A new study, published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports, breaks down the chemistry behind a Scotch-drinking tradition: adding just a touch of water to the glass to bring out the flavor. They found adding water isn't a placebo-effect inducing wives tale. The reactions that occur after a little dilution really do add flavor.

  • The researchers conducted a series of simulations to see how water, ethanol, and a flavorful compound in whiskey called guaiacol would behave at different ethanol concentrations.
  • Guaiacol is somewhat hydrophobic, so it doesn't mix well with water. In stronger whiskey, the guaiacol is evenly mixed throughout the drink. But adding a bit of water causes the molecules to float to the top, where they can mix with the air and arrive at the drinkers' nose, creating a stronger flavor.
  • Yes, but: These researchers only looked at three of the hundreds of compounds in whiskey.

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