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.

Water in Cognac and Whiskey

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

Author

Jacki has been with Cognac Expert from virtually the beginning. She's the senior editor of the blog, and has spent much of her life living in rural France. Today she's based back in the UK, where she splits her working life between writing for Cognac Expert and working as a Paramedic at a large regional hospital.

9 Comments

  1. Larsen F

    Professional tasters are actually adding a little quantity of distilled water to their cognac..why? Just because the strong alchohol is reducing the ability to taste and consequently to detect the potential defects of a cognac

  2. Let’s not forget that Cognac in the cask is very much stronger in alcohol than it is when presented in the bottle. It is already watered down when you pour a glass straight from the bottle – the same for whisky.

    In round terms – very much d…ependant on age – cask strength cognac is around 70% alcohol and cask strength whisky about 63-5% – but these vary and as the spirits mature the alcohol tends to evaporate more than the water based contents and so the alcohol strength reduces with maturation.

    The reason that most bottles of both spirits are at 40% alcohol by volume is that this is the minimum strength that they are allowed to be sold at by their respective authorising bodies.

    Personally 40% is about right, not too strong and not too weak, but older spirits can usually stand a little extra alcohol and so for things say 20 years an older 43-45% is not over the top. Younger spirits at these strengths tend to be too fiery and so should be watered down a bit to allow the flavours to develop properly in the mouth.

    All in all there is no alternative to aging and an old spirit – say 20+ years at 40% should NEVER be watered down – with ANYTHING!!!

  3. There is only one thing you add in a cognac or a whiskey, and thats more of it.

  4. I have to say I like it with one ice cube in it..

  5. Dilution of cognac with water? What nonsense is this?

  6. Adding water or soda with or without ice is a practice learned in Asia from the original UK – remember, whisky or whiskey is from British isles and Ireland, and it was brought to Asia by the colonial rule, for the rulers to begin with, for their own needs. Drinking “neat” is considered perfectly ok in US but not so much in UK, at least was not during the colonial era, and social grace was adding water or ice and – or – soda, for normal (as opposed to hard core addicted) people. What is more wine was too taken with water in Europe in times of yore.

  7. Never tried, maybe once I will try. Doesn’t mean I will like it. Cognac is perfectly neat without additions.

  8. martell cordon bleu is good added with water. Water enhances the aromas only if it ‘ s a good cognac. ( Im working for Martell in Cognac)

  9. Ole Cigar

    Cynthia at Martell!

    I like the design of the Martell Cordon Bleu bottle!
    Must be expensive though.
    When you look at
    -the cost of the nice bottle
    -the world-wide campaign of telling us what kind of qualitylife we get drinking Martell
    -return on investmest for the Martell owners
    -the margin distributors and retailers charge

    What share is really left for providing us consumers with a quality cognac? Us who are paying for the product?

    Not much!
    In terms of value for money you cant be worse off than buying Martell and the other sugared tax-free cognacs – sorry Cynthia!

    Try out the smaller cognac companies. Most of them too add “tons” of sugar but you are not paying for the expensive marketing and the nice bottles!

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