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Why you shouldn't drink whisky neat, according to science

On the rocks is the way to go

Sabrina Barr
Monday 07 May 2018 11:32
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The popularity of whisky is steadily on the rise, with 25 per cent of Brits naming it their favourite spirit in 2017, ahead of vodka.

The word “whisky” is derived from the Irish and Scottish Gaelic term “usquebaugh”, meaning “water of life”.

Therefore, the fact that the flavour of whisky can be enhanced by slight dilution, as claimed by a scientific study, should come as no surprise.

Researchers from the Linnaeus University in Sweden decided to explore how the addition of water or ice can affect the beverage’s taste.

Bjorn C G Karlsson and Ran Friedman, authors of the study published in Scientific Reports, used computer simulation to examine how different concentrations of water in whisky can impact its flavour.

The key to their research was analysing the reaction of three main components - water, ethanol and a molecule in whisky called guaiacol.

Guaiacol is a flavour compound that gives whisky its recognisable, smokey flavour.

Whisky is typically distilled to approximately 70 per cent ABV (alcohol by volume) and then diluted to around 40 per cent ABV, as explained by Karlsson and Friedman.

They discovered that when whisky is diluted so that it has an alcohol concentration of 45 per cent or lower, then more of the guaiacol compound can be found at the surface of the drink, thus enhancing its taste.

On the other hand, when whisky has an alcohol concentration of 59 per cent of higher, the guaiacol becomes far more surrounded by the ethanol molecules, which in turn makes the flavour of the beverage less potent.

The authors believe that diluting whisky before bottling it or serving it in glass could prove extremely beneficial to its taste when eventually consumed, a fact that individuals in the spirits industry should take note of.

“Our findings may apply to other flavour-giving amphipathic molecules and could contribute to optimising the production of spirits for desired tastes,” they stated.

A number of women are currently making waves in the world of whisky, making their mark in an industry that is commonly associated with men.

“We are slowly but surely drifting away from all the nonsensical stereotypes of who the whisky drinker is and how whisky should be drank, and this is where big opportunities for women will happen,” said Emily Chipperfield, whisky expert and trainer at Nuala Bar in London.

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