At the end of a long day, if a glass of chilled whisk(e)y sounds good to you, you’re not the only one. There’s something wonderful about how the liquid — cool yet warming at the same time — feels going over the tongue and down one’s gullet. Because of this, not only do we have the old standby, ice (in cube, crushed, sphere, and practically every other form), but thanks to some intrepid individuals, we also have another major player in the chilling game: whiskey stones.
While that would be a great way to describe the courage one gets after slamming a few fingers of bourbon, that’s not what we’re talking about here.
Since there’s no wrong way to drink whiskey, the right chilling method will vary from palate to palate. We’re going to repeat that: Your enjoyment of whiskey is dependent on what you like. Figure out what works for you with this primer on whiskey chilling.
Below, we look at the pros and cons of whiskey stones and compare them to ice. Read on and see if they might work for you. (At the very least, give them a shot. You can’t say you don’t like something if you’ve never actually tried it.)
It Was the Best of Whiskey Stones
Whiskey stones can be made out of actual stone (soft soapstone, typically) or stainless steel. In both cases, they are engineered to keep your whiskey in a chilled sweet spot. Once your whiskey gets below approximately 45 degrees Fahrenheit, you lose the majority of its nuances. If you like your whiskey particularly cold — taste buds be damned — large steel stones tend to offer the most comparable effect to ice. Stainless steel stones are also adept at keeping your whiskey cool for longer periods of time than their soapstone counterparts.
Killing two birds with one whiskey stone, this chilling method also allows for your drink to remain undiluted, preserving the original flavor notes (though perhaps slightly compromised vis-a-vis temperature). You’re also able to be very particular about how many drops of water you want to add without the over-commitment to ice.
It Was the Worst of Whiskey Stones
Most products require some foresight — and even after sight. With a few steel exceptions, whiskey stones typically need at least four hours of freezer time. Even with the increased freezer time, you’ll experience a far more marginal temperature change in your whiskey than you would with ice. Of course, it goes without saying that both types of stones should be washed immediately after use — unlike ice, which simply disappears down a drain.
Many whiskey stones, regardless of material, are usually fairly small, thus requiring the use of several stones for your preferred level of coldness. These stones are far more unpleasant than ice when (not if) they hit your teeth and are definitely a swallow hazard depending on how much you’ve been drinking and how attentive you are.
Ice, Ice, Baby
The general rule of thumb with ice is to go big or go home. Whether it’s a sphere, cube, or even a wedge, the size will take your whiskey a long way. The surface area allows for a dramatic chilling effect and a slower melt than typical ice cubes. This, unfortunately, means you’re also introducing a lot more water to your whiskey and, depending on the water’s mineral content, your drinking experience can change in unexpected ways.
Standard ice cubes work fairly well in a pinch and can slightly mitigate a dilution disaster, but crushed ice is no whiskey’s friend. If you want to cool your whiskey, control the amount of dilution, and have nothing clinking around in your glass, your best option is to shake the whiskey over ice. It will warm up faster than your other options, but that’s the only major sacrifice when it comes to the overall experience.
As we said at the beginning if you have a set way to enjoy whiskey, great, keep it up. You do you. If you’ve read through this entire thing screaming profanities at the screen because you’re a one-drop-of-water man and will forever be one, well, as long as you’re happy with how you take your whiskey, we’re happy.
Article originally published by J. Fergus on July 12, 2017. Last updated by Sam Slaughter on June 18, 2018.