One of the most common questions about whisky is "Should I add water or ice?" and there are numerous 'whisky myths' surrounding the subject. Adding water and/or ice changes a whisky in both positive and negative ways. Different people will also react equally as positively or negatively when the subject is approach - this can range from the old school "I never add anything to my whisky and neither should you", to the innovative cocktail mixologists who are always finding new ways of using the product.
So what are your options and what does each option do to your whisky?
1 - Add nothing
Many whisky drinkers believe that you should not add any water to your whisky under any circumstance - this is now seen as slightly out of date. This allows you to taste the whisky in its true natural form. This allows the original distillery characteristics, and flavours from the cask in which it has been maturing, to come through. We recommend always trying a whisky as it comes from the bottle in the first instance - then you can make up your own mind and take it from there.
2 - Add water
Firstly, it is worth bearing in mind that most whisky with an alcohol level of 40-46% ABV already has some water added anyway. This process is called 'cutting' and is done before bottling in order to bring the alcohol down to a more acceptable level for the majority of consumers.
By adding a few drops of water to a whisky, you can open up different, new and subtle flavours that you previously may not have experienced. This is especially true when drinking cask strength whiskies (which can be up to and over 60% ABV). With cask strength whisky the alcohol, and resulting burning in your nostrils and mouth, can overpower even the most prominent flavours. By adding some water, this dilutes the alcohol and reduces its effect, giving both the prominent and subtler flavours a chance to shine. It is also worth trying water with regular strength whiskies and this is what everyone in the whisky industry does - if it's good enough for them, then it's good enough for us ... How much water you then add is entirely dependent on your taste.
3 - Add ice
The addition of ice is slightly different. Rather than enhancing flavours, it inhibits them - the ice makes the temperature of the whisky drop rapidly and locks in the aroma and flavour. It is the same as when you drink a good white wine that has been chilled down too much. It will be a more refreshing drink and calm the burn of alcohol, but can make the whisky taste dull and flat. The aromas and taste will only start to open up and reveal their full characteristics once the whisky starts to warm up to room temperature.
Despite the myths about adding or not adding water or ice, don't feel ashamed to drink how you want to drink it. Different whiskies deserve different treatments, as some are designed to be mixed (blends and some bourbons for example) while others are best enjoyed neat. If you can, try a sip before adding ice or water as we have mentioned. By trying the whisky in different ways, you will be surprised at the difference in the flavours and it is the best way to learn more about the whisky that you are drinking.
Ultimately, what you add to your whisky is all down to your own personal taste and the situation that you are drinking in. For instance, there is nothing better than enjoying a whisky cocktail or whisky 'on the rocks' on a hot Summer's day, or a strong peaty single malt in the depths of Winter. There are no right or wrong answers - if you have spent money on a shot or a bottle of whisky, then you should drink and enjoy it how you like.