You may have seen someone dropping (well, not dropping, but carefully placing) two or three stones inside their whisky glass, and wondered: what the heck is happening? Are they using them to give their booze an added crunch? Maybe they’re pretending the stones are miniature islands in a sea of malt, imagining a tiny, intoxicated Robinson Crusoe or Jim Hawkins. You might even have been given a little box of whisky stones as a gift and were unsure why…
Usually cuboid, though sometimes formed into all manner of novelty shapes, whisky stones are used to replicate ice in a drink. They have two key benefits: they’re reusable (you’re welcome, Mother Earth), and, unlike ice, they won’t melt and dilute your spirits.
Fact hunt: historically, some Nordic cultures would actually use cold stones to chill their beverages, so the practice is not as recent as you might imagine.
The most common material of choice is soapstone. Don’t let the words “soap-stone” put you off, however; it’s really more of a rock. Thankfully it’s totally flavourless, and is a good choice due to the fact it’s non-porous. It’s also relatively soft, which means it won’t damage your best crystal when you’re drinking. You’ll also find stainless steel whisky stones, which are sometimes filled with a material that helps them stay cold for longer. They can chill a whisky much faster than a stone can (what a show off) and also won’t impart any flavour into the spirit.
There are some other materials too, like granite or ceramic, to name a couple, and each offers its own visual appeal and ability to chill. We wish we had the ability to chill, but no rest for the wicked as they say.
So, when you get your set of whisky stones, give them a good rinse, allow them to dry, then pop them in the freezer until they are good and cold (a few hours ought to do it). When they’re ready, add them to your favourite glass (gently, just in case), and pour in your whisky, or whatever spirit you fancy. You are now ready to enjoy your drink.
Once you’ve finished, give the stones a good rinse with water, and let them dry. If they’re made of a natural material like stone, we really recommend avoiding soap, as any residual suds could penetrate the stones and affect your drink. Of course, if this does happen, you can make a hilarious soapstone joke… “Hey, are these whisky stones, or soapstones!?”, you might ask when presented with a sudsy whisky. Oh, the japes.
That really depends on you. As we mentioned earlier, they won’t melt, and they are reusable. Some of them look rather nice too. However, there are drawbacks. When it comes to temperature – particularly if you’re using natural stone varieties – they won’t always remain cold for all that long.
The fact they don’t dilute your drink is also not necessarily what you want. Some people prefer the effect of a little water in their Scotch. And, we like to think that if you add a few ice cubes to bourbon, it’s practically a cocktail in and of itself. You see, water has the ability to interact with the natural esters and aldehydes in the spirit, and create new flavour compounds. A little dilution also reduces the strength of the whisky, and even changes its perceived texture and mouthfeel.
Finally, ice isn’t actually that labour-intensive to make, and if you buy a reusable ice tray, it’s not going to be all that taxing on the environment.
Honestly, that’s up to you. Whisky stones can be quite inexpensive, and so if you’re curious, give them a try. Life is all about trying new things, and finding out what works for you.