17 February 2021
Mixing Whisky: The Mizuwari and Bourbon & Branch
The Japanese ritual of Muzuwari is one of the best examples of the simplicity of a whisky drinking winning over. On the face of it this drink is nothing more than whisky, water and ice, but if there’s one thing that the Japanese do well, it’s ice. If there’s another thing that they do well, it’s whisky. And they’re not bad at water either.
I was intrigued the first time I was served a Mizuwari, back in 2014, by the legendary bartender Kichi-San, in Tokyo’s underground Star Bar:
Yamazaki 12, hand cracked ice and crystal clear water were added to a glass, and the concoction silently and skilfully stirred for just the right length of time. A quick sniff alerted me to some faint aromatics of whisky, but it was in the taste where I was really surprised.
The liquid itself was very cold indeed as it whipped around my mouth hammering home tropical fruits like pineapple and lychee, then slipping away like a fruity little serpent. The other surprising thing was the sweetness—oh, the sweetness!—despite having had no sugar added at all. I put much of that down to the viscosity of the liquid post-chilling. Since then, I regularly find myself diluting whisky to see what effect it has on the our of the dram. You see alcohol, whilst accentuating some flavours, does a very good job of masking others. Take it out of the equation (almost) and you have the opportunity to experience whisky in a whole new light.
A similar drink that is traditionally drunk in America is "Bourbon & Branch". I was first introduced to this cocktail when reading the Ian Fleming Novel, Diamond’s Are Forever. In the novel, our hero, James Bond, orders this drink because it is “fashionable in racing circuits”. The author goes on to explain how "real Bourbon drinkers insist on having their whisky in the traditional style, with water from high up in the branch of the local river where it will be purest."
It would seem that whiskey drinkers in the 1960’s were a discerning crowd, even down to the type of water that went in to the glass. I have born witness on a number of occasions to distillers and blenders brooding over the effect that different types of water have when added to a whisky. Rachel Barrie, from the Bowmore distillery is one such person who I know has taken a great interest in to how the product evolves when diluted with a range of waters from different sources.
Once water becomes 75% of your drink, things like the pH, mineral content and TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) begin to have a big impact on flavour perception. Mineral salts, are very much like table salt, so can accentuate certain characteristics, as well as provide a harder, more chalky texture. Soft water, with a lower TDS tends to feel sweeter as slinks about your mouth, and water with a particularly high pH (alkaline) or low pH (acid) can give a boost to spicy flavours and smoke.
- 50ml Hakushu Distillers Select
- 150ml Japanese Mineral Water
Take a highball glass and add a few chunks of hand cracked ice. If you can get hold of the crystal clear stuff then all the better. Add the whisky and water and stir for one minute. Japanese tradition dictates that you should stir only three-and-a-half times, but I personally feel it benefits from a little extra chilling. Try not to disrupt the ice too much, it should be a quiet process. Remove the spoon and serve with a warm oshi-bori towel.