High quality enables simplicity, while also allowing versatility. An excellent single malt Scotch whisky does not need additions to supplement it, and is often preferred to be enjoyed neat, with a little water, or “on the rocks”. But what does it mean to serve whisky on the rocks, and what are the possible reasons for doing so?
Having whisky on the rocks is essentially serving whisky poured over ice, as opposed to neat in a glass with nothing added. While the denotation “on the rocks” can be applicable to any liquor, it is most commonly associated with, and attributed to, whisky. The definitive history of the phrase is uncertain, although it rose to popularity in the mid 1900s. Some hold that it became a slang term for ice back when drinkers had to chip off chunks of ice from a large block, so their appearance was that of small rocks. Others muse that in the past, Scots would take stones from cold mountain streams to help chill their whisky. However the term came to be widely known and any bartender will understand the meaning if you order a whisky on the rocks.
How does drinking whisky on the rocks change the experience?
Choosing to drink whisky on the rocks is an ongoing point of debate and contention in the world of whisky. Traditionalists and purists hold that whisky should only be enjoyed neat, or with a little splash of water at most. However, for those who like a more chilled whisky, or prefer a larger amount of dilution, whisky with ice is preferred. We don’t believe there is a right or wrong way to enjoy whisky, in the end it all comes down to personal preference. However having whisky on the rocks will change the composition of the spirit, and thus your experience of it.
When you serve whisky on the rocks, two main things happen. First, you are diluting the drink. This means that the alcohol percentage in the whisky is being lowered, which can moderate the stronger flavours and particular characteristics of the spirit. This initially can actually reveal new dimensions of the whisky, as the water will interact with the whisky to change the composition of the spirit. Second, drinking whisky on the rocks chills the whisky. This obviously changes the flavours that are revealed in the whisky as you experience it.