It may be that winter just dumped another six inches of snow on me or that I received a press release from Johnnie Walker Gold Label touting its "ice pillar," which is a packaging sleeve intended to keep the whisky cold, but I'm thinking about strategies for cooling beverages this frigid morning. No, I haven't had a drink, yet!
Chilling alcohol-especially whisk(e)y-is such a touchy subject for some that you sometimes feel like you're advocating breaking one of The Ten Commandments when you ask for a few cubes in your drink. I've been chided by a certain venerable master distiller of Scotch, whose name will go unmentioned, for even suggesting the idea with one of his malts. (I responded with my standard quip that the only reason not to use ice is if you've the lost formula-to which I got a blank stare.) On the other hand, now another Scotch maker wants to enable me in my quest to bring down the temperature of its blend. So whom am I to listen?
I'm leaning toward Mr. Walker on this one. Not that I'm advocating chilling your Scotch against your will, but I feel if you want it a little frigid, you should have it that way. Then again, I tend not to be very rigid about how people have their drinks in general. If a guest-for some bizarre reason of his own-asks for root beer in his Cognac, I'll give it to him. I just won't pour him XO. When you take drinking too seriously you ruin the whole point of the endeavor.
But the urge to cool alcohol I don't consider bizarre at all. Clearly, cold drinks are a refreshing summer staple and most cocktails call for chilling-even those as "serious" as the Manhattan and Martini. So why not cold whisk(e)y?
The best argument against it is the damage that ice can reek as it thaws. We've all been over-served ice, especially the minuscule machine-type or crushed ice that you get in some bars. As the ice quickly melts, the drink is immediately diluted beyond recognition and you are left holding a sad excuse for a drink. But all ice is not the same, and certainly formidable chunks won't ruin your whisk(e)y, assuming you drink it fast enough-which I'm always careful to do. (As a member of the Maker's Mark Ambassadors program, I was mailed an ice tray as a holiday gift that makes ice spheres the size of a baseball that can outlast anything I pour into an old-fashioned glass with it.)
At anyway rate, the aforementioned Ice Pillar from Johnnie Walker isn't really ice at all as there is no water involved. As you can see by the picture, it's basically a box for serving your whisky. You put the bottle in the freezer to get it cold and then keep it within the insulation of the container as you pour it. The whisky is just cold, not diluted.
So what could be wrong with cold but not diluted? To me nothing, especially since the intended whisky (Johnnie Walker Gold) is so sweet to begin with. I think the main taste effect of chilling drinks is to take the edge off the sweetness. That's why we chill Coke, so it won't be as cloying.
Of course, Johnnie Walker isn't exactly cloying. But there is a certain deliciousness that comes from slowing down those Scotch molecules with cold. And if it tastes good...let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.