If you catch a bartender adding some water to your whiskey, consider leaving him a generous tip. Far from "watering" down your drink, the savvy bartender is actually making your drink taste even better.
But how could diluting a substance enhance its flavors? Intrigued chemists (who may also be whiskey connoisseurs) decided to find out. They focused on a chemical known as guaiacol, a "taste molecule" that gives whiskey its smokey profile. The chemists found that when water is added to whiskey, the guaiacol molecules rise to the surface, where they are most likely to come in contact with your tongue sooner. Hence, diluted whiskey seems to taste better.
"From a molecular perspective, water and alcohol don't completely mix," said Ran Friedman, a study co-author. "Instead, we have clusters of water molecules and clusters of alcohol molecules. When whisky is diluted, the alcohol is driven to the surface, and many of the taste molecules follow it because they like to be in a slightly less aqueous environment. The taste that we experience is therefore enhanced -- but there's a limit. If we dilute the whisky too much the concentration of the taste compounds is reduced and the drink will be meager."
So, next time you have a glass of whiskey, go against your intuition and add a few drops of water.