My wife and I have developed an insatiable thirst for whiskey. Over the past year we have experimented with punch and cocktail recipes, but our thirst continues to lead us back to whiskey with plain old water or ice. I have come to realize there is a simple complexity to enjoying a glass of bourbon and branch or bourbon the rocks…well, at least I think so.
You can stop Googling now, because I will define branch for you. Branch is a term that many bourbon drinkers use for water. In a bar, the term branch is typically used to order a drink with plain water instead of being confused with soda. More literally, and less available at your local pub, branch water is from a babbling brook or stream. Maybe the name was coined because the water was seasoned by tree branches that fell into the water source or perhaps from the fact the water comes from a branch of a naturally flowing river.
The mixing of whiskey and water or ice is more complex than pouring two ingredients together. The amount of water or ice added to whiskey can change the flavor of the drink dramatically. This is most easily noticed when drinking whiskey on the rocks. Your first sip is full of flavor and may even taste harsh, in fact, the alcohol may overwhelm the more subtle flavors. As the ice melts the flavor becomes more mellow, and frequently, spicy or sweet flavors could become more apparent. By the time you get to the end of the drink those flavors disappear into the plainness of the water from the ice that has melted and overwhelmed the flavor of the whisky. This is why many choose to use water instead of ice to enjoy a consistent flavor from top to bottom of the glass.
Recently Cook in a Bar and I were introduced to lump or rock ice, many times in the form of a ball. We and other Makers Mark ambassadors across the county received a ball-shaped ice tray as a holiday gift. The larger form of the ball allows the ice to melt slower so the flavors of the whisky develop and change at a slower rate. This can give you more time to enjoy the flavors as opposed to the experience with small cubes of ice that rapidly melt away in your glass.
To illustrate this I poured two glasses of Bookers bourbon, one over an ice ball and one over the equivalent amount of smaller ice cubes, and sat and watched. It was unbelievably difficult to watch the ice melt and fight my natural instinct to pick up the glass and sip away. The cubes were substantially gone within 45 minutes while it took twice as long for the ball to melt.
Your enjoyment can also be impacted by the quality of water that is added to your drink or is used to make the ice. Iron-free water is important because the iron turns whiskey black. Filtered or distilled water is the best choice for adding to whiskey because it will not dramatically alter the lovely golden hue or the delicious flavor of the drink.
You might have noticed a difference in the clarity of the ice in the pictures. The ice cubes in the pictures were made from filtered water, but the ice ball was created with distilled water that was boiled twice. To achieve the clearest ice, I recommend you start with distilled water that has fewer minerals, then boil it at least once. Boiling the water releases the air or oxygen bubbles giving you clearer water. These tips should help you to enjoy the full flavor of bourbon without disrupting the color or flavor with murky or cloudy water or ice.