Add Water Or Not?

Add Water Or Not?

A Vexing Issue

Other than my inexplicable (even to myself) fondness for Johnny Jump-Ups, I have always been a purist when it comes to whisky- you don't put anything in it if you want to be able to call yourself a serious whisky drinker. I do realize that this rule is much less enforceable when it comes to bourbon- in fact, I've had to start adding ice to my bourbon in recent years because it gives me stomach pains if I don't. But on single malt I have held the line.

Single malt Scotch, after all, is not intended for getting drunk on. You don't just open up a bottle of sixty dollar single malt and guzzle it down like Old Crow or Evan Williams, so there's no need or reason to mask the flavor. Single malt Scotch is sipping whisky- it's all about the flavor.


The first time I enjoyed a glass of single malt with a friend in Scotland, though, he told me that it has always been standard practice over there to add just a little bit of water in order to “bring out the flavor” of the single malt. In other words, it's not for the purpose of disguising the taste, but of making it come alive to its fullest extent. I was rather puzzled by this assertion, but when I tried it that way I had to agree that the flavor of the whisky seemed a little bit more rounded and lively. It was a subtle difference, but it was there.


Later on, I read an interview with an old Scottish master distiller, and he said the exact same thing. Apparently it's actually part of the tradition of Scottish single malt to drink it with a little bit of water. I still prefer to drink mine straight up, but if you choose to add a little water to yours, you may rest assured that you are in good company.