My answer is simple; yes, my name is Greg, and I’m a diluter… but not always, often, but not every time.
“I’m a diluter, and heavily, like a blender would”, proclaimed Ian Buxton at a fantastic masterclass hosted by Chivas at The Glenlivet Distillery for the Spirit of Speyside festival. “Ah for me, I believe that water fundamentally chances the whisky’s flavour patterns, mellowing and losing the intensity, thus water changes the flavour”, countered Ian Wisniewski.
A fascinating discussion, and one that I have frequently at whisky tastings I host, and with friends who think it is more ‘manly’ not to dilute, a concept I just don’t get.
Don’t get me wrong, I like, and thoroughly enjoy whisky neat, let’s be honest – I like whisky near enough any way, but there is a time and place for each style, each input and each modifier. I dilute the vast majority of whisky I drink at home with about 20% water, sometimes up to 35%, not for any other reason that to enjoy each drop for a bit longer and maybe to preserve my throat a little bit!
And when it comes to spirits competitions like the IWSC Scotch Spirits panel, I cut it between 40% and 50% so that I can quickly ascertain the balance, the composite flavours and the brilliance of each dram without labouring over it; each is nosed neat, sipped neat, then tasted diluted and nosed diluted so that I can form an opinion on the vast array of drams in any given flight.
Is it in the phrasing of the impact water has on a whisky?
Like #TheTwoIans, I think the phraseology around adding water to “open up” a whisky is incorrect; what is it opening up? It implies that neat whisky is a closed box only giving so much, when the reality is that people enjoy drams in different ways and that water can help each person to enjoy their whisky in their own special way.
Ian Wisniewski eloquently explained that “neat versions of whisky give me a sequence of individual flavours, but with water it removes the sequence and the flavours all become integrated, I prefer having a sequence, a story.”
A warning from the Ians
Buxton added that we should all “go carefully when adding water to older whiskies as they are much more delicate and can break down fast when water is added”, with Ian Wisniewski adding that “whisky in US Oak casks will hold water better than whisky matured in sherry casks due to how they are made and the previous contents’ robustness.”
As with many in the whisky industry, I feel that however you enjoy whisky; with, without water, with Coke, with Ian Bru, with tea, in cocktails, neat, cask strength, whatever; that is the right way for you thus, that is the right way to enjoy whisky.
But there are interesting comparisons to be had from trying the same whisky with and without water, and with varying levels of water influence… look out for a YouTube video on this very soon.