Bourbon and Water

Bourbon and Water

S&C Design Studios

Prep: 3 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Total: 3 mins
Serving: 1 serving
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
142 Calories
0g Fat
0g Carbs
0g Protein
See Full Nutritional Guidelines Hide Full Nutritional Guidelines
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 1
Amount per serving
Calories 142
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g 0%
Saturated Fat 0g 0%
Cholesterol 0mg 0%
Sodium 0mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 0g 0%
Dietary Fiber 0g 0%
Protein 0g
Calcium 0mg 0%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

It does not get much easier than this mixed drink. Really, the name says it all: it's bourbon and water. It's also often called "bourbon and branch," referring to either the stream of water that flows into your bar glass or the branch of a river near a distillery.

While the question of how to make a bourbon and water is an easy one, a more pressing question is: When should you add water to your whiskey? Overall, it will be a personal preference. However, there are a few tips that can help guide you to get the most out of your whiskey


  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • Splash mineral water

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Pour the bourbon into an old-fashioned glass.

  3. Add a splash of water.

  4. Serve and enjoy.

Recipe Variations

  • Alternatively, pour the whiskey over ice and allow it to melt a little bit before drinking.
  • Some whiskey drinkers also enjoy a splash of soda water as seen in the popular Scotch and Soda.
  • You might also enjoy your whiskey neat with a "water back." This extra glass of water allows you to either pour in a splash or two as you see fit or cleanse your palate after taking a straight sip.

Is the Water Really Important?

Bad water and good whiskey are a poor combination. Just like you (hopefully) will not fill your ice cube trays with standard tap water, it's important to think about the water you splash into your bourbon. The goal is to open up the whiskey's flavors, not pollute it with impurities.

Let's step back to the bourbon and branch moniker. "Branch water" is often used to refer to a branch of a water tributary that flows near a bourbon distillery. Some of the best bourbons are found in Kentucky because the water source flows through the natural filtration of limestone rock that dominates the region.

Iron is common in many unfiltered water sources and it will ruin a good bourbon. If you don't believe it, sacrifice a finger of bourbon and place a piece of iron in the glass. You will quickly see that it turns cloudy and gets a murky red hue. This is the chemical reaction of the iron and it's likely that your tap water contains some amount of the same mineral.

The limestone found in bourbon country naturally removes iron. However, there's no need to order up a truckload of Kentucky branch water for your whiskey. Mineral water, spring water, filtered water, and distilled water are all good choices. It doesn't matter which you choose as long as it's the cleanest water you have at your disposal. It seems like a trivial issue, but it's a simple step that will significantly improve your whiskey experience.

When to Add Water or Ice to Whiskey

What is the appropriate way to serve whiskeys? Should they be served neatOn the rocks? Or perhaps with a splash of water in the classic bourbon and branch tradition?

While the simple answer is to enjoy your whiskeys any way you like to drink them, there are a few suggestions for getting the most enjoyment out of your whiskey.

Whiskey Over 100 Proof 

Cask-strength or barrel-proof whiskeys (usually those over 50 percent ABV, or 100 proof) can usually benefit from the addition of a splash of cool water or an ice cube or two. The flavors and aromas that might be missed in such a high-proof whiskey will begin to emerge and the burn of the alcohol becomes less noticeable. 

If adding an ice cube, allow a few minutes for the whiskey and ice to warm up before drinking. As liquids become colder, less flavor is apparent. Adding a few cubes will actually tighten up the whiskey for a short time before the release of flavors becomes apparent.

90 Proof to 100 Proof Whiskey

Whiskeys that range from 45 percent to 50 percent ABV (90 to 100 proof) may be enhanced with water. Yet, you may also find that water detracts from your experience; it's going to depend on your palate and the whiskey in front of you.

Some whiskey drinkers find that a splash of water helps reduce the sting of alcohol while allowing them to detect subtle nuances in the spirit. Others find that the addition of water can make it feel thin and watery on their palate.

Professional tasters and reviewers often add a lot of water when reviewing whiskeys. This allows them to detect every flavor in a particular whiskey. They do this in the interest of their review, not to maximize their own enjoyment of the whiskey.

Trial and error are the only way to determine which method works best for you. 

80 Proof Whiskey

Finally, whiskeys at 80 proof are probably best enjoyed neat. A whiskey at 40 percent ABV has already been cut down to this strength at the distillery and may not need additional water or ice.

This said, let your own palate be the ultimate arbiter of this discussion. Do not hesitate to order a whiskey on the rocks in a restaurant or bar if that is your preferred way to enjoy it.

Final Thoughts

These are simply guidelines, not rules. Ultimately, what matters most is whatever gives you the most enjoyment while drinking the whiskey of your choice.

Experimentation is the key to understanding how your individual palate reacts to different whiskeys. Go ahead, add a splash of water to a whiskey that you usually drink neat, or try a whiskey that you normally drink on the rocks neat and at room temperature.

Think about the similarities and differences in the tastes, and ultimately choose whatever works best for you. This is whiskey, after all, and you won't know where your tastes lie unless you try.

How Strong Is a Bourbon and Water?

Unlike mixed drinks, the alcohol content of bourbon and water is not going to be much different than drinking it straight. In general, you can expect a splash of water to weaken your whiskey by just a couple of percentage points. If you're pouring a 100-proof whiskey, for instance, it may only be 48 percent ABV (96 proof).