When it comes to drinking whisky, cooling whisky down with ice is a contentious topic. While many whisky fans refrain from chilling their dram, there are plenty of drinkers who enjoy whisky as a tumbler drink with ice.
We believe that how to drink whisky should be guided by your own unique style, so we won’t say it has to be enjoyed one way or another. What we have done, however, is put together this handy guide that explores the key points that come up time and time again in the discussion about whether you should keep it cool and the best way to drink whisky on ice should you choose to.
SHOULD YOU DRINK WHISKY WITH ICE?
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 2°C. 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.
Ice can water down whisky and reduce whisky burn, making the sensation in the mouth when you take a sip a little less harsh. And this is certainly appreciated by some whisky drinkers. However, when ice cubes melt, they can dilute your drink excessively, tempering flavours. The cooling action of ice also locks in aromas that play an important part in the overall whisky-drinking experience.
“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
This is why some whisky purists forego chilled whisky, preferring to drink it at room temperature. Apparently, we can detect fewer flavours in cold drinks and so keeping whisky between 15°C and 18°C ensures that all the nuances of an expression can come to the forefront.
HOW TO KEEP WHISKY COOL WITHOUT ICE
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 drink without the risk of diluting the whisky too much.
Artful Ice Balls
Ok, so this one isn’t actually a no-ice alternative to keeping whisky cool, but we thought it deserved a mention. 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
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.
Frozen whisky glasses
Freezer-friendly whisky glasses are another option for ensuring a perfectly chilled whisky. 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 a picnic, sporting event or outdoor dinner party.
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. Crushed, cubed, turned into a decorative ice ring or none at all. Whatever your preference, we hope you can experience the full range of complex flavours in each expression of The Glenlivet.