Friday, March 16, 2012

Corroborating the Value Whisky Reviews Water integration experiment part 2 - PC7

For background on Ryan of Value Whiskey Reviews' hypothesis about time integrating water please see my previous post "Corroborating the Value Whisky Reviews Water integration experiment - part 1" or read his original post here. I'd like to emphasize that Ryan's hypothesis is specifically that water integrates with whisky over time, reducing apparent spirit heat at the same level of dilution as freshly poured water. Integrated water also has a thicker mouthfeel, better body, and longer finish, to go with the reduced spirit heat. Ryan is NOT arguing that dilution is better or worse than not diluting - or making any argument about how much dilution is appropriate for a given whisky. The argument is solely whether time produces the smoother, thicker "integrated water" effect.

In yesterday's post I performed the integrated water experiment with Bookers bourbon. I found that the integrated water effect is readily detected with Bookers. Unfortunately I confused the issue somewhat talking about whether I enjoyed the level of dilution (1/5 - 50.8% abv) or not. Specifically, I did not enjoy that level of dilution with Bookers - but that was besides the point of the experiment. I'm so used to reviewing drams for enjoyment that it was tough to stay on topic. I'll discuss both topics tonight (whether the integrated water effect is detectable; and whether 1/5th dilution is enjoyable with PC7) - but I will keep these topics separate under distinct headings.

1) Integrated water experiment part 2: Port Charlotte PC7. PC7 is a superb cask strength Islay dram from Bruichladdich that is heavily peated (at 40ppm). It is 61.5% abv, which dilutes to 49.2% abv at 1/5th dilution. Integrated Water (IW henceforth) has been resting for 82 hours (about 3 1/2 days).
Recently Poured Water (RPW) is
the same filtered water at the same temperature added right before first tasting:

IW: Nose: iodine and peat with good presence.
Entry is rich and sweet with strong mouth feel and rich flavor. Plenty of spirit heat at the midpalate expansion but it comes on gradually and feels connected to a good sense of grain. Finish is long and flavorful.

RPW: 0-15 minutes of dilution: Nose is very polite - aromas missing in action. Entry has razor sharp sugars like the uncut. Big spirit heat at the midpalate expansion - much hotter than IW at the same proof! Body is thin and watery. Finish is lively, but noticeably shorter.

RPW- 30 minutes after dilution:
Nose is warmer and beginning to show iodine and peat notes.

Entry is noticeably less sharp - but still retains some of the intense sugars of the uncut product. Body is noticeably less watery - still slightly more watery than IW sample. Finish is fuller, but still dramatically thinner and weaker than the IW

RPW - 60 minutes after dilution:
Nose still weak but incrementally improved. Entry still rich, vanilla notes prominent now. Body still noticeably thinner than IW and finish less robust, but differences are smaller than at 30 minutes to a small degree. This is becoming enjoyable.

2) subjective analysis of whether dilution is pleasing.

PC7 succeeds on a number of levels: powerful grain sweetness on entry, rich earthy peat at midpalate, and seductive mix of oak, peat ash, and bituminous coal note in the looooong finish. These multiple attributed seem to hold up better to dilution than Bookers intense up front sweetness does. The IW sample in particular comes off as a rich and tasty dram you might encounter commercially and happily buy. The RPW samples suffer from watery body more, but after 45 minutes or so are quite enjoyable at this level of dilution. However, a nip from an uncut sample shows a vivid intensity that both diluted samples miss. Like the Bookers example, I would still choose to drink this dram uncut - or diluted to a smaller degree.

Conclusions: Ryan's Integrated Water Hypothesis is corroborated again. Allowing marrying time measured in days results in a diluted dram with dramatically altered properties as compared with a dram diluted to the same degree but without marrying time. Integrated water is smoother, richer, has fuller mouthfeel, and a stronger longer lasting finish than any of the RPW samples (although the RPW samples become more IW-like over the course of an hour). The IW water benefits come at the expense of some of the entry's sugar intensity compared with the RPW sample. Smoothness and roundness seems to polish the entry as well as the other phases. Fascinating!


  1. Great review... I'm finding myself wanting to do some more "research" at this point! Also, well written and crystal clear ;-) I'm not surprised that the cask-strength peat monster does better with dilution than Booker's does.

    I think in all three of our comparisons we've gotten about 30 minutes as the "minimum rest time" for water to calm down a cask-strength whisky, would you say?

    1. Yes, Ryan, a lot of integration takes place over the first 30 minutes and then things slow down and become more incremental after that. That's a very useful observation.

      The fact that PC7 dilutes better than Bookers is exactly the opposite of what I say in my initial review. I think the robust finish on the peaty malt helps. I get the feeling that the bigger grain structure on the PC7 is the biggest factor. Bookers is thin bodied for a bourbon. A more big boned bourbon would probably dilute better. It's odd because PC7 isn't what you'd normally call a robust bodied malt. It is only so in comparison with Bookers.

      Clearly this is a very fertile topic and addition work needs to be done in the vectors of concentration, longer marrying times, and a wider range of styles and flavor factors (particularly this body richness angle). Whew, all this science is thirsty work! I need a drink!

    2. Thirsty work indeed! I revisited a small dram of Redbreast at full strength this evening, and was thinking if it was worth doing a dilution "horizontal tasting" with different dilution levels... but I'm not sure if I can muster the energy for that one. As you say, there's just such a wide range of factors that it's going to be near impossible to come up with a reasonable assessment. I think I'm going to stick to my KISS method: drink it neat! In all honesty, I want the distillery to bottle at the optimum strength for me.

      Redbreast CS is just disappointing because it's hot, but I don't feel like there's any value added from the high proof except for the "zing." Most other cask-strength whiskies bring something extra along with the high-proof.

    3. Yes - horizontal testing is needed but I agree - time to rest. My palate is tired. I need a smooth sweet and creamy dram... Redbreast.

    4. Seriously, I haven't met a dram yet that benefits from a dilution beyond a few percent max. Many drams open nicely with a teaspoon of water or (literally) a drop or two or three. I use a straw and my finger to transfer single drops. There are a number of drams that almost require a few drops: Glenmorangie Nectar D'Or (see my review here) comes immediately to mind. 3 drops of water causes a floral explosion in the nose and entry of that one. I can see this as a serious topic for a broad review of open bottle items...