Science Says You Shouldn’t Drink Your Whiskey “Neat”

By Brian Lemay 100 comments


{♫Intro♫} If you’ve ever sauntered up to the bar and ordered a whiskey neat, you probably looked
really cool doing it. But… sadly, you ordered a sub-par drink. Because it turns out a little water can make
your whiskey more flavorful. It’s all thanks to the weird chemistry of
alcohol solutions. Whether it’s an aged Glenfiddich or your
standard Jack Daniels, whiskeys can all be boiled down to three basic components. Alcohols, especially ethanol, to get you tipsy;
water, to keep you from dying; and some yummy carbon-containing compounds to add flavor. In scotches, for example, one of the key flavor
compounds is guaiacol, which essentially looks like a ring of carbon atoms with a couple
of oxygens attached. It’s largely responsible for that distinctive,
smoky flavor. But what’s most important about guaiacol
is that it’s amphipathic: part of it interacts with water, while another part repels water. And that means it behaves differently depending
on the concentration of water it’s dissolved in. To figure out what this all means for your
glass of whiskey, a team of researchers carried out a set of computer simulations that modeled
various combinations of water, ethanol, and guaiacol. They already knew that water and ethanol never
really fully mix. And the shape of alcohol molecules means that
they tend to collect at the liquid’s surface, a state that minimizes the mixture’s overall
energy. But while guaiacol can form relatively strong
hydrogen bonds with both water and ethanol, the computer data suggested that its carbon
ring forms an additional interaction with the alcohol. And that meant that, at moderate alcohol concentrations,
it followed the ethanol up towards the drink’s surface—putting it in a prime position to
hit your tongue when you take a sip. The scientists found this concentration effect
happened up to about forty-five percent alcohol-by-volume, which, in whiskey terms, would be ninety proof. And that might explain why whiskeys and scotches,
which are distilled at one hundred thirty to one hundred fifty proof, are usually diluted
down during the bottling process. They literally taste better that way, like
you can taste them better… Annnnd that wasn’t all the researchers found. As the simulated whiskey continued to be diluted
past the forty-five percent mark, the guaiacol in it became less and less bound to ethanol. So not only was it at the surface, it lost
some of its connections to the liquid around it. That’s key because the surface of a liquid
is also where evaporation happens. And the flavor you experience when you drink
something isn’t just what you taste with your tongue. A lot of it depends on the compounds you smell. While the time period studied was too short
to actually see evaporation happen, the authors said diluting from forty-five percent to just
twenty-seven percent alcohol would likely increase the amount of guaiacol that becomes
part of the whiskey’s smell—and therefore, a bigger part of its flavor. And all that means that if you want the most
flavorful whiskey experience, you probably want to add in some water instead of drinking
it neat. You might even consider watering down other
boozes. Lots of flavor-causing substances are amphipathic
molecules, so the authors speculated that the tasty components of other drinks could
behave a lot like guaiacol. Of course, taste is a complicated, personal
thing and some ways of adding water — like dropping in an ice cube — might have other,
unexpected effects. So, really, just do what tastes best to you. And drink responsibly! And before I go, I want to lift a glass to
our wonderful community of patrons who support SciShow on Patreon. Our patrons help ensure the team here can
keep making fun, educational science videos like this one. So if you liked what you just watched and
want to help SciShow keep making videos like it, you can head over to Patreon.com/SciShow
to learn about joining our patron community. And FYI, we now have a Discord for our patrons,
too! So you can check out exclusive channels and
talk about SciShow and science with other patrons and some of our SciShow team. We hope to see you there! {♫Outro♫}

100 Comments

KastaRules

Dec 12, 2019, 2:05 pm Reply

…if you really must water the drink down, use Spring Water for the love of everything that is Holy.

Kervin Etolle

Dec 12, 2019, 2:21 pm Reply

I get a whiskey advertisement after the video

Chance Whistler

Dec 12, 2019, 2:27 pm Reply

Blasphemy

Gio Marron

Dec 12, 2019, 2:47 pm Reply

But what does science say about whisky?

Basically, this video is saying: 'It's taken 300 years for scientists to catch up with what every Scot and Irishman is taught before learning to walk. Then instantly forgetting how to walk.'

John Traylor

Dec 12, 2019, 2:53 pm Reply

Whisky and ice.

Ragesauce

Dec 12, 2019, 2:54 pm Reply

I've personally never liked whiskey with water, it makes it taste a lil gross.

Joe Biden

Dec 12, 2019, 2:55 pm Reply

Keep up the good work hank

Josh 14

Dec 12, 2019, 3:45 pm Reply

I don’t know if this counts, but when I brew my own kombucha and I’ll always add some ice and let it melt first because adding the water seems to enhance the flavor

Dave Cruickshank

Dec 12, 2019, 3:48 pm Reply

Glen-fid-ick…! Not itch.

I literally add a 'splash' of water to my whiskey (scotch). Wet the fingers and flick a few drops into the glass. Then I use whiskey stones. Ice cubes have too much water in them.

It shouldn't taste diluted.

thestupidfreakingcow

Dec 12, 2019, 4:29 pm Reply

I now have more questions than answers about whiskey and I feel like you guys should do a deep dive video to find the scientifically best way to drink any type of whiskey

baerleon

Dec 12, 2019, 4:47 pm Reply

This is nearly enough for me to drop you from my Patreon.

PIGSY MAGIC

Dec 12, 2019, 4:50 pm Reply

We in the UK pronounce it "GLEN-FID-ICK"

Strains

Dec 12, 2019, 4:53 pm Reply

Splash of water. No ice. Ice waters it down too much. Neat tastes way better to me tho.

T1Oracle

Dec 12, 2019, 5:09 pm Reply

I don't even drink but this keeps showing up in my recommendations… -.-

J. T. Hartzfeld

Dec 12, 2019, 5:21 pm Reply

That Guaiacol model looks like a diseased/mutated sphincter.

J Birch

Dec 12, 2019, 5:42 pm Reply

Cheap whiskey doesn't work with this and the amount of water you need is literally drops. Ice is still not recommended.

James Buckley

Dec 12, 2019, 5:53 pm Reply

This is the dumbest things ive ever seen. You may think its sub par,i may think its sub par,but as taste is subjective its up to the individual to determine what is sub par

weejas

Dec 12, 2019, 5:59 pm Reply

This is not new information…

Orion Foresee

Dec 12, 2019, 5:59 pm Reply

I believe you are confusing "whiskey neat" with "whiskey straight".

I've never recieved a whiskey neat without recieving a glass of water and a straw.

Neat means nothing added, so you can control the water. This way you can experience different levels of water/ whiskey mix as the drink progresses.

Jack Bauer

Dec 12, 2019, 6:34 pm Reply

I take a whisky drink, I take a chocolate drink;And when I have to pee, I use the kitchen sink! I sing the song that reminds me I'm a urinating guy!

Michael Wright

Dec 12, 2019, 6:46 pm Reply

Gwee a col? How about guy-a-col.

Max Gorbunov

Dec 12, 2019, 6:46 pm Reply

This deserves a huge asterisk next to it. In scotch circles, adding a drop of water to neat whiskey is a common way to explore the taste. The effect it has on the pallette is drastically different depending on factors like ABV, aging method, finish, peat content etc. It's more complicated than just adding water as a blanket statement

King Ofthegarden

Dec 12, 2019, 7:00 pm Reply

Science and the experts can but out of my enjoyment of my straight scotch – yeah, I have tried it other ways that's why I drink it straight.

Nicholas Soldan

Dec 12, 2019, 7:10 pm Reply

The key is to taste and add drops of water slowly. An ice cube is not controlled and you taste buds work very poorly at high and low temperature so ice is a bad way to start but as the Whiskey Tribe says the right way to drink whiskey is the whiskey you like and how you like. MB

Hello Friend

Dec 12, 2019, 7:35 pm Reply

Yea but what if you're drinking to get drunk?

Nikit Kothale

Dec 12, 2019, 7:57 pm Reply

Science says you shouldn't drink

AngryPasta

Dec 12, 2019, 8:17 pm Reply

I like the taste of fuel too

Galactic Warlock

Dec 12, 2019, 8:47 pm Reply

I agree. My grandmother watered all her booze and it did taste better. Also on ice, drinks taste a little better with the ice melted.

Troy Clayton

Dec 12, 2019, 9:23 pm Reply

News flash, whiskey tastes like crap.

Ted Baker

Dec 12, 2019, 9:24 pm Reply

Sorry, but at least when it comes to bourbon, the addition of water, in some instances, brings out off-flavors, not desired ones. So, let your senses of taste and smell be your guide, not a computer simulation. If you like whiskey neat better, it doesn't matter what the computer thinks.

Antonio Ortega-Fuentes

Dec 12, 2019, 9:25 pm Reply

So your science guys need a pro. Take small sips of your whisk(e)y allow it to mix with the saliva in your mouth, swallow said whisk(e)y then slowly exhale through your nose with your mouth slightly open.

Note: I wrote whisk(e)y because of this
Whiskey refers to Irish and American whiskeys.
Whisky refers to Canadian, Japanese and Scotch.

Bonus when making a Manhattan/Rob Roy use Rye whiskey (Manhattan) or a single malt highland scotch(rob roy). 2 oz Rye/Scotch (90+ proof) 1 oz sweet vermouth 2 dashes bitters and STIR IT no shaking. If under 90 proof spirit use 3/4 oz sweet vermouth. Italians make the best sweet vermouth enjoy.

jbgood314

Dec 12, 2019, 11:04 pm Reply

Water NUTS have gotten to you too! Whiskey is meant to be drank as is. PERIOD. END OF CONVO!

Keallei

Dec 12, 2019, 11:17 pm Reply

Thanks Hank. Thanks patrons.

The Knave

Dec 12, 2019, 11:57 pm Reply

Science is wrong.

So, so, wrong.

Cryptonymicus

Dec 12, 2019, 12:05 am Reply

But since water is added at the brewery you're really watering down whiskey that's already watered down, which is where all this becomes exactly what people are talking about when they say, "You're thinking about this way way too much."

Eric Lindsay-Baker

Dec 12, 2019, 1:20 am Reply

OBvi no one is in a 12 step program over there.

Libor Tinka

Dec 12, 2019, 1:34 am Reply

Several people told me one should never ever add ice to the whiskey, but almost every single picture of whiskey glass I found contains huge amount of ice cubes. I am confused…

Waterlooplein1

Dec 12, 2019, 3:10 am Reply

Sent this to "Whiskey Tribe." I will continue to drink my whiskey 100 proof.

Phillip Main

Dec 12, 2019, 3:56 am Reply

Water also has no taste so by watering down your whiskey you are lessening the taste.

G F

Dec 12, 2019, 4:30 am Reply

This is not anything new. There are several videos of master distillers demonstrating the proper amount of water to add to your whiskey if you choose to do so. While it isn't something you have to do with every whiskey, many are reputed to "taste" better or be more flavorful once the water is added.
Although, as someone who is almost finished with a BS in biochemistry, the science behind this practice is awesome!

Jack Daniels

Dec 12, 2019, 5:08 am Reply

so it’s bad that i drink azeotropic ethanol?

Chris Herrick

Dec 12, 2019, 5:12 am Reply

Would this also help to explain why different can taste the same alcohol differently from someone else? I always thought it was related to genetics (like the PTC tasting ability), but perhaps there's more to the phenomenon than genetics.

KC Boon

Dec 12, 2019, 8:35 am Reply

Jack daniels isnt a whiskey

Mike Marcus

Dec 12, 2019, 9:20 am Reply

Hmm. Not sure about this. Presumably the saliva in your mouth does the same thing and it’s the retronasal olfaction (IE smelling through the back of your nose where it meets the throat), that has the biggest influence on flavour.

Bigfoot

Dec 12, 2019, 10:20 am Reply

What is science, my mother now?
Let's make a deal, science: you don't tell me how to destroy my body, I won't tell you how to destroy the world. Fair?

Necate .Youtube

Dec 12, 2019, 10:20 am Reply

Jack Daniels is more a Bourbon, than an actual Whiskey

American Pride

Dec 12, 2019, 11:10 am Reply

Wrong.

Ace Lightning

Dec 12, 2019, 12:09 pm Reply

I have noticed that adding an ice cube to an alcoholic beverage can often change the flavor of the booze to something more delicious than the original. One of my favorite drinks is a caipirinha, a Brazilian drink made with fermented sugar-cane juice (not rum, which is fermented molasses) and lime juice, which one of my friends once described as "rocket fuel". But once it's sat in the glass with an ice cube for 30 to 60 seconds, it tastes a whole lot more flavorful and mellow. But I'd rather not dilute my liquor by adding plain water to it.

s sandus

Dec 12, 2019, 1:34 pm Reply

You know I dont drink whiskey for flavor right? Lol

N Marrs

Dec 12, 2019, 2:08 pm Reply

It also says you shouldn’t drink.

Vilhelmo De Okcidento

Dec 12, 2019, 2:12 pm Reply

Science tells us what is, not what should be.

Ahmed Azam

Dec 12, 2019, 4:06 pm Reply

Why does Vodka taste better in orange juice

Double A

Dec 12, 2019, 4:44 pm Reply

Whiskey neat is definitely the way to go for many whiskeys I like. I have had whiskey that tastes better with a few drops of water as well. Diluting down for alcohol content sounds crazy but I'll give it a taste test today.

Cambesa

Dec 12, 2019, 5:02 pm Reply

I think its a nice method to just try it with both water added and without and see which one you like better

RRafael Muniz

Dec 12, 2019, 5:15 pm Reply

Yeah a drop or two of water

RRafael Muniz

Dec 12, 2019, 5:18 pm Reply

All this based on theory. How about you try it instead of talking about it. This video is dumb. Whats next. How marijuana affects your mind…. meanwhile he’s never tried it. But describes it… riiiiight

Jacob Turnbaugh

Dec 12, 2019, 5:34 pm Reply

The way this show is written and presented always feels awkward to me and the dumb jokes in the comments are Trolly AF.

Kyle Gruber

Dec 12, 2019, 5:43 pm Reply

Taste is subjective. A whisky lover knows that and adds water droplets to their glass as needed. Exploring a whiskey starts with how the distiller bottles their craft.

KT420ish

Dec 12, 2019, 6:43 pm Reply

I've always had my whiskey just straight whiskey. 1. I like my whiskey room temp. 2. I drink to get drunk, not for the taste. 3. Watered down whiskey is absolutely awful in my opinion. I like the bite when I sip my room temp whiskey.

Celtic Revival / Adfywiad Celtaidd

Dec 12, 2019, 9:19 pm Reply

“Glenfidditch” ugh ? that english Pronunciation is subpar

Brent Ross

Dec 12, 2019, 12:51 am Reply

Science is completely wrong. We tried this with Russell's Reserve SB @ 110 proof and Ardbeg Uigeadahl @ 108.2 proof.
Almost all the flavor is gone. The only thing a little more prominent is some sweetness. Everything is buried by the water.
Do not do this!!

TheMasterfulcreator

Dec 12, 2019, 3:36 am Reply

Personally I really like the burn from a high proof whiskey!

Andrew

Dec 12, 2019, 3:53 am Reply

what's interesting to me is this is a simulation of how alcohol behaves while in the glass, which is, to be fair, where you will be smelling it directly. however, once the whiskey or spirit mixes with the saliva in your mouth, it will further dilute and the surface area will increase as it rolls around your palate.

Paul Frederick

Dec 12, 2019, 5:59 am Reply

I'm pretty sure they're watering whiskey down to make more money. Now it may taste better in the process but I doubt that's their primary motivation.

Colin Brash

Dec 12, 2019, 6:27 am Reply

Wait wat? Apparently science is BS? Now I know how Republicans feel.

ElMikeoMysterio

Dec 12, 2019, 6:47 am Reply

Who orders a whiskey neat to look cool?
In my 12 years of bar hopping and tending I've never witnessed this situation. Most people ordering bourbon or whiskey get it on rocks or as a mixed drink. Some order a shot or a round of shots for them and their friends but even then they usually have a chaser.
The only people I've seen order a neat have been drinking alone and they are usually either drinking to forget or downing and dashing.

Free High 5

Dec 12, 2019, 2:32 pm Reply

Science can mind its own dang business. I’ll drink what I want dag nabbit!

cybersec_opossum

Dec 12, 2019, 3:16 pm Reply

Fortunately your local bar likely already watered it for you. Really, though if you want to try really tasting a whiskey, get a bottle of distilled water, and after each sip pour about as much water as you drank whiskey. That's been standard for tastings.

psammiad

Dec 12, 2019, 4:19 pm Reply

Whisky and water is the traditional way of consuming whisky. Side note: whisky doesn't have an E, unless it's Irish. Most whiskies are not Irish.

Orion NAID

Dec 12, 2019, 5:19 pm Reply

Pffft, just give me Tequila instead

johnotm

Dec 12, 2019, 6:13 pm Reply

I find whisky taste good after brushing my teeth

Nicholas Plesko

Dec 12, 2019, 7:09 pm Reply

I will accept a little water in my single barrel whiskey from now on. But the blended whiskey tastes good on its own.

Charles Wang

Dec 12, 2019, 9:45 pm Reply

I was worried they were going to poo-poo the drop of water method with this video title. Glad to see I was wrong!

Rey Rogers

Dec 12, 2019, 12:50 am Reply

Adding a few drops of the water from the source it was brewed from to the glass just before tasting is fairly common in Scotland. Some brands like Springbank will provide you with a small bottle of water coming from the water used in the process when you buy a bottle. Also at tastings spring water is provided.

Seamus Murphy

Dec 12, 2019, 1:18 am Reply

Your science means nothing here.. you know that burning feeling in you throat after drinking whiskey? That's the whiskey cleansing your soul

zrazghost

Dec 12, 2019, 2:36 am Reply

people drink alcohol straight for the taste?

MyCsPi

Dec 12, 2019, 4:40 am Reply

That might be true if your aim Is to get the maximum "guaiacol" per VOLUME of beverage, but the alcohol itself is also vital to the pleasant taste, and diluting that down too far will surely alter the drinking experience (for the worse) than releasing a few more flavor molecules.

Equally, this kind of also proves that add a laughably minute "1 or 2 drops" of water is a waste of time, especially if you're gonna then mix them evenly into the drink, having next to no impact on the alcohol concentration.

Test User

Dec 12, 2019, 7:15 am Reply

Ummm but if you're used to a certain taste, even if it's 'less' doesn't adding water make it different and so less of a drink that you want personally?

todd goslin

Dec 12, 2019, 7:19 am Reply

Blasphemer.

wisconsindabber

Dec 12, 2019, 7:30 am Reply

Always have had whiskey on the rocks

Matthew Hunt

Dec 12, 2019, 8:19 am Reply

Litteraly the reason you order it neat is so you have the option to add water and how much…. Anyone who actually drinks whiskey regularly knows this

Arpit Bharti

Dec 12, 2019, 8:31 am Reply

Whiskey with water is awful.

Here4 ThisCringe

Dec 12, 2019, 9:10 am Reply

Let’s get a glass. Guaiacol and all. See you at the lab.

Matthew Stephens

Dec 12, 2019, 9:30 am Reply

This is what I'd like to call a waste of time, money and research.

Dan Gingerich

Dec 12, 2019, 9:32 am Reply

Most tap water, used in most ice cubes, has some mineral content, usually sulfur or iron, that ruins the taste of scotch.

batatmi

Dec 12, 2019, 9:44 am Reply

Would likely, speculate, suggest… that's not an experiment and the "results" hasn't been tested. In practice, diluting wiskey sometimes enhances the taste and sometimes hinders it, and there are more factors at play. Diluting 40% drink to 25% would mean doubling the drinks water content, and at the end of the day water tastes like… well water.

balisong46

Dec 12, 2019, 10:07 am Reply

The irony of that stock photo though

natoninemil firepower

Dec 12, 2019, 12:26 pm Reply

The only thing that matters is that you like what’s in your cup

Liibski90 A

Dec 12, 2019, 3:49 pm Reply

I KNEW it. Always add some water to my whisky.

dreadpiraterogers

Dec 12, 2019, 4:11 pm Reply

The best way to drink your whiskey is the way you like.

All scotches are different. Some really don't need water. Some need a drop or two. Some need a lot of ice cubes and a cold to enjoy.

Bo Reed

Dec 12, 2019, 7:45 pm Reply

Just dont drink over a 5th a day you will be fine if you have to drink more than that your not normalizing with drinking that is not alcohols falt its alcoholics don't drink it's not good for you ,ps from someone who loves you

Don Clark

Dec 12, 2019, 9:17 pm Reply

Neat whisky drinker here. Adding water can improve flavors but it can also worsen them. Ethanol tolerance on the palate and nose will help with getting past the alcohol and comes with practice. Most neat whisky drinkers are drinking to what the distillery produced because we want to experience their expression of whisky. It doesn’t really matter if it’s good or bad and different people like different flavor profiles. The real goal is to experience the whisky like art and to see what the artists came up with. I’ve certainly watered down some whiskies and enjoy experimenting. I really enjoy the alcohol content and for future videos Glenfiddich is pronounced with a hard ch like glenfidick. Tons of scotch brands have strange pronunciations like this lol

Dangelo ROMERO

Dec 12, 2019, 9:21 pm Reply

This is what happens when scientists get drunk, "Lets make a video about how amazing whiskey is!!"

Jordan Laine

Dec 12, 2019, 9:48 pm Reply

So you decided to group all whiskeys together even though bourbons don't have guaiacol? Cool click bait bro.

Joris

Dec 12, 2019, 9:50 pm Reply

Hank, normally I really appreciate your work, but your pronunciation of Glenfiddich made me really sad.

Tony Oliver

Dec 12, 2019, 10:56 pm Reply

The chemistry is so much more complicated than this… certain aromatic compounds are more soluble in ethanol than water so by lowering the abv you’ll knock them out of solution. You can also shock the whiskey by adding cold water to a room temperature spirit, the different gravities don’t mix properly and some compounds will be pulled out into the water stripping them from the dram. The same is even more pronounced at the surface of the ice cube where mp water is interacting with room temp whiskey

BuddyL

Dec 12, 2019, 11:49 pm Reply

Don't mind me, just doing research. ?

David Bergara González

Dec 12, 2019, 1:40 am Reply

I order it with ice and let it melt a little.

R_i_p_current

Dec 12, 2019, 2:51 am Reply

this , was not an interesting topic . bout to thumbs down.

Alex Black

Dec 12, 2019, 5:16 am Reply

Some references to discern what whiskies this would apply to. Guaiacol is produced when lignin found in wood is burned, and there are two points of which that can influence a whiskey –
1. When the barrel used to age is charred/toasted (minimal influence)
2. During the drying process of grain malting (this is popular mainly in Scotland)
Focusing on the process of drying one must consider what materials are being used to dry the malt. Most distilleries use drying processes that leave no impact on the flavours of the grain, while some will use a process in which direct heat from wood and/or peat to dry their grains. The latter is where guaiacol come into play. It's fairly obvious the guaiacol influence from the wood-burning, but the peat process offers some variables in the level of guaiacol depending on where the peat would be sourced from. Peat is decaying plant matter, it's essentially wet-coal, that forms in bogs, so depending on where those bogs are located will determine how much of those wood lignins are in the peat and therefore how much guaiacol will end up being created during the burning process.
So, it's important to realize that there is a big spectrum in the amount of guaiacols found in a whiskey depending on its production methods, and even more so when you consider where a distiller makes his cuts while distilling, as in theory they could have the most wood-smoke influenced malt but a distiller could fraction off those compounds during distillation leaving the final product with nothing.
Just some food for thought

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