Thursday, 7 August 2014

Whisky Stones

Do you like your whisky cold, but find the way ice melts and dilutes your drink inconvenient? No, me neither, but if you do, there is another product on the market that aims to alleviate this problem, leaving your whisky’s strength and flavours intact – whisky stones.

Do you like how I just assumed everyone feels the same way as me in that opening paragraph? Yeh, I know, some people probably do have that problem, whereas I don’t really see the need – I like whisky, and room temperature suits me just fine. In fact, significantly warmer than room temperature – say 35 degrees Celsius – was very nice when I was drinking the Glenfarclas in Ho Chi Minh City.

Nevertheless, shall we see what all the fuss is about? Will these prove to be any better than the ice balls that I featured a couple of years ago?

So, what are they? They are little soap stone cubes that you pop in your freezer for a few hours, before dropping them into a rocks glass (3 should suffice), and pouring your dram of choice over them, until they are almost covered. They are supposed to chill your drink without diluting it, and then maintain the cooler temperature for a sufficient amount of time. Then, when you are done with them you can just rinse them and put them back in the freezer – that’s one advantage over the ice balls; they had to be washed after use.

I’m boring myself talking about these already, but let’s crack on, then it’ll be one more week’s post sorted…

I decided to conduct an experiment, trying the same brand of whisky in four states; neat, on the rocks, chilled (in the fridge) and with the whisky stones. That should give us a happy buzz, but more importantly, tell us all we need to know about whisky stones and their efficacy. Come to think of it now, I could’ve done a direct comparison between the stones and the balls, but I suspect we threw the balls away some time ago.

So! Since you already know that I like my whisky neat and at room temperature, it seemed logical that I shouldn’t be using one of my favourite malts for this experiment. Every drop is sacred, so I would need something that I don’t mind sloshing around a bit. I give you Jack Daniel’s Old No 7. Don’t get me wrong; it’s nice enough but it was either that, the Glen Scotia 16, the Strathisla 12, the Ballantine’s (of which there wasn’t enough left, and that I was saving for a future test) or opening a new bottle. It was decided.

I put the stones in the freezer and a sample of Jack in the fridge. Tempting as it was to try four samples concurrently - it was Saturday - and while I was up for getting slightly smashed at home, I wanted to save some of my drinking capacity for later on – get some of the nice stuff out. The first test then, would be whisky stones vs the refrigerator.

Now, people don’t tend to keep their whisky in the fridge – but why not? You keep your soft drinks in the fridge, and they are cold enough. It’s probably because of the amount of time a bottle of whisky can last… and the number of bottles some whisky enthusiasts like to keep on the go - though with a little forward planning you can just put a few small samples in there.

Whatever, what happened? Well, the packaging on my whisky stones instructed me to use a rocks glass. I actually decided to use the Bruichladdich branded glass that I bought from the distillery (pictured), and haven’t used more than once. It is like a rocks glass, but has more of a tulip shape, supposedly to aid with nosing.

There are no such limitations when it comes to refrigeration. I decided to use a glencairn glass, because I could, and that way we would see how much the chilling had affected the aromas.

One of the first things I noticed was that neither sample was giving off any nose, so that is a definite mark against. The flavour is most important, but the nose is an enjoyable aspect of whisky tasting.

Next, you can’t help but notice how heavy these stones make your glass - I’m sure you would get used to it, so it isn’t important, but they are pretty heavy – and they don’t make your drink as cold as ice does. I’m thinking that, surely if you take your whisky with ice, it’s because you like it ice cold. Maybe not, I don’t know, I don’t know why you can’t just drink it at room temperature, or stick your glass in the fucking fridge for 20 minutes…

Then, the palate… there wasn’t much determinable difference in temperature between the two samples, so that confirms that you can keep your whisky in the fridge as an alternative if you so wish. Or if you currently keep your whisky in the fridge, and are looking for an alternative, you can use the stones.

In terms of tasting though, I detected Jack Daniel’s’ phantom banana notes in both samples, and while this appears less prevalent at room temperature, I did feel ultimately that the chilling masked some of JD’s subtler nuances. I would find out more specifically when I moved onto the neat and on the rocks varieties, which I decided would not have to be carried out in a head-to-head (rock non-stop) fashion.

So! Neat. Yes, that’s the JD, the way I’m coming to know it; dark, charred and woody. And no banana. I’m not really sure how I feel about the banana – I don’t like them generally, though their essence doesn’t ruin the JD. It’s more interesting that there is an essence of them in there than that they have an overt dominance of the spirit’s character.

But what about with ice? Well that’s a different prospect altogether. You can’t get away from the fact that the ice does melt. Yes it makes your whisky cold, but if you like the taste of the whisky, the elements of that flavour that you enjoy so much are diminishing by the minute. If you don’t like the taste, I don’t think you should be drinking it in the first place.

No one can make a cup of tea for you, the way you like it, but yourself. And by the same token, the right way to drink your whisky is your way. My way is neat, at room temperature so no matter what my opinion of rocks vs ice is, I am not the market this product is aimed at. Maybe you need to try them for yourself. I just think that if you do drink your whisky with ice, you do that because that’s how you like it… so why do you need another way?

As a bonus, these particular whisky stones were accompanied by a book… which is fairly interesting but can’t be treated as a whisky guide, as such. In it Jim Murray writes at good length about each of the distilleries in Scotland, Canada and the United States and it is diverting enough if you’re interested. I tend to refer to it from time to time, but it only directly refers to one expression from each distillery, so it isn’t too useful if you already have a basic knowledge and want a bit of advice. Still, if you like whisky, you probably like reading about it to some extent too.

Now, I don’t know whether my lack of enthusiasm for this subject came across (I suspect it did), but if it did, hopefully it was still worth your while reading and hopefully you’ll come back. I’ll be a bit less cynical next week, when I’ll be looking at another tequila brand – Sauza this time. Until then, enjoy your drinking – I know I will.

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