Photos Courtesy of BowmoreWhisky connoisseurs debate all sorts of things: the value of aging, wood finishes, terroir, the superiority of one distillery or distilling process over another...the list goes on; but few items are contentious as the simple matter of adding water to whisky.
Some will tell you that a whisky ought to be drank at cask strength — that is, the concentration at which it left the barrel — while others assert that whisky is best diluted with water. The Bowmore distillery, found on the famed Scottish isle of Islay, isn't out to tell you how to drink your whisky (or theirs, for that matter), but it is seeking to educate its customers with The Bowmore Water Program.
The project involves placing one of two specially-designed water-dispensing devices at bars and fine liquor stores, encouraging patrons to try adding a portion of water to their dram. The Water Safe is inspired by the great spirit safe in the Still Room at the Bowmore Distillery, crafted of copper with twin spigots. The less conventional Tilter dispenser, meanwhile, swings back and forth, releasing a fine stream of water into the glass from one end and individual droplets from the other. Both designs are hand-made and individually numbered, accompanied by training and Bowmore's Water & Whisky Guide, and will only be awarded to the most deserving accounts.
Master Distiller Rachel Barrie explains the chemistry behind adding water to whisky: “Bowmore is an amazingly complex and harmonious whisky with an enigmatic flavor spectrum. The spirit takes the drinker on a sensory adventure through sweetness and ocean spices with multiple layers of fruit and smoke. It is delicious on its own of course but if the drinker chooses to add water, different flavors emerge and take you on a new taste adventure.”
By adding one part water to two parts whisky, Barrie notes that different flavors and aromas emerge from the whisky. For example, while the Bowmore 12 Year Old served neat has a nose of honey, toffee and lemon, once water is added, aromas of sea salt, vanilla and almond emerge. On the tongue, the Bowmore 12 tastes of honey, lemon and peat when served neat, with water Barrie notes hints of peach, pineapple, lemon cream, brine, anise and a touch of mint emerge.
The difference makes a compelling case even to the most hesitant and discerning connoisseur, and has me reaching for a bottle of water to liven up the Islay scotch I'm enjoying while writing these words.