1. What chemical compounds give whiskey its burning sensation?
Why Does Whiskey Burn?
For many, alcohol can be overwhelming, and it’s not just a matter of taste. Some alcohols have a clear burning sensation when consumed, and the burning is especially evident in whiskey. So why does whiskey burn?
Composition of Whiskey
Whiskeys contain many different components, most of which contribute to their flavor. Here’s an overview of some of the primary substances in whiskey:
- Alcohol: The primary component in whiskey is alcohol, usually ethanol. The percentage of alcohol in whiskey ranges from 40% to 60%. Higher alcohol content may modulate the burning sensation.
- Volatile oils: These oils, which lend whiskey its flavor, are made up of fuel-like compounds, such as hydrocarbons. When consumed, volatile oils burn, leading to the classic “whiskey burn.”
- Methanol: Methanol, which sometimes referred to as “wood alcohol,” is a type of alcohol that is created as a byproduct of fermentation. In high enough concentrations, methanol can be toxic, though whiskey is safe to drink. Methanol is consumed along with ethanol when whiskey is consumed, and this can cause the “burning” sensation.
- Impurities: While most whiskeys are relatively pure, some have trace amounts of other chemicals, including chlorine, acetaldehyde, and iso-amyl acetate. The presence of impurities can also lead to increased burning in whiskey.
The Burning Sensation Itself
For many people, whiskey causes a burning sensation in the throat. This is not due to the temperature of the whiskey, but rather the chemical composition. As described above, whiskeys contain many volatile oils that create a burning sensation when consumed. The burning sensation is exacerbated by alcohol, as the concentration of alcohol increases.
Tipping back Shots of Whiskey
When alcohol is consumed quickly, such as when shots of whiskey are taken, the chance of the burning sensation increases. This is because the alcohol is not diluted and the volatile oils are not allowed to evaporate.
Making Whiskey More Pleasant
Fortunately, there are several ways to remove or reduce the burning sensation of whiskey. One option is to dilute the whiskey with a mixer. This can be with any type of drink, such as soda or juice. Another option is to drink the whiskey slowly and allow it to evaporate. If a person takes the time to savor the whiskey, the burning sensation will diminish.
Whiskey can have an intense burning sensation, particularly when taken in shots. This burning sensation is caused by the volatile oils and alcohol present in whiskey, as well as trace amounts of other impurities. To reduce the burning sensation, one can dilute the whiskey with a mixer or simply take the time to savor the whiskey more slowly.