Skip to main content

Want Better-Tasting Whiskey? Just Add (Distilled) Water

How a small splash of a tasteless ingredient makes booze better.
By Published Aug. 11, 2022

Many whiskey aficionados like to add a splash of water or an ice cube to a glass of whiskey before drinking it to help “open up” the spirit’s flavor and aroma. That’s because most of the flavor in whiskey is in the form of ethanol-soluble molecules. The higher the proof of the whiskey, the more flavor molecules dissolved in the alcohol portion. Cutting the spirit causes some of those flavor molecules to come out of solution, so they are more readily smellable and tasteable. Dilution also reduces the burn and bite of the alcohol when sipped so that we can sense more of the flavor nuances.

Sign up for the Cook's Insider newsletter

The latest recipes, tips, and tricks, plus behind-the-scenes stories from the Cook's Illustrated team.

Taste Off: Tap Water Versus Distilled Water

We wondered if the flavor could be further amplified by using distilled water instead of tap water. We held a tasting of anonymized samples, diluting whiskey with liquid and ice forms of both tap water and distilled water.

There was a clear consensus that distilled water was better, though the preferred amount of dilution varied among tasters (from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of water added to a 2-ounce pour of 100-proof spirits). Tasters found that samples cut with distilled water and ice were both smoother sips and exhibited more robust aromas and notes of smoke, caramel, and butter.

Why Distilled Water Enhances Spirits' Flavors—and Tap Water Muddies Them

Why? Water is a powerful solvent, so tap (and spring) water is full of dissolved minerals from the earth, water pipes, and the container it is stored in. Adding that water to your whiskey also adds the taste of all the minerals, which can muddy the flavor of the drink.

Distilled water has had all its minerals removed, so not only is it neutral in flavor but it is chemically very eager to dissolve whatever it can. When it is added to whiskey, the ethanol dissolves readily into the water, which frees more of the flavor compounds, making the flavors in the whiskey much more vivid.

0 Comments

Try All-Access Membership to Unlock the Comments
Don't miss the conversation. Our test cooks and editors jump in to answer your questions, and our members are curious, opinionated, and respectful.
Membership includes instant access to everything on our sites:
  • 10,000+ foolproof recipes and why they work
  • Taste Tests of supermarket ingredients
  • Equipment Reviews save you money and time
  • Videos including full episodes and clips
  • Live Q&A with Test Kitchen experts
Start Free Trial
JC
JOHN C.
16 days

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too. I've done this using a rimmed sheet pan instead of a skillet and put veggies and potatoes around the chicken for a one-pan meal. Broccoli gets nicely browned and yummy!

Absolutely the best chicken ever, even the breast meat was moist! It's the only way I'll cook a whole chicken again. Simple, easy, quick, no mess - perfect every time. I've used both stainless steel and cast iron pans. great and easy technique for “roasted” chicken. I will say there were no pan juices, just fat in the skillet. Will add to the recipe rotation. Good for family and company dinners too.

MD
MILES D.
JOHN C.
9 days

Amazed this recipe works out as well as it does. Would not have thought that the amount of time under the broiler would have produced a very juicy and favorable chicken with a very crispy crust. Used my 12" Lodge Cast Iron skillet (which can withstand 1000 degree temps to respond to those who wondered if it would work) and it turned out great. A "make again" as my family rates things. This is a great recipe, and I will definitely make it again. My butcher gladly butterflied the chicken for me, therefore I found it to be a fast and easy prep. I used my cast iron skillet- marvellous!

CM
CHARLES M.
11 days

John, wasn't it just amazing chicken? So much better than your typical oven baked chicken and on par if not better than gas or even charcoal grilled. It gets that smokey charcoal tasted and overnight koshering definitely helps, something I do when time permits. First-time I've pierced a whole chicken minus the times I make jerk chicken on the grill. Yup, the cast iron was not an issue.