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If you have a question concerning Scotch Single Malt Whisky, please e-mail to thecelt@scotchdoc.com. Also see frequently asked questions.

I have heard, and read, varying opinions about the proper amount of water to add (or not add) when enjoying a single malt...
I am a fairly new Scotch admirer. I recently bought a 24% lead crystal decanter. My concern...


I have heard, and read, varying opinions about the proper amount of water to add (or not add) when enjoying a single malt. Some suggest drinking it neat, some with a splash of water, some with an equal amount of water and single malt, etc. There are even suggestions about using certain types of bottled water. Given that enjoying a single malt is a unique personal experience and there's probably no one correct answer, what is your preference and/or recommendation? -- Steve Sirbaugh

The specific question from Steve was if water should be added to the Scotch single malt and, if so, how much water? There have been other similar questions to The Scotch Doc, so let me "lump" them all together and provide a rather detailed answer that should satisfy everyone - I hope. I will at least tell you all that I THINK I know about it and will include some opinions. I recommend the following:

Place about two ounces of single malt in a 12 oz. brandy snifter.

Swirl the contents three or four times.

Place the nose about twelve inches above the rim of the glass and sniff lightly as you slowly move your nose closer or farther from the rim of the glass.

Swirl the whisky again and smell again.

Now that you have found the "correct" distance for YOUR nose and THIS particular single malt, place about a half-teaspoon of good quality, room temperature water in the single malt. I keep a bottle of such in my single malt cabinet. Now quickly swirl the contents a couple of times and nose again. If the whisky has much character, you will now most likely have to move your glass farther from your nose. There may be an intense release of aromas from the malt- or maybe not so intense. This robust release of aromas is due to the old Chemistry 104 term called "heat of solution." In effect, this rule states that when two chemicals are mixed, they may "take on" or "release" energy, thus becoming cooler or warmer. In the case of a whisky and water mix, the solution becomes slightly warmer, thus releasing the ethyl alcohols which contain much of the aroma of the single malt. The "nosing" step of appreciating the single malt is very important. There are 32 primary aromas, but only four primary tastes (via the tongue). Taste is influenced by the sense of smell for more than most people are aware.

At this point, take a small sip (3/4 to 1 teaspoonful) of the single malt into your mouth and allow it to coat the tongue and mouth well (no mouthwash swishing, now). Swallow slowly and envision the "Bell Curve" (you would expect a "Bell Curve" comparison from a professor, huh?) as the intensity of the flavor builds to a pinnacle and then declines. The more flavor and the longer it takes for the flavor to reach its flavor peak, the "taller" the "bell" will be.

The length of time it takes the flavor to reach its peak, and the longer the flavor lasts after it attains the peak (referred to as the "finish" or "after-taste"), the broader the Bell will be. With careful attention and regular practice, a great deal of information concerning the idiosyncrasies of single malts can be learned. More importantly, however, is the tremendous level of appreciation for the single malt that will occur. The incomparable single malt was never meant to be "drank," like other liquids. It was meant to be savored and "experienced." In fact, if one takes the time to get educated concerning the taste, history and mystique of the Scotch single malt, they may come to actually revere it. To "chug" a Scotch single malt is sacrilege, and I distance myself from such an uncouth individual as quickly as possible before the historically, well-documented, McCoy Celtic ire is aroused.

I strongly recommend that the Scotch single malt be "approached" in the same manner that one would a member of the opposite sex that may intrigue you. An open mind, patience, sincere attention to detail and an opportunity for it to reveal and exhibit its unique special qualities may disclose an "individual" whose company you can enjoy on many occasions. It could also be that you will meet that individual who you will want to spend a lifetime with. That's what The Scotch Doc thinks. What is your opinion?

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I am a fairly new Scotch admirer. I recently bought a 24% lead crystal decanter. My concern is that I seem to be getting a bit of condensation inside the decanter. The condensation occurs whether the decanter is full or half full. I cannot detect any difference in taste or aroma in the Scotch, however the decanter stopper, which seems to have a tight fit, has a strange smell. The stopper is crystal, not cork, and was thoroughly cleaned (as was the decanter) before any Scotch was put into it. The condensation doesn't seem to drip down into the Scotch. The decanter is stored in a cupboard away from any heat sources (dishwasher, oven, sink). Is this a problem or should I not be concerned? Thanks for any info you can pass on. -- Tina


Help me answer Tina's question. In summary, Tina has a 24% lead crystal decanter in which condensation forms. The decanter is full to half-full. The crystal stopper seems to have a tight fit, but has a strange smell (I assume when removed). Tina's question motivated me to check my twelve antique crystal decanters that are in about every room of my house (bathrooms excluded). I found all but two of my decanters, each with varying amounts of single malt in them, had condensation. The two that had no condensation were both in my den; and the crystal stoppers were apparently "sealed" from some residue whisky. In fact, I had to place a few drops of hot water on their "seal" (which was very brown from oxidation) to get them open.

Could it be that in washing the decanter before filling it, a little too much water was left in it? Could it be that the lids are not tight enough? What do you think? Do you have this problem?

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