Cold as Ice

This past weekend’s Wall Street Journal brought another installment in the age old question…Should I or shouldn’t I add ice to my Scotch?

The story, by Eric Felten in his regular How’s Your Drink column, is entitled A Chill to Scotch Purists’ Hearts and includes a quote from yours truly:

Mr. Paterson is hardly the only whisky purist to rail against the pernicious effects of ice in Scotch. Kevin Erskine, who writes about whisky at TheScotchBlog.com, says that when drinking Scotch neat “I may add varying amounts of water depending on the whisky, the weather and my mood — but never an ice cube.

As anyone who regularly gets asked for quotes can tell you…that is NOT exactly what I said…It’s NOT a misquote, but I think he left the important part out.

This is the full quote…

Personally I never drink straight whisky of any sort on the rocks. (And by straight I am talking about without a mixer – not the American
ATF designation of straight). When I drink it neat I may add varying amounts of water depending on the whisky, the weather and my mood – but never an ice cube.

I will drink whisky mixed in cocktails – and for those cocktails that call for ice, I happily accept it. But I never drink it “straight” on the rocks. I’m not against anyone doing it – I just don’t see the point.

I only want to clarify, as the edited version gives me the air of Scotch Snobbery – something that I rail against frequently.

Eric goes on to explain why “purist” are ag’in it.:

The purists’ complaint is that whereas a small splash of spring water seems to open up a whisky, releasing its full bouquet and flavor, ice tends to do the opposite. The tongue is anesthetized by the cold, and the whisky itself acquires a smoothness that glosses over the deeper complexities of the dram.

This is my position – and it is not some silly machismo “Real Men Drink Whisky Straight” – it’s a practicality. As I have said many times…when “tasting” whisky (as opposed to “drinking”) – you want ALL the flavour to come through…and ice WILL dull flavours.

There’s a REASON martinis are served ice cold – a glass of Gin (or Vodka) at room temperature is generally not the most pleasant thing…Whisky, on the other hand IS (or should be) delightful when tasted at room temperature.

Bad beers taste better cold, because flavours are muted…but great beers are generally consumed a little warmer – to allow you to get every nuance.

Such it is with whisky. But more so, I simply don’t want a glass of whisky-flavoured water.

BUT sometimes…you want a cold drink…what to do? I have 2 solutions.

1. Keep your bottle of whisky in the freezer. Cold without the dilution. QED.

2. But perhaps a more interesting way is to use “Whisky Stones” from an American company called Teroforma.

What the hell are Whisky Stones?

They are small, square soapstone cubes meant to be stored in your freezer and added to your Whisky when you are in the mood for something cold.

I first stumbled across the Stones on one of my favourite places to shop ThinkGeek…a catalog that sells crap for geeks..uh, like me.

The stones are nonporous, and will impart neither flavor nor odor. More gentle than ice, Whisky Stones can be used to cool down your favorite spirits just enough to take the edge off without “closing down” the flavors.

Designed by Andrew Hellman – as Teroforma’s co-founder, Andrew is not above taking credit for designing a stone cube…

It was his idea that we transplant an age-old concept from Scandinavia, where they have been making and using whisky stones for years, and have it made in the US, taking advantage of locally sourced materials and local craftsmanship.

Over 150 years ago, a Vermont farmer unearthed a sizable chunk of soapstone while tilling his field. Noticing the unique flexibility and thermal properties of the material, Vermont Soapstone was born. Still mined and milled locally under the watchful eye of owner Glenn Bowman, Vermont Soapstone was the perfect choice to make our whisky stones.

Chill them in the freezer for 4 or more hours and toss them into your whiskey instead of ice. They cool things down just a touch without daring to come between you and the dram of your dreams. Simply rinse after use and store in the freezer.

I tried them (in a nice glass of Maker’s Mark) and while they don’t transfer the cold as quickly as ice cubes would do, nor do they drop the temperature as much – they do work as advertised. And they look interesting sitting in a glass.

Cool. But not wet.

Available on the Teroforma web site they currently sell for $15 for a set of 8 until June 1.
After June 1 you’ll get 9 for $20.

I suggest you finally get your dad something he wants for Father’s Day.

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Comments (7)

  1. Let me get this “neat” or straight. You don’t use ice to cool the drink but will use a cold soapstone to do it. Plus you will add a “splash” of still water to dilute it to bring out the subtle flavors but don’t use a melting ice cube to do both of them. Curious. Seems a bit like “scotch snobbery” to me.

  2. @macnicol: What a stupid comment for someone to make.

  3. Is it crazy to propose that whisky is probably not your best play when you are looking to cool down on a hot day? I enjoy whisky neat, for the most part, but I don’t drink it to feel refreshed; I drink it because it’s an amazing spirit with character, distinction and deep scents and flavors.

    If I want refreshment and I insist on an alcoholic beverage (rather than, say, a Gatorade or glass of ice water), I’ll generally pick up a beer, enjoy a chilled glass of white wine or mix up a margarita or similar cocktail. It’s not that whisky is “wasted” in a glass full of ice but:

    A) why would anyone prefer it that way? and
    B) who wouldn’t prefer something else that’s actually meant to be drunk chilled?

    That’s not snobbery; that’s common sense!

  4. hwh

    All of the “experts” claim that whisky should be mixed with water( preferably from the area where the whisky is distilled) of varying ratios. None of them recommend ice.Our tasting group ( The Loch LaPluie Scotch Club ) usually sample the first half of our scotch neat and some brave soul drops a little water in the remainder using a straw with a finger over the upper opening and gives a thumb up or down for the rest of us to try the same- or not.If you can believe what our members say, they’re all “neat” when drinking their own collections – none of them would ever dare admit to using ice although a few years back one brave soul asked about using ice- they haven’t attended since.We Canadians see enough darn ice already without having to endure it in our scotch too.Slainte

  5. Joe

    macnicol…did you read the post?

  6. lawschooldrunk

    just put the bottle in the friggin fridge!

  7. [...] with ice cubes (though I agree the Macallan distillery water is nice, but I refer you to the many debates in which WhiskyParty has taken part), but they also add bitters to it. They take something [...]

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