Since we launched Whisky Stones beverage cubes in 2007, much has been written and said about their effectiveness. The vast majority of it has been positive, but as with anything new/different on the internet, a fair amount of criticism has been levied as well. The people who like the product and like to use it with their whiskey seem to gravitate towards the look, the "on the rocks" punnery that goes along with the product, and the consistent performance. Those who claim to dislike the product fall into two broad categories: a) those who misunderstand the purpose, and b) those who misuse the product. I suppose there are people who hate stones, but they tend to be few and far between - or undergoing treatment. But for those respectable souls who are innocently misinformed, this might help clarify some important things about Whisky Stones beverage cubes.
Let's start with ice. First off, ice is great. And for immediate chilling, nothing beats it. Ice will reduce the temperature of just about any beverage from room temperature to just under 40F in just a matter of seconds. As it floats, it melts, ensuring that a bit of cold, just-melted water is included in each and every sip. For lots - in fact most - drinks, that works just fine. But whiskey is different in ways that make ice a less than optimal solution for chilling. To understand this better, we need to take a look at how whiskey is made.
Whiskey is a barrel aged spirit. That means that after it is distilled, it is stored in oak barrels for a period of years (depending on the quality and variety - some bourbon can be in a barrel for less than a year, Tennessee whiskey must be in a barrel for at least 3 years, and there are instances of both blended and single malt scotch being aged for decades). The point is that the character of whiskey is greatly determined by the barrel material and the length of barrel aging. Those are simply points of fact. But what actually happens when whiskey is aged in a wooden barrel?
Well, to start with, it changes color. That's right. All whiskey enters the barrel as a clear spirit - looks just like vodka. The burnished amber color that whiskey adopts during aging is 100% to do with the barrel itself - these are mainly oak but sometimes they are barrels that have been used previously to age other spirits such as sherry or port. Hence, you will hear of special "port cask" bottlings, for instance. They offer a very dark color as well as a heavy, distilled wine flavor. Point being: distillers take GREAT care in selecting the barrel type and quality for the aging process. But from the distiller's point of view, those choices about barrels have nothing to do with color - that's a by product - the real focus is of course flavor. So how does the barrel affect the flavor of whiskey? Now we are coming to the nub of the issue and the reason that Whisky Stones work so well with whiskey.
The wood from the barrel conveys its flavor notes into the distilled spirit inside by way of wood oils. Think of it like an infusion process - like tea. The wood oils are in low concentration in the spirit initially, so through osmosis, they are drawn out of the barrel and mingle into the whiskey as it's being aged. The longer the aging process or the more vivid the barrel wood material, the stronger the flavor characteristic being determined by the barrel itself. But the key is the wood oils and what happens to oil of just about any kind when temperature lowers rapidly below about 60F.
Oils that are rapidly chilled will congeal and effectively fall out of solution. And anyone who drinks whiskey already knows what this looks like, even if they are not sure what's causing it. Add very cold water to whiskey and watch it cloud up. That cloudiness is the wood oils falling out of solution. Same thing happens with whiskey when you add ice. That cloudiness appears almost right away and that's because the whiskey is being rapidly chilled to about 40F as mentioned above. This is precisely the reason that you hear whiskey experts and distillers caution - if not threaten - that anyone who actually wants to enjoy their dram should never add ice. A bit of room temperature water? Sure. In fact professional whiskey tasting notes contain two parts: with and without water. But what do you do if you want to actually chill your whiskey a bit? That's the precise question we asked when inventing the product back in 2007, so enter Whisky Stones.
Whisky Stones are specifically designed to gently chill your whiskey without the diluting and rapid chilling effects of ice. Three Whiskey Stones beverage cubes will gently reduce the temperature of your dram to not less than 50F, greatly minimizing the negative effects of rapid cooling while subtly taking that stinging edge off. And they behave the same way every single time.
Hopefully this sets the record straight. Whisky Stones do not replace ice, they provide a better alternative for a very specific type of beverage - whiskey. If you like ice, use ice, but you should know that it means you are going to be removing a lot of the carefully crafted flavor from that new bottle you bought.
Just don't tell the distiller.