Whisky Advocate

Whisky Stones: do they “rock” or not?

April 11th, 2012

There’s an article in the New York Times dining section today on the popularity of whisky stones. Give it a quick read. I’m quoted in it.

For those of you who are not familiar with them, they are small stones that you can purchase, keep in your freezer, and put in your whisky instead of ice. The idea here is that you can cool your whisky without watering it down.

I was interviewed by the author twice before the piece was published, and think she did a good job in the article conveying my general opinion of them: I see very little use for them in my whisky-drinking life. I own some because I was sent samples to review. For the most part, they just take up space in my freezer next to whatever that is in the Ziploc bag with freezer burns all over it that my wife put in there last year.

Most people I know who are “enthusiasts” drink their whisky neat or with a splash of water at room temperature. And, as I note in the article, my friends who are not serious whisky drinkers (like my fishing buddies who drink bourbon and ginger ale on the rocks) have never complained to me about the ice watering down their drink. (It’s probably because their drinks don’t last long enough for melting ice to become a concern…)

Plus, there’s the whole logistical and sanitary issue with whiskey stones. You have to have them handy, in a freezer nearby, to use them. (Try asking for them with your drink order the next time you go out to a bar or restaurant and see what response you get from your server.)

The few times I have tried them, they became a nuisance at some point. They weigh down my drink, and I am stuck with them when I’m done with it. Then I have to wash them, dry them (heaven forbid any ice forms on them, right?), and put them back in the cute little bag they came in before throwing them back in my freezer.

To be fair, I really do see one situation where they would be useful. I mentioned this during the interview, but it was not included due to space constraints. I keep most of my whiskies in a bar in my house here in Pennsylvania. In the summer, the house is air-conditioned, so my bottles never get warmer than the temperature at which I prefer to drink my whisky. But, I have a vacation home at the New Jersey shore and we often keep the windows open and forgo the A/C to welcome in the lovely sea breezes. But, my bottles of whisky sometimes get a few degrees warmer than I would like and I find myself wanting to cool my whisky down a bit. I suspect many of you have similar situations, depending on where you live and if you have A/C or not.

Even so, I have several options available to me that are very convenient and do not require the expense and hassle of whisky stones. What I normally do is just add a little cold water or a small ice cube to bring my whisky down a few degrees. I often drink cask-strength whisky and would be adding some water anyway. Even in the times when I don’t want any water or ice in my whisky, in a pinch I can simply keep some glasses in the fridge or stick my glass in the freezer for a minute or two, which will cool my whisky down shortly after I pour it in the glass.

I guess the point I am trying to make is: who are the tens (hundreds?) of thousands of people buying these? If you’re using them on a regular basis, please chime in here. I’m keeping an open mind. I am all for progress and buying new things that will make my life better. (Our house has iPhones and iPads with lots of cool apps, for example). If I can help whisky stone producers sell more product, make more money, and at the same time making whisky-drinkers (and therefore whisky producers) happier, then I am all for it.

P.S. Just after I published this post, I was coincidentally sent an email promo for something called the “Instant Wine Chiller” which you can find here. They say it also works for vodka, tequila, etc. You put it on the end of the bottle and it cools the beverage as it flows out of the bottle before going into the glass. I don’t know anything more about it or how well it work, but it looks like another alternative to putting stones in your whisky.

No Responses to “Whisky Stones: do they “rock” or not?”

  1. John norwillo says:

    I tried those stones once at a friends house. It only took one time of them sliding into my teeth to end their usefulness. They currently rest somewhere in his neighbors backyard. I like my single malt neat with a splash of water. If you must, keep a dry glass in fridge or freezer.

  2. Ernie Ayres says:

    I did a review of a similar product, Whiskey Disks. They’re made of soap stone disks, not cubes. I really wanted to like them because the guys that run the company are great guys. However, I just couldn’t get them to chill the whiskey. Here’s a link to my video review: http://whiskeynose.com/?p=20.

  3. I agree 100% The true geeks wouldn’t bother cooling down their drams unless under extreme circumstances. And the casual drinkers don’t care or they even enjoy it with ice.

  4. Sylvan says:

    My experience is about the same as yours; they are very seldom useful. But, since I am a ‘whiskey drinker’ they inevitably showed up as a gift.

  5. Mike says:

    I have a few of them as the result of attending a recent (end of March) Friends of Laphroaig event. I have not used them, I am unsure I will; I don’t ice my uisge beatha and rarely add water. Here’s a link to my belief about ice and water: http://andrambuidheach.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/no-i-dont-want-ice-or-water-and-you-shouldnt/

  6. Neil Fusillo says:

    I love them. Not for putting in my drinks, but they’re a lot of fun to just have on the desk as a toy for when I’m bored. I stack them into all sorts of shapes. I tried them in my drink once, and they made the whisky taste different (a result of the fact that they chip and crack a bit in storage, I imagine, leaving that rock dust behind in the glass), and they didn’t cool the drink. I decided they were more fun as a toy than as an additive.

  7. Warren says:

    I purchased some because the idea of cooling my whiskey without diluting it sounded really good. The problem that I have encountered is that the stones can flop around in the glass (potential chipping) and slide towards my teeth (more chipping). I think I am going to stick with my single cube methodology for now.

  8. John Hansell says:

    I put up a link to this post on Facebook and thought you would appreciate one of the comments posted there:

    “My ex girl friend gave me a set of these. I do give the stones credit for outlasting the relationship.”

  9. John – I think your comment on Facebook was spot on: that these are more purchased as gifts for whisky drinkers by people who don’t drink whisky. I have a set of whisky stones at home, and those were a gift from my in-laws. I used them a few times to evaluate how well they cooled the whisky. I found that they do not work well enough to spend the time using, cleaning, and drying before re-freezing them.

  10. Ossus says:

    I normally drink my whisky at room temperature with a bit of water.

    I have found one circumstance that they work really well for. There are a couple 100+ proof bourbons that I enjoy drinking. While I like a small splash of water in them, I find putting an ice cube is just too much water. The stones are nice because I can slightly cool it, taking some of the edge off the 100 proof, without completely watering it down.

    I would never use them for scotch or for an 80 proof bourbon, but I think they work well for the high proof stuff.

  11. Ryan says:

    I do not generally use them, I drink my whisky neat. However, I found that they worked magic on my Laphroaig Quarter Cask. I like peat but I’m not a peat-head. The stones made my LQC slightly less “sharp,” and really highlighted the creaminess, making it a more balanced whisky. I would only drink LQC with stones once I figured this out, but I’ve yet to replicate this with any other whisky.

  12. Vince says:

    John:

    I was given these as a gift (whisky disks)and used them one time and will never use them again. They move around in the glass, I was afraid they were going to fall into my teeth and do some damage, they weigh down the glass and take up too much space. I drink my bourbon neat (sometimes with a splash) and that is the way I will continue to drink it. (Loved the comment about the stones outlasting the relationship:)

  13. Justin M says:

    Like many above, I was given a set of whisky stones as a gift, by a non whisky drinker. I pretended to act excited and used them while the gift giver was around. Honestly I don’t know where they are now, and don’t really care for that matter. They did nothing for the whisky, but make it less enjoyable. On a side note, my dentist seems to like them though, or at least the business they are bringing him.

  14. I usually end up recommending these to my wine drinking friends who like their reds slightly “cooler”. The stones don’t tend to move about too much in a wine glass due to the shape, I assume.

    I have never used whisky stones, and since I love most of my whiskies neat (even the cask strength ones), I can’t imagine ever having any need for these. After reading some of these comments, I am going to advise family and friends then I don’t “need” them in my Christmas stocking, ever!

  15. Jeff says:

    I feel the same as Mr. Hansell. I’m not a lover of doing dishes. So, why would I want to wash “rocks” after each cocktail when I’m trying to relax after a long day at work? They reside in some dark corner of my freezer in case any of my friends that come over want to try them.

  16. Scribe says:

    Boy, do I feel vindicated when I read the number of folks who have tried these!!! I bought a set a couple of years ago from Amazon, thinking that for times I wanted a dram a little cooler, they’d work great — no dilution! So I tried one…no noticeable impact. Then two…and before you know it, I had four in a glass trying to chill the spirit inside! That’s when I realized that like them or not, they just didn’t work — at least for me. It was a waste of $20, IMHO…I’m with the writer who said that a higher proof whiskey can benefit from an ice cube now and then…so that’s what I do. Now, if only I had saved my “Pet Rock” from decades ago, I could position these as offspring! :)

    • sam k says:

      EXACTLY! I’m with you on all counts, Scribe. My wonderful, whiskey drinking daughter bought me a set and asked me to let her know how they worked because she was considering getting herself some. I saved her the expense.

      I actually like ice (even sometimes in whiskey) and am kind of an ice freak. I never use cubes, preferring instead to freeze distilled water in two-liter pop bottles. I slice them open and use an ice pick to make big, crystal clear chunks (I toss the leftover bits). Guests are always much impressed with the presentation.

  17. Michael Dereszynski says:

    Ice floats,rocks sink.I don’t think you want a mini bowling ball zeroing in on your pearly whites .If I were drinking a highball as I recently did in Tokyo,I’d much rather watch the bartender sculpt a chunk of ice into a thing of beauty for my glass than anticipate the arrival of a block of granite.If you are a business trying to promote your whisky,give me a nice coaster with your name on it and pass on the rocks.

  18. Red_Arremer says:

    Exactly John and everyone else– I have some and they are a hassle and I barely use them. They do a mediocre job of cooling compared to ice and look kind of ugly at the bottom of my glass. Plus if I want cold whisky I probably want a cold refreshing drink anyways. In such cases I appreciate the rapid chilling and slight watering down provided by ice.

    Really I wasn’t too jazzed on the idea to begin with. I only own them because a friend of my girlfriend got some as a gift and gave me a few.

  19. Ben says:

    I got a bag as a birthday present a few years ago. I think that’s probably the core market here, swag and presents from people won don’t know too much better but know that you like “whiskey” and these are cute and novel.

    • ps says:

      ^^^ I bet the majority sold as gifts for whisk(e)y drinkers. I know several people who got them for a b-day, fathers day, or christmas.

  20. EricH says:

    I was at my local BevMo picking up the new EH Taylor Tornado Bottle when I noticed the whisky stone guys made a set of shotglasses out of the same stone. I didn’t buy them on that visit since I was already stretching my budget but I think those might be most useful than the stones.

    On a related note, I seem to recall someone in a YouTube video mentioning that whisky stones were probably an old idea. Apparently on a warm day in somewhere Scotland a distillery worker went to the river that was the distillery’s water source, picked up a smooth stone that had been chilled by the water, and put it in his whisky. Of course there’s no way to prove this anecdote.

    • Mike says:

      EricH,

      Simon Brooking, in a recorded interview along with John Campbell, shared a similar anecdote.

    • Mary says:

      My grandpa did it this way….just took a couple small stones from his spring, plopped them in his drink & then just tossed the stones back in the spring when he was done. No washing up required. I’ve done this myself using a couple small stones from my lake property. But generally, I do not enjoy worrying about the rocks either chipping my teeth or swallowing one so I rarely do it -only when I’m feeling sentimental.

  21. Joni says:

    I was given these as a gift and end up using them in bourbon a couple times each summer. I find that even a little watering down ruins many bourbons for me.

    • Red_Arremer says:

      The water brings out the oak in an unpleasant way, right Joni? Maybe these could have some application with bourbon…

  22. Andrew Ferguson says:

    I’ve struggled with whether or not to bring these into the store and have so far not. We get lots of requests, and while the salesman in me hates turning down a sale it goes against everything I tell my customers and teach in tastings. Frankly I kind of wish they’d go away.

  23. Mark says:

    My girlfriend brought me back a set from New Zealand so naturally I told her they were great. I’ve since got 2 other sets as gifts… haven’t found a good use for them yet.

  24. Mark says:

    Glad to see I’m not alone thinking whisky stones are less than embraced by true whisky lovers.

    I can, however, see one reasonable use for them: cocktail making. I can see the utility of a cooling agent that does not water down the finished product but must still be removed prior to consumption. Provided one is using sturdy stainless steel or better yet only gently stirring the concoction.

    Anyone heard of or tried a Basin Street Cocktail? Got it out of a Prohibition era cocktail book.

    2 : 1 : 1, Bourbon : fresh squeezed lemon juice : orange liqueur (pref: Grand Marinier). Shake w/ ice and serve up. In this particular case, given the high octane (I use Turkey 101), the ice cubes and a little dilution is desirable b/c it turns out quite potent. Like boozy orange-y lemonade!

  25. Morgan Steele says:

    I bought a set some years ago and use the stones infrequently. I don’t care for the clean-up and usually forget that they’re in my freezer. I bring them out as a conversation starter.

  26. Judd says:

    My buddy drank his scotch with a few cubes as he liked it cooler. I got him these and it weened him off of ice and the stones altogether. Now he drinks it neat.

    I think they are worthless as they don’t work well AND I have no need for them as I drink room temp and neat…

  27. Larry says:

    America’s Test Kitchen Radio recently featured Whiskey Stones in their “What’s hot, what’s not” segment and found that the stones aren’t even very good at chilling down your drink. They simply don’t have much chilling power to them. So really, there is no point.

  28. I also find that whiskey stones tend to “shed” — in my experimenting with them (a gift, as usual), I always ended up with little floating particles of crud in my whiskey.

  29. A.J. says:

    Received them as a gift, like others. I use them rarely. If it’s hot out and I want something cool to drink I’ll opt for a cheaper/lesser whiskey and put ice in it. If I am having a real quality dram it is almost always neat – even cask strength.

    I tried the rocks last night before posting, and as others have said, I *always* worry about them hitting my teeth. That is probably my overriding reason for not using them.

  30. I have to say that I am somewhat guilty of recommending these stones before having tried them on a Christmas Gift Giving list on my website. However, after trying them, they don’t seem to have enough cooling “power” to cool even the littlest pool of whisky. Their off my list, but guess you have to give someone credit for coming up with a marketing gimmick.

  31. M Wallace says:

    Why not chill the glass?

  32. Bill Jamaca says:

    I got them as a gift…twice. Hate them. I’m a one-small-ice-cube-in-a-double kinda guy. I really like the desk toy idea. Implementing that idea ASAP. A far better use.

  33. Greg Gryckiewicz says:

    Why not keep your whiskey in the fridge? I usually drink my bourbon or Islay scotch over rocks anyway.
    Maybe a lot of ice when drinking Booker’s 126 proof

  34. Tom D says:

    I would say we have nearly 100% agreement on an issue. This may be a first.

  35. C Welch says:

    I have not tried the stones, but I have tried stainless steel chill cubes. These are rather large, just under 2 inches a side, and liquid-filled. One cube does an excellent job of chilling 2 or 3 ounces of whisky.

  36. Jeff says:

    Normally, I drink scotch neat. Received stones as a gift, and surprisingly found that I liked them in a crystal glencairn Canadian whiskey glass with Knob Creek poured on them. This and only this combination seems to work.

  37. Miro says:

    There is an alternative to the stones, a more futuristic version if you will. Stainless steel whiskey cubes. I’ve tried them, and they are actually capable of cooling the whiskey, unlike soupstone whiskey rocks. That’s because inside the stainless steel cubes, is a pocket of the same sort of gel you would find in ice packs.

    • C_I says:

      Thermodynamically those gel filled stainless steel cubes are actually better than the rocks, as the former (like ice cubes) have a phase transition and the heat capacity of water is higher.
      In layman terms, they can absorb more heat compared to the rocks. Also the gel/water inside melts, which requires additional warmth from its surroundings (in this case the whisk(e)y).
      I am just slightly surprised that this does not receive much attention as this is key to the whole cooling issue. But then again, who thinks in thermodynamics while drinking whisk(e)y.

  38. BFitz says:

    They appear to be the pet rock present for whiskey drinkers. Mine are behind the crustables “aging.”

  39. AlisonC says:

    Soapstone? You could carve them into something else, like ivory in the days of yore. :)
    Better yet, they are fine paperweights at your desk…a lighthearted use when you’ve recieved them as a gift.

  40. Mike S says:

    I got them as a gift. I found no use for them, but my wife has used them to cool down her soup.

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