Before anyone starts to read this and throws their hands up in horror at the thought of adding water to a precious glass of cognac, hold on a moment.
Of course, it is a common practice to add water to whisky, the rationale being that this breaks the surface tension of the liquid and creates a chemical reaction. In turn this raises the temperature of the whisky by a minute amount which then releases other subtle aromas. It is this smell which adds to the taste.
Without getting too technical, a person’s sense of smell has a huge influence on their sense of taste, so being able to breathe in these aromas heightens the tasting experience.
So, why do we add water to whisky, but in general, not to cognac?
Well actually, in many countries of the world, watering down the eaux-de-vie is common practice, especially in Asia. This is done either by the addition of ice cubes or a small amount of water. In fact, according to various sources, such as Cognac Otard, adding a small quantity of water can have the same effect as it does when added to whisky; releasing certain aromas and so altering the taste sensation. However, this addition of water needs to be in proportion, as too much can spoil the aromas completely.
If you choose to add water in the form of ice cubes, then it will be necessary to wait until just enough has melted to suit your particular palate. Indeed, this can be an interesting experiment as the aromas, and therefore taste, will change very slightly as more of the ice melts. But it should be noted that excessive cooling of cognac will actually prevent some of the more subtle aromas to come through.
If you choose to add water to cognac, then it should really only be to a VS or VSOP – these are also the cognacs more usually used in cocktails. Again, this is a form of watering them down. But if you are lucky enough to have an XO, then in our opinion, you’ll be far better off to thank your lucky stars, settle back, and allow yourself to be seduced by the sensation of drinking it neat.
Water versus no water? It’s all a matter of personal preference.
Sources: www.askmetafilter.com, www.reddit.com
Pic: Drawn by Torsten Henning. Re-coded by Albin Jacobsson
Water Pic: Fir0002, flagstaffotos.com.au