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The committed whiskey drinkers among us have a variety of opinions on how to imbibe. Neat, over ice, or graced with a few drops of water are the choices regularly debated by connoisseurs the world over.

A new study by a pair of Swedish scientists has proven the answer at a molecular level: a few drops of water in the liquor helps increase the chemical bouquet on the surface of the booze, making it tastier, they report in the journal Scientific Reports.

The taste of smokiness is associated with guaiacol, a phenol more common in Scottish whiskies than in American or other kinds, they added.

The small and hydrophobic molecule doesn’t completely mix with the water present in the whiskey.

Using computer simulations of each atom in a whiskey, the researchers found the higher ethanol concentrations (59 percent) basically lock in the guaiacol.

But at lower concentrations (45 percent or less), the guaiacol is driven to the top of the whiskey.

“It is now more probable for guaiacol to evaporate and contribute to the aroma of whiskey,” the researchers write. “Thus, the taste of guaiacol and similar compounds will be more pronounced when whiskey is further diluted in the glass.”

But they also find that too much water will tip the taste quality the other way.

“This taste enhancement is counteracted by the dilution of guaiacol’s concentration,” they conclude. “Overall, there is a fine balance between diluting whiskey to taste and diluting the whiskey to waste.”

The unique palette of whiskies have been probed with science in the past. For instance, a study by PerkinElmer scientists in 2014 using gas chromatography found that decreasing the surface alcohol with a dash of water allowed fruity odors and tastes to bloom in a single sip. Also, the decreased alcohol has less desensitizing effects on the drinker.

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