Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Heatwave Antidote - Add Ice to your Whisky!

The love that dare not speak its name in many whisky circles is the amour for ice with one's whisky.

Presently, I am living in the midst of a serious heat wave with temperatures approaching 100 degrees fahrenheit and 70% humidity contributing to sauna like air quality.  I love it though.  I dig the heat.  Probably because I am not working as a roofer hammering shingles or raking asphalt across driveways.  Moreover, I am on vacation.  Beside being poolside, what contributes to my good humour is drinking my whisky with ice.

Shocking!  The horror! Say it ain't so!

That would be the thoughts and attitudes of the whisky purists out there and the critics who get paid for what they write.  I don't care.  Those people are disconnected from you and I.  They make too much money, and are a little too arrogant for my liking.  They can have their 30 year old, limited release malts, and choke on them in this balmy weather.  I cannot think of anything less appealing than single malt Scotch whisky served neat at temperatures approaching a sweltering  noon hour in Doha.

When it is a really hot summer's day, I like to enjoy a good blended Scotch whisky and even certain single malts with an ice chip or even a whole cube!  Why?  Because it is so damn refreshing.

I just love reaching for a sturdy tumbler, tossing in an ice cube, pouring some Teacher's Highland Cream, Johnnie Walker Black Label, Black Bottle or other blend and waiting about one minute.  During that agonizingly long minute that little ice cube is knocking down the temperature of my whisky, and smoothing out the rough edges, and maybe allowing for a little nip, where there used to be some bite.

Finally, I take a sip, having exercised the patience of Job.  For my forbearance, I am rewarded by a delightfully refreshing taste of chilled whisky with snips of smoke, seaweed, brine, salt and whatever flavors make up my selected spirit.  Yes, I suppose it is not very complex, and nosing the whisky is pointless with an ice cube floating in my tumbler glass, but I do not care.  I am seeking Margaritaville, not a bookish, desperate for whisky nirvana, all-senses focused malt experience.  Save that for the winter time when I am hiding inside from the snow blown wind-chill factor outside.

In the first few minutes, your ice cube works wonders on your whisky.  But, there comes a point where your whisky has become overly diluted.  Worry not, it is now whisky slush.  Drink up!  Or dump it out and start anew.

I also like that there is something very casual about ice and whisky.  The combination seems to provoke casual, light hearted conversation.  Something we can all benefit from.

Ice and Single Malt?
Yes it does happen.  Don't be embarrassed.  You can admit to it.  It's not like I am referring to your experimental phase in college with your roommate.

I will add whisky to cheap single malts and expensive ones that I did not like neat.  For example, last night I had this bottle of Longmorn 16 that had been sitting on my shelf for about eight months.  Why?  Not a fan.  Just didn't really enjoy it.  So, I thought, Mr. Longmorn, you are a candidate for an arranged marriage with my ice tray.  The result?  Really nice!  The bite and rather barnyard action was taken away by the ice, leaving some nice nips on the tongue of pepper, chocolate are caramel.  It went down easy and was very interesting.

So, I challenge you to survey your single malt collection.  Is there one you have not been enthralled with?  If so, drop a cube in, set out on the deck, take in the sun, and your iced malt.

Whisky Festivals - Where's the Ice?
I have been to a few whisky festivals and I have not seen any buckets of ice, alongside neatly lined up legions of bottled water.  Matter of fact, even if there was some ice to be had, it wouldn't get past the mouths of those pouty Glencairn Glasses.  What gives?  Let's add some jolly, slack-jawed tumblers too.

Whisky festivals are supposed to be a celebration of all things whisky.  Spirits companies showcase their finest fire water with knowledgeable, smartly dressed and attractive brand ambassadors, who typically squeeze in an interesting tidbit of info as they pour you a dram.

"Aged in French oak, not American" declares an ambassador who could pass for an Armani runway model. She is just way too pretty to be a serious whisky fan, I think, and then I ponder if I am being sexist.  Anyway, my point is whisky lovers have an affinity for Harris Tweed jackets, tartan wool ties, pilled poly-cotton, navy pants with the built-in crease that all contributes to a certain disheveled, professorial look, without the academic accomplishment.

"Really?"  I say like I care, even though I just wanna taste the damn stuff as quickly as possible, while noting her androgynous sartorial flair, and wondering if this conversation may evolve into an awkward scene out of The Crying Game.  

"The French oak has a certain je ne sais quoi.

"Do you have any ice?"

"No" is Ms. Holly Golightly's arctic reply that sufficiently cools my drink, dampens my enthusiasm, and causes me to move onto the next booth.  Probably not what the drinks company wanted as an outcome of a potential customer interaction with their product.

. . .

Where is the ice for the whisky fan who drinks it with that frosty accompaniment?  Surely, they know that there is a large segment of the public that adds ice.  The marketing arms of these drinks companies research every aspect of their consumer with a view to attaining increased market share.   They know that many consumers like a little ice.  What's going on here?

I will never be a brand ambassador.  You know why?  I'd have tumblers and ice at the ready, at my employer's kiosk.  I'd ask you:  "Would you like ice with your whisky?"  I am sure some whisky snobs would regard such a question as akin to: "Would you like fries with that?"  A letter would be written to my employer and I would find myself unceremoniously kicked to the curb in my sartorially challenged powder blue polyester tux with black trimmed lapels and handy flap hip pockets.

Why can't the drinks companies get it through their thick skulls that some people like ice with their whisky?  They wanna increase sales, market share and all that right?  Well, get with the program and have it on hand at festivals.

I mean if I was representing Diageo, Chivas Bros, Edrington Group, etc., at a festival and proffered ice for those who wanted it, its not like I am doing something outrageous.  Well, to some my conduct would be tantamount to smearing peanut butter on my chest, rolling in shards of broken glass and then diving off a stage into a crowd  à la  Iggy Pop.

And, that's the problem.  The fear of taking a chance.  The fear of criticism.  Whisky companies for some reason are very conservative and are fearful of jumping into the mosh pit of whisky fans by offering the possibility of ice at festivals.  Funny how any bartender or waiter will ask almost immediately if you want that on the rocks.  They are more in touch with the ordinary customer.

Let's start a revolution.  At the next whisky festival, invariably held in a hot and sweaty hotel ballroom, ask for ice with your dram!


Jason Debly
Copyright © Jason Debly, 2009-2013. All rights reserved. Any and all use is prohibited without permission except for photographs, as they are the intellectual property of the photographers, and may not be reproduced without their permission.  Photo credits:  (1) photograph of whisky and ice taken by Martin Price.  Please visit his site to explore more of his great work.  Martin Price holds all worldwide copyright and no reproduction is permitted without his express written consent.  His photograph appears here with his gracious consent; (2) Photograph of powder blue tuxedo up for sale on Etsy and taken by member Sugarshackvintage;  (3) Photograph of Iggy Pop at the 1970 Cincinnati Pop Festival.  This photograph is widely available on the internet, but unfortunately I have not been able to identify the photographer.  I would like to give credit.  If you know who it is, please drop me a line.  In any case the image appearing in this article is for the purposes of nostalgia, education and entertainment. Moreover, all images on this blog are considered by the author to be significant in illustrating the subject matter, facilitating artistic/critical commentary, as it provides an immediate relevance to the reader more capably than the textual description.


  1. Always in favour of shaking up the traditions Jason. We're in the midst of a heatwave here in Scotland, normally that means no rain for 2 days however temperatures have been creeping above 20 degrees, which is unbearable for us. Sitting outside with a Glenmorangie or a Bladnoch lends itself well to the warm weather and garden environment. Ice adds to the experience.

    I have had ice with my malt whisky and have no instant shock of anyone else requesting ice. We already add water to many cask strength or stronger whiskies to open up new flavours - so why not ice? Most of the bars I frequent here also offer ice or water without prompting. Whisky is being used more as a mixer and pre-mixed drinks such as Ginger Grouse are becoming more visible and popular. I've started experimenting more with whisky and food. Like Yamazaki 12 year and its ideal partner an onion bhaji!

    The quality of the water is a consideration and in Scotland we're quite fortunate to have plenty of this resource and from the tap it tastes great. So if you using ice then make your own rather than the shop stuff, which might be a harder more chemical blend like London water. Yuck.

    There is some evident snobbery from the distilleries. They cannot have it both ways; ditching age statements and still frowning when someone wants to add an ingredient to their malt. As long as you are enjoying what you drink in a responsible fashion, then that is the main thing.

    I have met a few brand ambassadors on my travels and some have a real passion for whisky and others seem to have come right from the marketing department and beneath the memorised waffle there is little substance. Perhaps these fakers are more common outwith the UK.

    1. Hi Raith!

      I find the brand representatives vary from knowledgeable to ones parroting a script that usually end in "please visit our website for more information." There are exceptions of course.

      Yes, I forgot to mention water quality is crucial when making your own ice cubes.

      Always a pleasure!



  2. Very timely article Jason, we're in the middle of the same heat wave and I have my bottle of Islay Mist waiting for me at the cottage; will try it with ice on the deck.

  3. Spot on Jason. This is the Whiskey Detectives thinking about ice and philosophy on drinking in general. Give the "common" man what he wants! Be it ice, water, or nothing at all with his/her whisk(e)y. There should be no looking down your nose among us whiskey enthusiasts.

    1. Things are starting to change, but it will take time.

  4. Jason, A-ha, a topic we discussed a little while back. Good job. You know I'm a rule breaker and convention tester myself but here's my personal rule of thumb for me and my glass: keep it below $30 US per bottle, and choose non-peated drinks. I sure don't mind adding ice (or cold tonic, soda or water) to cheap whiskies; I'll even chill the bottle a bit instead. Hell, many blends and cheap malts are built to be real good that way anyway. Finlaggan comes to mind. But boy, you'll not catch me "wasting" the nuances and intensities of the better stuff that way, not in weather hot or cold. In Summer here, it's hot and I don't much enjoy the warmth of peat influenced whisky in hot months anyway. It heats me up too much. Here in SoCal there's (better ?) options galore for my glass when the heat is up: Bourbons, ryes, rums, tequilas, wines, beers. That said, our group is kicking off a table sagging four day food and malt weekend to celebrate The Open at Muirfield. Probably have more than a dozen or so lowlanders open. Wheeee ! JK

    1. Good points as always!

      I too am a golf fan (and poor player) and will be watching The Open. Don't have any Lowlanders, but they would be a very good choice in these hot temperatures.

      I have not experimented much with tonic water. That is something I will have to explore. It might rehabilitate my dim view of Ballantine's and J&B, blends that I imagine are best as mix only.

      The Open should be very interesting. If Tiger is 'on' look out, but I suspect that between his elbow and inconsistency in his game, someone else will be holding the Claret jug on Sunday.


  5. OK blended scotch on the rocks no problem. You did say ''blended'' so we are not going to report you to the Scotch Police. LOL


    1. Well, there are plenty of other whisky blogs that are probably more entertaining for you to read.

  7. Thanks for the post. We've been having the same heat wave here in Virginia. Not record breaking, just nasty.

    Since I got into whisky a few years ago I have been drinking it neat so as to get the maximum of flavor. I can't bring myself to put the good bourbons and single malts on ice. But I filled a rock glass with cubes and poured some Virginia Gentleman (a sorta decent bourbon I had on hand) and some White Horse scotch. Although very diluted, they retained enough whisky flavor to enjoy and were surprisingly refreshing.

    By the way, you mentioned the book "The World's Best Whiskys" and I picked up a copy. It not only reviews a LOT of different libations (I don't always agree with his preferences), but it provides great descriptions of the various distilling processes. Good call.

    The third round at Muirfield was interesting. Some really exceptional bunker play followed by putts that break your heart. The final round should be interesting and unpredictable. (And where else can you see TV ads for Glenmorangie scotch!)

    Jeff The Bear

    1. Muirfield is great entertainment. Fascinating to watch the likes of Tiger Woods struggle for par. My guess is Tiger is gonna win.

  8. Jason, I've been diggin' the ice this summer too! Young and zippy malts like Kilkerran and Springbank CV are really nice with one huge ice cube - I pour water into little paper dixie cups and freeze and then the one cube fills up most of the tumbler and doesn't totally melt and water it down to much. It's the way to go - much better than smaller cubes that completely melt into the whisky. I like the "Margaritaville" analogy - appropriate.

    1. There is a lot a person can do with ice. Key thing to do is experiment with ice cubes of varying sizes. Ideally, you get the chilling affect, slight dilution, refreshing affect without overly diluting the spirit. A hard balancing act, but one that most whisky drinkers are willing to take on.

  9. As I see it with ice, the most important thing is that the ice tastes good. The stuff which has been in the back of the fridge for a month and smells like it? It'll turn the whisky foul.

    Make new clean stuff fairly regularly (every week at least). If your tap water is bad enough that you wouldn't put it in your whisky as water, don't put it in your whisky as ice. Get other water.

  10. Why don´t you start comparing single malts or make food paring (chocolate, cheese, meat, fish, etc) in your reviews

    What do you think? too busy?

    1. I would like to suggest more food pairings with Scotch and other whiskies, but you know, the pairings are not obvious. I have to think about them, experiment, taste and report back. I have been experimenting with various food pairings that I thought would be great and actually turned out to be a bust.

      The other reason I have not recommended more food pairings is I am quite busy. But, I will see what I can do.

      Thanks for the great suggestion.

    2. no problem. would you like to review caol ila 12 again or comparing caol ila 12 talisker 10 with johnnie walker black?

    3. My next review is Johnnie Walker Platinum. After that I promise to tackle Caol Ila 12 yrs. I have a new bottle of it, and will do a comparison with Talisker and Johnnie Black. Happy to oblige!

  11. which one do you prefer and why?


    1. These are two single malts that offer opposite spectrum flavor profiles.

      Glenlivet 15 French Oak is dark plums, exotic oak, and sherry seasoning in the background.

      Glenfiddich 15 is waxy, wild honey, ethereal, hay, sunshine, maple sugar, with great complexity.

      I really prefer Glenfiddich 15 for its complexity and honey, sunshine disposition.

  12. Hi

    Do you know why Johnnie Walker Black is so famous? Marketing?

    If you love it or like it, could you tell me why?


    PS: I read your post, but I would like and updated profile.

  13. how are ya?

    could you make a review/comparison between JW BLACK vs JW DOUBLE BACK?


    1. In a nut shell, JW Black exhibits a flavor profile that is made up of cinnamon, caramel, good smoke (Talisker), and nice spices.

      Double Black is far more smokey and peaty than the Black 12yrs. Double Black is far more Islay influenced than the 12. I just don't think it is worth the price. Double Black is a fine blended scotch, but you need to get it on sale.

      Between the two, I always prefer the standard 12yr age statement bottle. For further discussion of these blends, cut paste the following into your browser:

  14. how ya doing mate? what do you think about reviewing clynelish 14 again?

    1. Clynelish 14 is a great single malt, but presently not available where I live. So, with no bottle, no review. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend it based on passed experience with it.

  15. When the review of Platinum and Caol ila 12 will arrive at your blog?

    Big hug from Norway.


    1. Gimme 24 hrs for Platinum. Caol Ila is two weeks away.

  16. Love your blog! Interesting article about adding ice. I have a routine when I try any new bottle of scotch for the first time, and there's a reason for that - I like to see what possibilities I can open up in my glass, and I like to become familiar with each of them, making notes along the way, sometimes written, sometimes mental. That routine involves ice, and is as follows:

    1st dram I try is always neat.
    2nd glass I try is with a single drop of water, to see what has changed.
    3rd glass I try is with several drops of water, 3-4
    4th glass I try is with a little splash of water, probably about 10-12 drops or so (it's hard to be super accurate with these things if your only tool is a straw and a glass of water)
    5th glass is with a single ice cube.
    and the 6th is in a tumbler, with 3 ice cubes, and a little tiny bit of Drambuie (not too much though 'cause it can be overpowering) to see what sort of Rusty Nail it makes.

    One note about all of this, when drinking neat, or adding anything, I'll take a sip or two right away, and then let it sit for a while to see what has changed as well, often not much, often it's significant!

    I think a lot of people would gasp at the whiskies I've subjected to the last two treatments (ice/Drambuie) but every time, I'm more than glad I did it, because it always ends up telling me something about the character of the drink I wouldn't have discovered otherwise - and it has made for some lovely drinks along the way as well...for example, while some would scoff at the idea of ever using any single malt this way, I've come to the conclusion that Glenfiddich 15 works wonderfully with that lone ice cube - it's like a spicy, fruity, chocolatey iced dessert in a glass - And that Jura Superstition makes just about the most lovely Rusty Nail imaginable providing you don't overdo it with the Drambuie and only use a tiny bit. :) I remember you weren't too fond of Caol Ila, but if you're adventurous enough to make a Rusty Nail out of one you might be pleasantly surprised...

    I'm a major lover of the Rusty Nail - and I've actually considered opening up a whisky blog of my own, with a twist - instead of just individual tasting notes of neat whisky like yours or most out there, I'd just review different whiskies in the context of finding the perfect Nail. :) I know it's out there somewhere!

    1. Thanks for posting your comment. Very detailed and well-thought out.

      I think the Rusty Nail makes for a great drink, and naturally, the higher the quality spirits, probably in many cases the better the quality of taste. The same principle can apply to ice and single malts. The only problem with ice is that there is a bit of a race against time to drink before it becomes overly diluted if one is seeking to drink it at its optimum level. Drinking with ice, one should ideally adopt a less obsessive attitude and simply enjoy the drink without rushing, reveling in the initial chilled taste till the slighlty over diluted much like one experience good and bad weather but still has a good day!