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Mastering Whisky: Ice or no ice?

Learn about the advantages of drinking whisky with ice on the rocks, drinking it neat, or with a bit of water

Water plays an undisputed role in the creation of any single malt whisky. It is essential throughout the whisky making process. However adding water to a glass single malt whisky can be a slightly more contentious topic. There are parties on both sides who feel strongly about their position, particularly traditionalists who may view the addition of any other substance to their whisky as bordering on sacrilege. However, we believe that there is no ‘right’ way to enjoy your whisky, and there are advantages to each.

Drinking Whisky with Ice

Some may choose to drink their whisky “on the rocks”—in other words, to add ice, and there are a number of advantageous reasons to do so. Traditionally, scotch whisky was thought to be best enjoyed at room temperature. However, what was considered room temperature two hundred years ago is considerably cooler than the temperate, thermostat-maintained temperatures we tend to live in today. Thus for those who want to cool down whisky their whisky quickly and effectively, ice is a straightforward means to do so. 

Adding ice to your whisky can change the flavour profile, creating a different experience than you would if you were drinking the same whisky neat. Furthermore, whisky is known for its high alcohol percentage (usually 40% ABV as a minimum), and when you get up to the higher percentile of this (some vintages can range up to 60% ABV), the alcohol vapours can burn your smell and taste buds, which prevents you from being able to distinguish all the nuances of your whisky, and diminishes the overall experience. Finally, diluting your whisky with ice can make this strong spirit more approachable for those who are new to trying whisky. 

 

How to add Ice to your Whisky 

If you choose to add ice to your whisky, there are ways to elevate your experience. Primarily, the size of whisky ice cubes you choose to use is essential, as the smaller the cubes the faster the ice water will melt and the more diluted your drink will become. Thus it is recommended to add one or two large squares, or a spherical ice ball. An ice ball does not have thinner edges or corners, so it melts slower as a result. Use fresh ice, as older ice can absorb the flavours and smells of the freezer over time. Clear, fresh ice will ensure that no unwanted flavours appear in your whisky.

Drinking Whisky Neat

On the other end of the spectrum, choosing to drink your whisky ‘neat’ or with no additions has its own advantages. Primarily, it enables you to experience the full range of smells, flavours and mouthfeel as the original whisky maker intended it. Whisky has many stages of experience that reveal different characteristics inherent to that individual spirit, and some of these may be lost with the addition of ice. As noted, whisky was originally intended to be consumed at room temperature, and by not adding ice you can maintain control over the temperature of your drink, and guarantees that no dilution will impede your enjoyment. Whether you usually drink whisky neat or with ice, it is always recommended to sample your whisky first to discern whether you may want to try it with ice. 

 

Drinking Whisky with Water

While ice with whisky is openly a topic of controversy, adding a small amount of water to your whisky provides a middle ground. It offers you the control of dilution that can be lost with the addition of ice, but also safeguards against burning your taste buds, a risk that can come with drinking whisky neat. Ice in whisky can cause the drink to be chilled too much, which depresses rather than enhancing the flavours, however adding water does not have this effect. Furthermore, adding water to whisky influences the alcoholic composition of the whisky, releasing new flavours and smells that can completely change your experience. Often whisky served neat can be provided with a small jug on the side, so you can add water as you like. Some people use syringes with water, so you can add the exact number of droplets you prefer.

Whisky Stones: the Ice Alternative

As an alternative to both drinking whisky on ice, water or neat, whisky stones can be an attractive option. Traditionally made of a type of stone (usually sandstone) when chilled in the freezer whisky stones can cool down your drink without any risk of dilution. Sandstone is a popular material as it is soft enough to carve easily, while also non porous to prevent any unwanted flavours from permeating the stone. If kept in the freezer they are quick and convenient, and unlike ice take no preparation and are easily reusable. 

However, whisky stones do not cool your drink as effectively as ice, and sandstone in particular stops absorbing heat after a certain period. To overcome this metal whisky stones have been developed, which hold a liquid gel in their interior that can help to cool down your whisky and keep it chilled for longer. 

Ice or No Ice? It’s a Personal Choice

The decision of whether or not to add ice will likely always be a point of discussion for whisky drinkers. All ways of drinking hold advantages, and personal taste should play the lead role in your decision of whether to add anything to your single malt. Whether you drink your whisky neat, with water or ice, in the end it is a personal choice, and it is all about your enjoyment of the experience.