Sometimes you are walking through a kitchen store, see a product and your first reaction is skepticism. I felt that way when I saw the Whiskey Stones.
First of all, let’s begin with what these stones are not meant to do. Often, these stones are purchased with incorrect understanding of their use and I may be able to save you some time.
** These whiskey stones are not a replacement for ice cubes in water, tea, soft drinks. They are not intended for that purpose and cannot make those beverages icy cold.
** They are not intended to be used in a glass of wine. Personally, I am not a fan of shocking wine with ice. Wine is best handled gently, even wines meant to be consumed chilled should be done over time.
So with those 2 big clarifications out of the way, what the heck are these whiskey stones for?
They stones are meant to bring a slight chill to a glass of spirits without watering down the drink. As the product name indicates, they are most commonly associated with whiskey. As an aside, there is confusion surrounding what constitutes whiskey and the proper consumption of whiskey.
What is Whiskey?
Single malt whisky = a malted barley whisky from one distillery;
Single grain whisky = a grain whisky from one distillery (not necessarily from a single type of grain);
Blended malt whisky = a malt whisky created by mixing single malt whiskies from several distilleries;
Blended grain whisky = a whisky created by mixing grain whiskies from more than one distillery;
Blended Scotch whisky = a mixture of malt and grain whiskies, usually from multiple distilleries.
And let us not forget the bourbon whiskey of the US, which is a grain mixture, known as the mash bill, 70% corn with the remainder being wheat and/or rye, and malted barley.
Confused? Good, so are most people. If you want a complete tutorial on the subject, go to http://www.maltmadness.com/ and get the complete information overload on whiskey. It is as thorough a tutorial on whiskey as I have found online. [I borrowed most of the above definitions from their web site.]
How to serve whiskey
I do not want to begin to talk about all the various methods for serving whiskey because if I did, we’d never get to the product at hand. In the simplest terms, however you decide to enjoy your whiskey is fine. It is your palate, enjoy it as you wish.
However to have a good argument on the subject, you must clarify the type and quality of the whiskey. In the world of single malt whiskey purists, it is said one should only add a very small amount of non-chlorinated water to the whiskey. The water is supposed to open up the flavors. Conversely, some enthusiasts say don’t add water at all.
The next issue is adding ice, or ice and water, et al. Again, purists say not to add ice to single malts as it shocks and tightens the flavor elements. I do agree with this axiom for higher quality whiskeys, given one caveat: in places like the United States (and other warmer climates) the room temperature is often much higher than Scotland, Ireland, England and Northern Europe. Most people serve whiskey at too high of a temperature and unless one has a climate controlled storage unit or cellar for their bottles, whiskey needs to be chilled slightly.
And this brings us back to our product at hand.
Whiskey Stones Function
Over the years, I have used many items, other than ice, to chill drinks. My first exposure to them was a gift from a friend. Someone gave me colorful plastic shapes filled with water which you kept in the freezer. You fill your glass with the “cubes” and voilà! cold beverage.
While entertaining one time, I found myself without ice in the freezer. I quickly grabbed the plastic chillers and put them in the glass. The multi-colored, fanciful shapes didn’t look very good and I made a joke about it, but felt embarrassed. Whiskey sipping should have some style to it that plastic doesn’t offer. Additionally, the plastic chillers never worked as well as ice for effect or taste.
While thinking about that experience, I wondered about the effectiveness of the practice of ice in the whiskey. Yes it cools, often too much and it also dilutes the drink.
This issue of dilution is what bothers some whiskey drinkers, and yet is why still others add ice. Ah, diversity.
So IF ice chills and dilutes whiskey in an unpleasant way or you want to overcome the problem of overly warm “room temperature” whiskey, then the Whiskey Stones are for you.
What you get for your $19.95 is 9 stones made from natural soapstone and a muslin storage bag. The stones are 3/4″ square. They are quite easy to use. Simply follow the directions on the package: wash the stones in water, dry them, put them in the muslin bag and store in the freezer for 2 days. Once they are nice and cold, place the whiskey stones in a glass in a single layer, pour in your beverage of choice and wait 5 minutes. Teroforma recommends no more than 2 ounces of spirits.
I found that 3 whiskey stones gave me the right amount of chill for the pour I use, but you can experiment to find the correct formula for your taste. One of the keys to this product is using the right glass. I tried many but found that glasses with at least 2.5 to 3 inches of width at the base work best. The reason being that less than that amount of space will require the stones to stack on each other. When this happens, there is a risk that the whiskey stones will shift in the glass splurping liquid onto your face and shirt…not that this happened to me mind you
The glass most likely to have these dimensions would be a basic tumbler or Double Old Fashioned (DOF) glass. And yes, I know that finer whiskey should be consumed from a narrower glass such as this.
If using a proper whiskey glass, then you may want to experiment with two whiskey stones and a 1 oz pour. Additionally if that glass is leaded crystal, use caution when placing the stones in the glass so you don’t crack the glass.
Understand that the whiskey will not be icy cold!! It will have only a very slight chill, but again this is all you want. Anything more and you risk the flavors tightening up on you. I have found that the stones work very well in achieving this goal. I also found the drink much more pleasing to the palate.
These whiskey stones will not, in any volume, give you an ice cold drink. Don’t buy them and think you can use them in your iced tea or lemonade. I know I am repeating myself, but proper expectations are essential with this product.
Aside from the style aspect, I don’t like the other drink chilling options because they are generally bigger than the whiskey stones. The placement in the glass makes them less effective for chilling spirit based beverages. Also, the shifting of stacked “cubes” can cause the same splurping problems. These plastic versions are more appropriate for filling a tall glass and cooling your soft drinks.
There are hand blown glass cubes which are designed for the same purpose as the whiskey stones. However, like their plastic cousins, they are larger than the stones and I don’t find them as effective or as durable. They are meant more as style pieces, not beverage chillers.
Do the Whiskey Stones work? Yes. Are they a product with limited uses? Yes. Are they for every whiskey drinker? No. I think if you are a regular whiskey drinker or have friends who are, then the stones can make a great addition to your home bar.
**April 2011 Update**
I have had the chance to acquire and test the Whiskey Disks mentioned in the comments below. In the article, Whiskey Disks Versus Teroforma Whiskey Stones, I do a head to head comparison.
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