Earlier in the summer scientists from Linnaeus University in Sweden raised the heckles of whisky fans worldwide with the publication of their article ‘Dilution of whisky – the molecular perspective’ in Nature Scientific Reports. Their study posited that amphipathic molecules (those which are both hydrophilic and have an affinity for water, as well as being hydrophobic and lacking an affinity for water) are a primary driver for the taste of whisky. They then proceeded to examine one such amphipathic molecule – guaiacol. Media reports of the study took things rather to far proclaimed headlines such as ‘Whisky tastes better with water’ and ‘Scientists prove adding water to whisky makes it taste better’. Cue expected uproar.
Those who took the time to read the original article (99% of people didn’t and simply railed on the media reported versions) will have noted that the authors themselves identified that there are many other flavour compounds present in barrel aged alcoholic drinks – vanillins, esters, phenols, cresols, limonene, and of course ethanol. But, they chose to study just guaiacol, as that’s what you do in science – you identify a single variable and then hypothesise and test that one variable. As with life, you can’t do everything all at once. Alas, overzealous media coverage and snap judgements of the research (mainly around it being computer tested and not physically imbibed) led to this paper being widely circulated, but roundly dismissed by the whisky community. But, it served a purpose in that it got people talking about dilution, even folks who has previously stood firmly to never letting a single drop of H20 enter their glasses.
In my view, all alcohol appreciation is a matter of personal taste and of course, opinion. I find that some whiskies I try do indeed benefit from the addition of water (whereas some to my taste do not). There are examples out there of drams which have markedly different flavours and structures once water has been added into them, which brings us on to today’s tasting note and one such whisky.
This Longmorn released by Cadenhead’s for their Authentic Collection was distilled in 1990 and bottled in October of 2016. It spent 26 years in ex-bourbon barrels, is botted natural coloured and non-chill filtered and clocks in 55.3% ABV.
Nose: Most certainly from an ex-bourbon cask. Warming vanilla and buttery pastries come together with polished wood and varnish, whilst juicy limes and crystalline ginger still provide a fair degree of zing to the affair. Underlying there’s some dusty and mustiness not quite dunnage warehouse, but certainly wet soils. Resting the dram brings out lovely tropical aromas of mangoes and coconuts, whilst the addition of water heightens the level of earthiness further. Interesting both neat, rested and diluted.
Taste: Fresh bourbon casks with sharp and tart citrus and some more tropical notes of banana and pineapple reaffirm the fruity character of this whisky. There’s an almost white wine-like quality here. Honey provides some sweetness, whilst cask spicing comes out to play with both pepper and a pinch of salinity. Resting the glass dials down the fruitiness but increased the presence of polish and varnish notes – flavours of longer term maturation. Adding a wee drop of water brings out a much softer and relaxed character with the fruits becomes particularly juicy and the tart bite fading into the background. Again, time and water both have quite marked effects here.
Finish: Long and expressing both tropical fruits and stem ginger.
This Cadenhead's Longmorn is a real shapeshifter. Straight out of the bottle it’s full of vim and vigour with very solid fruity flavours, but a little time relaxing in the glass reveals some of the underlying aromas and flavours of maturation – earthiness and polish. Water is a particularly interesting variable here, offering substantive changes in the prominence and character of the whisky to such a degree you could almost pour yourself two glasses and enjoy both of them in entirely different ways. A high quality example of cask strength ex-bourbon Longmorn.