Spirits Close-Up: Water

A few drops of water can enhance your next whiskey-drinking experience // Photo by Kevin Kramer, The Growler

This month’s Craft Cocktail is the Branch Water at Norseman Distillery, a remarkably uncomplicated whiskey and water. So, for this month’s Spirits Close-Up we decided to take a look at how water can enhance the whiskey-drinking experience. 

Are you telling us to water down our cocktails? You’re doing it already. Water is an important ingredient in cocktails. When you shake or stir a cocktail, you’re not just getting it cold, you’re also diluting it. Even martinis or Manhattans—drinks entirely composed of alcohol—will end up being 25 percent water in the glass due to melting ice.

Okay—so what’s your point? Two things: First, if you have hard water at your house, don’t make cocktail ice with it. Second, keep some nice water on hand to add to your whiskey, like they do at Norseman.

I drink whiskey neat. Exactly, and this is the way to do it. Consider the Scotch distilleries that recommend adding a few drops of mineral-rich spring water to their drams. Or in the American South, there’s the bourbon and branch—whiskey diluted with a bit of spring water, or “branch” water, the stuff at the distillery’s source. You can even buy that in bottles.

Why in the hell would I water down my expensive whiskey? Watch that drop of water as it hits the whiskey. It channels into the spirit, leaving a shiny slick in its wake. You’re watching long-chain esters drop out of solution as they contact the water. Have you ever seen absinthe or pastis get “cloudy” when you add water? Same thing.

Dilution “activates” these volatile compounds, lovely ones that smell like fruits and flowers. I’m not saying to drown your whiskey, at least not at first. Try it neat, then add a drop or two of water, or four, then a good splash, and see how your whiskey evolves. It’s like getting multiple expressions of whiskey from a single bottle.

What’s the best water to dilute whiskey? I’ve found that “purified” water (less than 10 ppm dissolved solids) merely amps up the sweetness of my favorite Speyside. I taste more nuance with some herb-inflected “branch” water, or a good natural spring water, like The Drink from the Schmidt’s pump house on West 7th Street in St. Paul or from the public taps inside Utepils Brewing in Minneapolis.

John Garland About John Garland

John Garland is the Deputy Editor at the Growler Magazine. Find him on twitter (@johnpgarland) or in every coffee shop on West 7th Street.

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