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, it is best handled gently.
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 am not going to attempt to talk about all the various methods for serving whiskey, because if I did, we’d never get to the product at hand. I will take the path of least resistance and say that however you decide to enjoy your whiskey is fine with me. 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. For the purposes of this discussion, I will stick to my preferred beverage, single malt Scotch.
In the world of single malt whiskey purists, it is said one should only add a very small amount of non-chlorinated, room temperature water to the whiskey. The water is supposed to open up the flavors. Conversely, other, equally adamant enthusiasts say don’t add water at all.
The next subject is whether to add ice, or ice and water, et al. Here most purists say not to add ice to single malts as it shocks and tightens the flavor elements. I tend to agree with this axiom when drinking 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. In these warmer climes, people serve whiskey at too high of a temperature and unless one has a climate controlled storage unit or cellar for their bottles, the 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 attractive sitting in the glass and I made a joke about it, but felt somewhat embarrassed. Whiskey sipping should have some style to it, and these whimsical plastic shapes are not the message you want. Additionally, the plastic chillers didn’t work all that well and had an adverse affect on taste.
While thinking about that experience, I wondered about the effectiveness of ice in the whiskey. Yes it cools, but I feel its chilling affects are too intense and it dilutes the drink in a way that I don’t find pleasing.
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.
Whiskey Stones the Experience
What you get for your $19.95 is nine, 3/4″ square stones made from natural soapstone and a muslin storage bag.
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 24 – 48 hours.
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 three whiskey stones gave me the right amount of chill, 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 experimented with several combinations but found that glasses with at least 2.5″ to 3″ of width at the base work best. Using a more narrow glass than that 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, according to experts, finer whiskey should be consumed from a narrower glass such as this:
If using a “proper” whiskey glass, you may want to experiment with two whiskey stones and a 1-oz pour.
Additionally if said glass is leaded crystal, use caution when placing the stones in the glass so you don’t accidentally crack the glass.
Back to the idea of proper expectations, understand that these disks will not make the whiskey icy cold. It will only produce a slight chill, but again this is all you want. If you create too much temperature drop, you risk the flavors tightening up. And to that end, I have found that the Teroforma Whiskey stones work very well. I also found whiskey, slightly chilled, had a much more palate pleasing flavor experience.
I know I am repeating myself, but proper expectations are essential with this product: these whiskey stones will not, in any volume, give you an ice cold drink. Do not buy them and think you can use them in your wine, iced tea or lemonade.
There are other drink chilling options available on the market made from glass or plastic. I am thinking first of the hand blown glass cubes which are intended for the same purpose as the whiskey stones. However, like their plastic cousins, they are meant more as style pieces, not effective beverage chillers.
So, do the Whiskey Stones work? Yes.
Are they a product with limited uses? Yes.
Are they for every whiskey drinker? No.
But as a regular whiskey drinker living in a warm weather climate, I find the Whiskey Stones a great tool. I never drink whiskey without using the stones. If you have friends or family who are whiskey enthusiasts, then the stones will make a great gift.
**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.