect profile image

      gavelect 4 years ago from Glasgow

      I don't mind adding Iron Bru to bourbon but for Scotch I prefer my whisky with water. Great post Dom!

    • dommcg profile image
      Author

      dommcg 4 years ago

      The Bowmore 20 year old is a beautiful whisky indeed. Personally i find it difficult to manage just how much water pours out of a jug as i like just a few drops and i often end up with too watery a whisky , i hope you have more luck. It's certainly a great looking jug though. many thanks for your comment.

    • Glass-Jewelry profile image

      Marco Piazzalunga 4 years ago from Presezzo, Italy

      now that I saw your picture in the top of the page, I realized what is the ceramic jug that I purchased along with a bottle of Bowmore aged 20 years.

    • Moon Daisy profile image

      Moon Daisy 4 years ago from London

      Great, thanks for that. :)

    • dommcg profile image
      Author

      dommcg 4 years ago

      Great to hear from a lady who enjoys her whisky. You are absolutely right though, plenty more men ruin their whisky with coke across the globe. Please make that 'wife or husband'. Many thanks for the comment.

    • Moon Daisy profile image

      Moon Daisy 4 years ago from London

      I like it neat. This is a nice hub. My only area of contention is this "So you’re wife says she’d like to try a whisky and coke". Ha, you're making a big assumption here about wives. Not all of us need to add sickly mixers to ruin our drink. ;)

    • dommcg profile image
      Author

      dommcg 4 years ago

      White label, as in Dewar's I presume? Indeed a great whisky to relax in front of a good fire with. I love nothing more than a good single malt after a good meal, I'm having a steak tonight and you can be sure there will be a glass of Glenlivet 18 year old to follow. Many thanks for your comment.

    • FSlovenec profile image

      Frank Slovenec 4 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Scotch in many varieties is enjoyable, White Label is very nice for a casual evening. At the end of a good evening or alone relaxing the Single Malt comes out neat and a true pleasure..thanks for the Hub

    • JanMaklak profile image

      JanMaklak 4 years ago from Canada

      Personally I like a good but not too expensive Scotch and a cube of ice in a double shot. For me whiskey is a drink to sip so the ice is melting and providing some water. The 3 drop pipette thing...wow! I think your serious about your beverages! Nice Hub.

      Cheers!

    • dommcg profile image
      Author

      dommcg 4 years ago

      I couldn't agree more, it's a rare occasion that I would opt to add water and I too have never felt comfortable drinking from a soulless glencairn glass. Many thanks for the comment.

    • FSlovenec profile image

      Frank Slovenec 4 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      Single Malt Scotch Neat! Savor every sip, every drop. I to have traveled all over Scotland I was always served the Scotch neat. I agree with the drop of water opening up the whiskey however I still enjoy it neat in a wide mouth glass...what a pleasure..thanks for the Hub..

    • kate grady profile image

      kate grady 4 years ago from close to Moffat, Scotland

      Have a great time on Skye.

    • dommcg profile image
      Author

      dommcg 4 years ago

      A glass of Scotch in front of a roaring peat fire while the snow falls outside is indeed a wonderful picture. I'm visiting Scotland in a few months to go to Skye and hope to have a similar experience myself. Interesting to add water to Irish Whiskey, that's something i haven't tried. I might get myself a bottle of Bush Mills and give it a go. Many thanks Kate.

    • kate grady profile image

      kate grady 4 years ago from close to Moffat, Scotland

      I add a wee drop of water to both Irish and Scotch. Both styles go well with our peat fire now the snow is falling here in the Scots boarders

    • dommcg profile image
      Author

      dommcg 4 years ago

      Thanks Kit cat, I think it really depends on the whisky you are drinking. A few drops can really enhance a cask strength as, like you say there can be some alcohol burn, i usually add water to a laphroaig quarter cask to mellow it a touch, but then I have a glengoyne cask strength that I always drink neat as although it does burn (and has been described as rocket fuel) I really love the flavour neat. I also find that generally the sweeter whiskies don't really need water as I think it just dilutes the flavour, but then i also have a glenlivet 18 year old that really benefits from a few drops as it really brings out the subtle floral notes. Many thanks for the comment.

    • profile image

      Kit cat 4 years ago

      For me a dash of water releases flavour and reduces initial alcohol burn.A malt whisky is complex water puts space between flavours and sensations,discuss .

    • Rain Defence profile image

      Rain Defence 5 years ago from UK

      I might try adding a few drops of whisky to my next glass of whisky. See if that improves it. I suspect it will.

    • dommcg profile image
      Author

      dommcg 5 years ago

      generally i agree, even with Cask Strength. But every now and then i'll add a few drops to a laphroaig quarter cask.

    • Rain Defence profile image

      Rain Defence 5 years ago from UK

      Well after months of consideration, I have come to the conclusion that water and whisky don't mix. Or at least not in my glass. Neat is the only way for me.

    • Harpers Grace profile image

      Harpers Grace 5 years ago

      I prefer my whisky with a splash of water. I've always drank it this way and now just out of habit.

    • Gordon Hamilton profile image

      Gordon Hamilton 5 years ago from Wishaw, Lanarkshire, United Kingdom

      Hello, dommcg

      I very much enjoyed reading your Hub and my immediate answer to your question is no. The only thing I ever add to whisky is more whisky. I am aware, however, that a great many whisky connoiseurs do advocate adding a, "Wee splash," of water to simply release the flavours. I have seen this even on the Isle of Islay, which I know very well.

      With regard to whisky and Coke, or any similar additive, I'm afraid I consider that sacrilege. I have a friend who is probably as passionate and knowledgeable about single malts as anyone I have ever met. He actually, "Tests," visitors to his home when he offers them a dram of the finest single malt by offering them Coke or lemonade - or even Irn Bru - as a mixer. Anyone who accepts is never invited back - I kid you not! :)

      Hope to read more of your thoughts on the water of life soon.

      Slainte!

    • Rain Defence profile image

      Rain Defence 5 years ago from UK

      Excellent and interesting hub.

      It is a contentious issue and the arguments for and against water added to whisky will rage on until either whisky is made illegal or humanity is extinct. I personally don't like adding water, but I will probably give it another go as I may have just been adding that drop too much whenever I tried it. Maybe 1.5 drops is the perfect amount for me.

      Slainte!