For some whiskey drinkers, it’s neat or nothing. I generally abide by this rule as well unless I’m dripping some water into a dram of single malt to open it up a bit. But those that like to add water in liquid or frozen form to their bourbon now have the option of buying bottled water sourced specifically for their drink. Old Limestone is a Kentucky-based company that sells its water, sourced from “an ancient limestone aquifer that runs underneath the Kentucky bluegrass region,” in a 750 ml bottle for $9.95 (a 1 liter PET bottle is also available for $3.95).
But can you actually taste the difference using bottled water versus tap? Is this the real deal or just a gimmick? Perhaps my palate isn’t refined enough, or maybe I’ve burned out my taste buds from the cask strength whiskey I so often enjoy, but I really could not taste the difference between free water or fancy water in my bourbon. Old Limestone founder Doug Keeney, of course, disagrees. After first trying it, “the bourbon seemed to explode with life and flavors, and be what it was supposed to be,” he told me. He talked with some master distillers who offered a scientific explanation for what he thought he was experiencing. “It seems the calcium and magnesium make the water smoother and bind with the flavor agents to deliver more impact in your mouth,” he said. “The Kentucky aquifer also filters out the harsh irons which would turn a bourbon mash black.”
But what do people in the industry think of using high-priced bottled water in their whiskey? Rob Samuels, COO and eighth generation distiller of Maker’s Mark, who, for the record, generally only adds ice to his whiskey, had this to say: “I think people should drink bourbon the way that best suits their palate. I personally haven’t tried any of the bottled mixing waters, but I would be open to it.” Legendary Jim Beam master distiller Fred Noe thinks there might be something to using limestone filtered water. “I think a lot of it depends on how good your tap water is,” he said. “If your tap water is really high in chlorine, you could see that would make a difference in the taste of your whiskey. My dad was pretty anal about the water. If you get some good, clean, filtered water, it’ll taste different.”
The consensus seems to be that, yes, the water you add to your bourbon does make a difference. This is mostly common sense, though; if your water tastes bad, your bourbon is going to taste bad when you add the water to it. Whether or not it’s worth spending 10 bucks on a bottle of limestone-filtered water to add to your liquor cabinet collection is really a matter of how much you are willing to spend to make sure your whiskey remains unadulterated and perfect – presuming you can even tell the difference. My advice? Drink your whiskey neat.