Cigar Aficionado

Let There Be Ice

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.)

Johnnie Walker Ice Pillar

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.

"As Jack mentioned in his blog, the decision of whether to chill whiskey, or any other liquor for that matter, is strictly based on personal comparison. We drink for enjoyment and should consume our alcoholic beverages to our liking. It's become very prominent to chill liquor in out freezers here in America, but I do still notice most people hailing for Europe prefer liquor room temp. I was a bartender, and anything my customer asked for, I delivered, no matter how wrong or disgusting I though it was. Of course, its a whole different story for beer and wine. While I still agree that a drink should be enjoyed how you like it, I see the rules of chilling beer and wine followed allot more strictly in public restaurants than with liquor. Believe it or not there's even designated temperatures you are supposed to chill certain types of beer and wine to before serving." —August 28, 2012 08:59 AM
"Agree with Mr. Clark. But I would add one more "no"." —March 13, 2011 20:17 PM
"We are trying to have a Cigar Night for the troops in Afghanistan. We are desperately short of cigars. If you would like to contribute, the address is: Frank Pacenza Cigar Chairman 455 ECES/FP APO AE 09354" —March 10, 2011 06:36 AM
"Just a note:Costco carries Johnny Walker gold label. When I got home I put the bottle in my wine cellar and several days later I had several glasses chilled and without ice. Very good way to drink this scotch." —March 2, 2011 17:14 PM
"Well, I agree with Mr. Clark, and I've had a good Scotch ruined on more than one occasion by ice -its not only the dilution - its the minerals in the water that distort/ruin the flavor." —February 12, 2011 15:35 PM
"I agree with Mr. Clark. Often, I will cradle the glass in my hand(s) to warming it even a tad more, frequently enjoying the nose and letting the whisky open-up. I'll also pour and let it stand for sometimes 10 to 12 minutes, some malts take a long time to open-up. All said, once when on vacation in Malaysia the humidity was 100% all the time and the temperature was nearing 40 Celsius, we did have ice in the whisky, a respite from the stifling conditions. I suppose the same could be said for the American deep south or similar latitudes." —January 23, 2011 15:30 PM
"Hi there Jack. All I can say on the matter is no,no,no. Hailing from Scotland, it can be said that I enjoy a "wee hawf" occasionally, especially if it is the single malt variety, I also love pairing it with a fine cigar.Now I am no expert but to me chilling whisky is wrong.And putting ice in it is definately breaking one of the commandments. Because of the inclemenent winter weather in Scotland and the anti smoking laws,I am frequently forced outdoors to partake in these twin passions of mine. Initially when you pour the malt into the nosing glass it is at room temperature.Depending on the malt I might add a few drops of water again at room temperature. Now what I hold in my hand is something that has taken anything from 10 to 25 years to evolve. It has been expertly created by a master craftsmen and then lain down for years to take on the subtle(or not so subtle in some cases)nuances from the cask it is contained in. At this point the flavour's,the aroma's and the sheer exuberance of this creation is bursting out the glass and overwhelming our senses. Move on 30 minutes later and the what I hold in my hand is a totally different creature. The outside temperature has chilled it. The Oliva V series tastes as good as ever, but the glass of of 16 year old Lagavulin has turned into a drink that is poor in comperison to the drink I poured earlier. All the cold does is mask the taste,the aroma and the sheer headiness, that this magnificent drink truly is. The case for the defence rests. No ice and no chiller. P.S. And no to cigar taxes" —January 19, 2011 06:48 AM
"If I want my whisky cold but don't want to run the risk of over-diluting it with melting ice, I put a little ice in a glass, add the whisky, swirl it for a few second then pour the whisky into a new glass. It gets chilled, there's the tiny bit of water to help open it up and it's not diluted. I've also poured it through a small strainer containing ice so that it does get a slight chill but doesn't get water logged." —January 18, 2011 18:11 PM
"Hello Jack. This is really something. I can't wait to try this. I usually enjoy my scotch neat and room temp, however I am looking forward to trying this out. On occasion I'll put 1 cube in the scotch but then I find I drink it quicker instead of sipping to avoid spoiling the scotch with melting ice cubes. This would solve that issue. I'll have to check into this and see if this insulator is available in Canada. I'm sure it is. Great article. Thanks." —January 13, 2011 18:47 PM