The Corner

Whisky Gulch

Enough with elections, judges, stem cell research, etc.

It’s time to pause for some serious controversy: In response to the recent thread about scotch/bourbon and branch water (as a remedy for Election Day jitters, among other things), Kathryn received this email:

“Could you please pass on to Cliff May that water should never– AND I MEAN NEVER– be added to good booze. In order to properly savour the complex flavours of fine alcohol it must be taken neat, sipped slowly, and washed thoroughly over the palate. The mere thought gives me Goosebumps.

Good alcohol is one of God’s great gifts to man and should be treated with a degree of reverence verging on the sacramental. As a final suggestion I might add that Mr. May, when next imbibing, should stick his nose deep into the rock- or balloon-glass containing his neat whiskey and inhale deeply, if he does this just once he will never again pollute fine bourbon with water. In short save the water for the rotgut.

Of course, I am assuming that you, Ms. Lopez, did not add water to your Chianti, a truly wonderful (group of) wine(s); and if you did, ignore this note as you and Cliffy are beyond hope.

Great coverage on all things political, thank you.


Cas Balicki

Coquitlam, B.C.

Now, I’m a modest guy, not beyond criticism or correction (as I believe Kathryn will attest). But I had thought I knew what I was talking about when I published here in The Corner — for all the world to see — the assertion that a little branch water “opens” the whisky (the right way to describe scotch) or whiskey (if we’re speaking of bourbon and several other dark, alcoholic beverages).

But Cas Balicki had a very authoritative tone, which troubled me. So I did what any good reporter would do. I addressed an expert. I asked the question of my old friend Frank Coleman, formerly a top aide to Sen. Al D’Amato (and if that doesn’t teach one about drinking, what would?), now a senior vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council.

Frank’s response:

“Depending on age and proof, a small measure (as little as a teaspoon) of spring or distilled water (never tap) will open up the flavor and nose of spirits. This is particularly true of high-proof products such as single barrel and barrel-proof bourbons and scotches. Bourbons actual increase in proof with age in the barrel; scotches decrease (due to climactic differences). Most master distillers in Kentucky and master blenders in Scotland taste (nose) with water, often at much higher dilution levels than at which one would normally drink. This is particularly true when blending numerous malts in higher quality blended scotch. Again, the alcohol level in products such as Booker’s (at 126 proof and higher) will burn your olfactory sense. Most 80 to 86 proof spirits, excepting very old scotches and cognacs, have already been watered down by the distiller. But a splash will definitely open it up much in the same way as decanting a 25-30 proof claret.”

So, in his expert opinion, adding a small quantity of branch water to scotch or bourbon is more akin to decanting a claret than it is to diluting Chianti–the slander that has been alleged.

My guess is we have not heard the last of this controversy. To which I say: Bring it on. (I’m particularly hoping Rob Long will weigh in again.)

Clifford D. MayClifford D. May is an American journalist and editor. He is the president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative policy institute created shortly after the 9/11 attacks, ...


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