I’ve heard a lot about adding a few drops of distilled water into whisky but I don’ think I’ve ever heard it as eloquently put as this from Peter Zimmermann, Master of Whisky.
With regard to cask strength whiskies, I typically present them in a Glencairn glass or a small stemmed tulip glass. It is important to have glassware that concentrates the aroma to the nose.
I also recommend a little splash of water. These whiskies are 55-60% alcohol, so they do benefit from a bit of water to ‘”open up”. It is best to nose the spirit first before adding water because then you can note the difference in the aroma after the addition of water. Add just a few drops or just enough to “curl”. If you hold your whisky glass up to the light and tilt it slightly, add a bit of water until you see the water “roll” once in the bottom of the glass. Since we have two liquids with different densities, you can actually see the two mingle in the glass. The Irish call these little waves “The Serpent”.
Water is to whisky as air is to wine. It tames the heat of the “prickle”; that slight burn on the nose that comes from higher proof spirits. Water also breaks the surface tension of those oils in the whisky, allowing the full aromas to come forth. When tasting cask strength whiskies, I like to hold them on my tongue and work them around to all sides of my mouth. This way I can detect the sweet notes on the tip of my tongue, the saltiness on the sides of my tongue and experience the dryness in the back of you tongue and throat.
I have a set of Glencarin glasses on order and hope to be able to test out how some of my favorite spirits change with different kinds of glass. I’m also planning on getting some distilled water and seeing the impact of water on my favorite whiskies.