Now, about the water integration I wrote two posts on last week: no, I'm not done, not by a long shot. Where we left off last week was that I had successfully corroborated Ryan of http://valuewhisky.blogspot.com/ conclusion that allowing a rest period of a couple of days after diluting whisky produced a smoother, more rounded, better integrated result. However there were troubling aspects to this conclusion: the nose and the sugar notes of the entry were muted and rounded along with the heat. I wondered, what would additional time do.
I performed two additional experiments for this third installment:
1) Bookers diluted with only 1/8 volume of water allowed to integrate for 9 days. The idea here is to rectify the problem of the unacceptable loss of opening sweetness. Bookers at 7/8 is 111.9 proof. This is, granted, very high. Just the edge off.
Color: medium copper.
Nose: much of the full Bookers nose is now in evidence after a week: brown sugar, cherry compote, molasses, corn pone, tobacco and fresh sawn oak. The nose is more relaxed and less hot than the uncut version - but unlike the previous dilution experiments it comes off as an integrated whole.
Opening is bright and sharp with brown sugar - yes the sugars that were too muted at 4/5 are well present at 7/8 and a week of water integration. Midpalate expansion is sharp and hot with jammy bitter orange, stewed peaches, and rich oak. The mouthfeel is good - not rich but at least as full as the uncut. The turn is full of bitter wood, and the sour tang so distinctive of Jim Beam's mash, and dark char. It's a heady stew. I'm not certain it works as a sipping whisky to rival the really good ones - but it's in the ballpark. Its also noticeably easier to drink than uncut Bookers - still hot but not quite as debilitatingly so. There's no hint that this is a dilution. Unless you had it side by side with the uncut stuff it wouldn't occur to you.
2) Port Charlotte PC7 at the previous 4/5th dilution, but allowed to integrate for 8 days.
Color: Light gold.
Nose: earthy peat with a note of iodine, salt, library paste and a hint of distant mint. There's also some tar and bacon.
Entry is sweet and round and rich with toffee malt, oatmeal and mead. Midpalate expansion is big and forceful with earthy peat arriving in a big way. The fade sees the peat turn to tar and ash with a deep anthracite coal combustion note. This is unmistakably Port Charlotte, but the big burn is gone. Some of the razor sharp sugar intensity is gone too, but without an uncut dram to directly compare you would be hard pressed to notice. This is fine Islay dram that doesn't read as a dilution at all.
The key ingredient is time. A splash of water is not just a splash of water - that's the big lesson here. What begins as thin, watery, and diluted ends up tightly bound with the flavor signature that originally was there. I suspect that congeners and flavor compounds in whisky are not readily soluble in water. When water is first added it doesn't dissolve an essential aspect. You taste the poorly integrated water. After a marrying period the water becomes more fully integrated with a richer mouth feel, more sugars apparent up front, less spirit heat, and more rounded presentation in general. As far as I know, this effect wasn't documented before Ryan's post.
All of this explains how adding water transforms the flavor of whisky both by exposing something hidden, breaking up congeners locked in micelles, and by muting some other flavor elements by locking them up in bunches caused by supersaturation. However, the issue of time is not explicitly discussed in the article. Do all of these things happen at once? Do they happen over hours? Days? Weeks?
My experience is that big changes happen over the first 30 minutes, but additional changes are clearly detected after 2 days and even more changes are clearly detected after 8 and 9 days. Things really start to get good after extended marrying time. Why? At the moment I don't have a clue. However these three experiments show me that Ryan has discovered something profoundly true about marrying time for whisky and water.
The final question is "so what"? Am I really going to dilute and vat my cask strength whisky a week or more before drinking it? In most cases, no. The distilleries do that most of the time. The results of these experiments don't suggest a clear course of action in my opinion. I will drink cask strength whisky undiluted most of the time. I have gained the knowledge, however, that marrying time produces a smoother, less hot, more integrated dram. This effect continues for many days. This a data point; more information. Use it as you see fit.