It really cannot get much easier than this mixed drink. Really, the name says it all: it's Bourbon and Water. It's also often called 'bourbon and branch,' referring to either the stream of water that flows into your bar glass or the branch of a river near a distillery.
While the question of how to make a 'Bourbon and Water' is an easy one, a more pressing question is: When should I add water to my whiskey? Overall, it will be a personal preference. However, there are a few tips that can help guide you on the adventure of getting the most out of your whiskey.
- 2 ounces bourbon
- Pour the bourbon into an old-fashioned glass.
- Add a splash of water.
Alternatively, pour the whiskey over ice and allow it to melt a little bit before drinking. Some whiskey drinkers also enjoy a splash of soda water as we see in the popular Scotch and Soda.
You might also enjoy your whiskey neat with a 'water back.' This extra glass of water allows you to either pour in a splash or two as you see fit or cleanse your palate after taking a straight sip.
Is the Water Really Important?
Bad water and good whiskey are a poor combination. Just like you (hopefully) will not fill your ice cube trays with standard tap water, you should think about the water you splash into your bourbon. The goal is to open up the whiskey's flavors, not pollute it with impurities.
Let's step back to the 'Bourbon and Branch' moniker. 'Branch water' is often used to refer to a branch of a water tributary that flows near a bourbon distillery. Why are some of the best bourbons found in Kentucky? One of the primary reasons is that their water source flows through the natural filtration of limestone rock that dominates the region.
Iron is common in many unfiltered water sources and it will ruin a good bourbon. Don't believe us? Sacrifice a finger of bourbon and place a piece of iron in the glass. You will quickly see that it turn cloudy and gets a murky red hue. This is the chemical reaction of the iron and it's likely that your tap water contains the same mineral.
The limestone found in 'bourbon country' naturally removes iron. However, there's no need to order up a truckload of Kentucky branch water for your whiskey.
What should you choose instead? Mineral water, spring water, filtered water, distilled water... it doesn't matter as long as it's the cleanest water you have at your disposal. It seems like a trivial issue, but it's a simple step that will significantly improve your whiskey experience.
When to Add Water or Ice to Whiskey
Written by Lance Mayhew
What is the appropriate way to serve whiskies?
While the simple answer is to enjoy your whiskies any way you like to drink them, we do have a few suggestions for getting the most enjoyment out of your whiskey.
Whiskey Over 100 Proof
Cask-strength or barrel-proof whiskies (usually those over 50% ABV or 100 proof) can usually benefit from the addition of a splash of cool water or an ice cube or two.
Why? By adding a splash of water, the flavors and aromas that might be missed in such a high-proof whiskey begin to emerge and the burn of the alcohol becomes less noticeable.
If adding an ice cube, allow a few minutes for the whiskey and ice to warm up before enjoying. As liquids become colder, less flavor is apparent. Adding a few cubes will actually tighten up the whiskey for a short time before the release of flavors becomes apparent.
Two whiskies to enjoy with a splash of cool water are:
90-100 Proof Whiskey
Whiskies that range from 45-50% ABV (90-100 proof) may be enhanced with water. Yet, you may also find that water detracts from your experience. It is going to depend on your palate and the whiskey in front of you.
Some whiskey drinkers find that a splash of water helps to reduce the sting of alcohol while allowing them to detect subtle nuances in the spirit. Others find that the addition of water to the spirit can make it feel thin and watery on their palate.
Professional tasters and reviewers often add a lot of water to review whiskies. This allows them to detect every flavor in a particular whiskey. They do this in the interest of their review, not to maximize their own enjoyment of the whiskey.
Trial and error are the only way to determine which method works best for you.
80 Proof Whiskey
Finally, whiskies at 80 proof, such as Jack Daniels, are probably best enjoyed neat. A whiskey at 40% ABV has already been cut down to this strength at the distillery and may not need additional water or ice.
This said, let your own palate be the ultimate arbiter of this discussion. Do not hesitate to order Jack Daniels on the rocks in a restaurant or bar if that is your preferred way to enjoy it.
These are simply guidelines, not rules. Ultimately, what matters most is whatever gives you the most enjoyment while drinking the whiskey of your choice.
Experimentation is the key to understanding how your individual palate reacts to different whiskies. Go ahead, add a splash of water to a whiskey that you usually drink neat, or try a whiskey that you normally drink on the rocks neat and at room temperature.
Think about the similarities and differences in the tastes, and ultimately choose whatever works best for you. It is not a horrible experience (it's not like we're asking you to formulate quadratic equations here). This is whiskey, after all, and you won't know where your tastes lie unless you try.