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Whiskey debate: To ice or not to ice

Whiskey debate: To ice or not to ice

Aficionados may insist that whiskey should only be drunk neat, but most people still prefer to have some variety in the way this “liquid sunshine” is consumed – which can even change according to the environments they’re in.

For example, the neat whiskey shot comes naturally when you’re feeling frigid – letting you better appreciate the strong taste and the “burning” sensation that some experience when drinking it. But in a tropical setting, this fluid burst in the mouth can be rather overpowering and adding ice may seem like a good idea to keep it cool.

And this is where the debate continues to rage as to whether ice is the best way to cool your whiskey. So what can persuade ice die-hards to warm to whisky neat, or those opposed to, quite literally, chill out over the matter?

Connoisseurs insist whiskey sipping is all about wanting to amplify the experience as much as possible. Given how master blenders have painstakingly produced this unique liquor, it’s scandalous to put ice in your whisky as these carefully balanced flavours will get confused and your tongue won’t pick up all the intricacies.

Apart from temperature differential factors, there’s also the issue of dilution as the ice melts and deemed to further suppress true indulgence of flavours and complexities – many insist you’ll lose what makes a great whisky a great whisky.

So, if lowering the drink’s temperature is to be the sole purpose, the recommendation is to skip the ice and go with whiskey stones – non-porous cubes of solid soapstone that will chill your liquor without diluting it. As these are odourless and tasteless, adding whiskey stones will chill the spirit without affecting its taste; the soapstone retains its temperature longer than ice to provide for a more sustained chill.

Stored in the freezer until used, there is also another alternative to these chilling stones – made of steel with gel inside them that freezes, allowing them to stay colder longer than traditional stones – though some purists would swear by regular soapstone.
The counter argument is that adding ice to dilute the whiskey is better as a bit of water helps “open up” the whiskey and release new tastes and aromas. The dilution also makes the whiskey less strong and in the palates of many, more quaffable.

Even among the latter group, there are still some differences in opinion as to the size of ice cubes would be ideal. The argument is bigger cubes melt slower than little ones and thus dilute your whiskey at a healthy pace as opposed to waterlogging it immediately and losing the complex flavourings.

And there’s also the critical factor of what kind of water goes into the ice, with most recommending clean filtered water to avoid any contamination. Fresh is best too as that kept frozen for long tend to absorb diffused flavours within the freezer and taste stale.

Ultimately, if you decide to go with chilled whiskey, the main idea remains that any method you use – ice or cold stones – should be complementing rather than fighting your whiskey.


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