Cooling your whisky down is a contentious topic. While many whisky fans refrain from cooling their dram, there are plenty of drinkers who enjoy a chilled glass and the clink of ice cubes.
Critics of ice have two main concerns: diluting and cooling.
When alcohol mixes with water, a small exothermic reaction takes place which raises the temperature by about 2C. As the energy is released, the liquid “opens up” and releases more volatile aromas, giving extra complexity to the nose. Only a few drops of room-temperature water are needed to set off the exothermic reaction. Water also reduces the alcohol content cooling the tongue and making us more receptive to salty and fruity tastes over sweet and spicy flavours.
However ice cubes, when they melt, can dilute your dram excessively, tempering flavours. The cooling action of ice also locks in aromas and suppresses flavour. It does, however, reduce the burn of alcohol, which some drinkers appreciate.
"It’s like hugging yourself when you’re cold – when it’s cold, whisky keeps all its flavours wrapped up rather than releasing them."
-IAN LOGAN, INTERNATIONAL BRAND AMBASSADOR, THE GLENLIVET
Still, the higher temperatures of summer can mean that a bottle of whisky is warmer than usual, and more drinkers will be looking to cool their dram. Here are a few alternative options for cooling your dram.
Japan, which has its own vibrant malt culture, has turned icing drinks into an art. At authentic Japanese whisky bars, bartenders make beautifully clear ice by freezing it very slowly. They then hand-carve perfect spheres the size of cricket balls using a straight razor. The size, shape and density of the ice means it melts slower, preventing too much dilution of the single malt. You can get the Japanese effect by using spherical silicon ice moulds. These moulds are easily available and work in a regular home freezer.
Whisky stones and steel ice cubes are billed as the modern answer to cooling your dram without watering it down. Whisky stones are milled from non-porous rocks, and come in various stylish shapes, from cubes to discs to icosahedrons. Steel ice cubes generally come as balls or dice, and are either solid stainless steel or filled with a freezing gel or other cooling core. Both stone and steel work the same: put them in the freezer for a couple of hours, and then put them in your dram; take them out once it has chilled, or leave them in – it’s up to you.
Freezer-friendly whisky glasses are another option for chilling your drink. These plastic cups have cooling gel within their double walls. Two hours in the freezer keeps your drink cold for hours while an insulated rubber grip stops hands from getting chilly. Not quite as elegant as a hand-cut crystal tumbler, they might make a good option for picnics, sporting events and other outdoor activities.
Up here in the northern climes at The Glenlivet we don’t often need to cool our drinks. But you should enjoy your whisky whichever way you choose. There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to ice. Whatever your preference, we hope you can experience the full range of complex flavours in each expression of The Glenlivet.