When you hear the words whiskey stones, you may think that it refers to solid chunks of frozen whiskey that some people dunk in their Redbull to enjoy. And, you may be right! After all, there is no shortage of people with fanciful tastes out there.
However, the whiskey stones that we are talking about are just that. Stone cubes/spheres made for dunking in your whiskey. After reading this, you may wonder what went wrong here and why would someone put a piece of rock in their fine whiskey? Isn’t ice the thing we are supposed to dunk in our dram?
Well yes. But, around 2007, some people thought it would be a good idea to chill smooth, polished pieces of rock and then use it as an alternative to ice. They did all this for the sake of maintaining the purity of the whiskey. So, what does this even mean? And, do whiskey stones actually work?
Let us start by exploring the mechanism by which ice cools your dram and its advantages over whiskey stones. To begin with, we need to have a basic understanding of what heat is. Heat is simply a product of the motion of particles in a substance. Therefore, when one dunks a cube of ice inside the liquor, the excited particles of the alcohol collide with the stable particles of the ice. This action results in the alcohol particles gradually slowing down, thus resulting in a drop in the drink’s temperature.
One can say that the heat of the liquid escapes towards the ice. Now, water is one of the substances with a great capacity to absorb heat. The transition of ice into its melted state takes a lot of energy, and the heat transfer also starts quite quickly. This cycle continues until the solid completely melts. And, this is where the main difference lies when compared with whiskey stones.
Many avid alcohol enthusiasts hate it when their beverage gets diluted. They are fearful of losing the authentic taste of their expensive single malt whiskey. Therefore, they came up with the idea of using soapstones as whiskey stones to cool down their whiskey. Now, I will admit that the whole thing is a bit of a gimmick. After all, whiskey stones take a good chunk of time before they start to bring down the temperature of your drink. If that wasn’t all, they also lose their effectiveness faster than ice.
That isn’t to say that whiskey stones do not work. They do! But, they are about as effective as you dropping an ice-cold steel ball in the glass to cool your drink. Which I must say is a real thing that people do, and it comes under the same category as whiskey stones. However, there are a lot of inconveniences that come along with using these stones.
The difficulties start with manufacturing.
Whiskey stones are usually made out of soapstone which is a metamorphic rock. The reason why it is such a good candidate for this purpose is due to its composition being soft. The stones are first broken into small chunks. They are then tumbled until all the sharp edges are gone. Finally, they’re smoothened out to make sure that they don’t scratch your whiskey glass.
These whiskey stones are also polished to make them look appealing. After all, even if you are putting a piece of rock inside your drink, you should at least look good while doing so. The degree of polish, however, differs according to the aesthetic the makers were going for. For example, some of these stones are polished until they acquire a lustrous black surface. In contrast, others are only slightly polished to retain their natural look. The polish doesn’t affect the efficacy of cooling in any way. So, the decision comes down to the individual’s preferences.
Soapstones aren’t the only choice for whiskey stones, though. Granite is another material commonly used for this purpose as it has properties similar to that of soapstones. But, the very fact that you are planning to put a rock in your whiskey means that you need to be careful when buying these whiskey stones. Many cheaply produced whiskey stones don’t have the desired quality standards. In the best case, they may badly scratch or break your glass due to uneven edges, or in the worst case, they may leech off nasty things while submerged in alcohol.
Since whiskey stones are made of rock, a substance that does not melt at room temperatures, they stop cooling your drink once they have warmed up. The latter of which does not take much time. Also, no matter how smooth you have made a rock, it will still be a dense and heavy thing in the end. It may be fine when you are sober and being careful with it. But, as every avid drinker knows, the moment you are a few glasses down, all the caution goes out of the window, and the clumsiness rises accordingly. Obviously, this does not bode well for the poor whiskey glass if you casually drop it in.
There’s still hope!
If rocks were our only option, I would have told you to get rid of this idea a long ago. However, the wonderful thing about us humans is that we love to experiment! Therefore, as I alluded to before, someone saw this trend and thought, why not make the whiskey stones out of metal? And, they had the right idea!
These steel whiskey stones usually come in a spherical shape and are sometimes filled with a special gel. The good ones can cool the drink by a staggering 11.1 °C (51.98°F). They are also able to maintain the cooling effect longer than their rocky counterparts. Though you will still have to wait patiently for this effect to kick in; and it will still not be as effective and long-lasting as ice. But, we are far from that icy territory now.
The gel-filled ones are much better at this job as the gel inside helps increase the cooling duration. But, there are other alternatives to these whiskey stones which follow the same concept and are cheaper.
If zero dilution is the path you wish to take, then reusable ice cubes (plastic cubes filled with water) are your best bet. Their performance is superior to any available whiskey stones, and they are also relatively cheap. Their only drawback is that they tend to float on the surface of your drink, so if you dislike that, then it is a no-go.
The other alternative to whiskey stones is using ice spheres. Ice in this shape provides the best of both worlds as the spherical shape maximizes the surface area for heat transfer while minimizing the melting. It results in a colder, less diluted drink that maintains the ideals that we set out to follow.
But, in all of this, one question comes to mind. Is all the pain even worth it?
Are whiskey stones worth it or Nah?
This question is very subjective to answer as every individual has their taste preference. While whiskey stones sound like the ideal thing for an alcohol purist, ask any true purist, and they will let you know that dilution is desirable to bring out the best in your whiskey. First of all, cold drinks hurt your ability to taste things as they numb your taste buds and your ability to smell. The experts usually enjoy their liquor by alternating between small sips of alcohol and diluting it a drop of water at a time. They believe that this ritual brings out the true flavors of the whiskey.
The second reason to steer clear of whiskey rocks is the rising trend of high alcohol content whiskeys. The whole point of these whiskeys is to make sure that the drink contains high alcohol content even after dilution. Now, I don’t know about your taste preferences but drinking high ABV liquor without any dilution sounds like a bad time.
Therefore, in the end, it all boils down to your ideals. If you hate diluted liquor and do not want a plastic cube floating atop their drink, go and buy some whiskey stones. You can buy these bullet-shaped ones to max out the coolness factor.
However, if you can tolerate a little bit of water in your drink, stick with ice. After all, there is a reason why it has been used to chill our drink for centuries!