Third in a series by Whiskey Tours Curator Ray Pearson
“The water was not fit to drink. To make it palatable, we had to add whisky. By diligent effort, I learnt to like it.” – Sir Winston Churchill
We’re glad Sir Winston found a way to enjoy his water – the challenge continues to this day. For a sure-fire way to start a great bar discussion, ask your fellow guests bellied up to Mahogany Ridge about their preferred way to enjoy Scotch.
You’d think the way the distillery craftsmen in Scotland who make, live, and nearly elevate their nectar to holiness would be the ultimate authority on “the right way” to drink it. Their near unanimous opinion: neat, with a wee bit of water. But no! Everyone seems to have their own, sometimes very vocal, opinions about how to enjoy Scotch. Most of these involve water, ice, or the absence thereof. Soapboxes ready? Let’s talk about water or ice in Scotch.
Adding just a bit of water to most single malts – start with about ½ teaspoon of water to a standard bar pour – usually results in an enlarged bouquet or “nose” – more aroma to be enjoyed. Many people feel that a bit of water softens the alcohol aroma and takes some of the edge and heat away from the spirit. And, some folks don’t. The true danger of adding water is adding too much. The object is to add just enough to enhance, not dilute. The type of water to add should not be a stumbling block. Many municipalities’ local water is wonderful, right from the tap; others, not so much. In this case, bottled spring water does the trick. The temperature of both the whisky and the water works best if both are at room temperature.
Ice in Scotch offers wider opportunities for experimentation. Maybe it’s an American thing to chill our drinks. After all, when was the last time you sought out a nice room temperature beer? Many professionals in the whisky industry usually approach the ice issue with the politically correct “no rules – any way you enjoy it”, regardless of their personal view; and some are very vocal – NO ice. Let’s face it – you paid for it, so enjoy it any way you want (but, please, watch the dilution.)
Let’s assume all ice to be added to our Scotch is perfect – freshly made, no chemicals, and no aromas lurking in the freezer. It’s a fact that the more surface area of the ice in a drink, the faster it will melt and dilute the drink. So, with ice, bigger is better because there is less surface area on one large cube than on a few smaller ones. And, there is even less surface area if the shape is a sphere!
Enter retailers, and at least one distillery that promote ice spheres and the molds to make them. Some creative bartenders even hand-craft an ice sphere from a large cube, while you watch! This very cool procedure (pun intended) takes about four minutes, so tip accordingly! Jim Romdall, Manager of the upscale bar Vessel in Seattle, WA hand-crafts an ice sphere in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ls63xTkqMWo
At http://japantrendshop.com (search for “ice ball mold”) is what appears to be the gold standard of ice ball molds. The Macallan has branded its own version of a spherical mold made by Taisin, and offered it as a kit. For a wonderful demonstration, hosted by the distillery’s Andy Gemmell, click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4dhcMJtpYF8.
In Los Angeles, mixologist and bartender Michele Dozois’ Névé Luxury Ice Company, offers pre-made ice in a variety of plus-size shapes, all made with super premium quality water. Visit Névé at http://www.neveice.com.
In San Diego’s Gaslamp District, bartender Anthony Schmidt at the speakeasy called The Nobel Experiment,advocates use of the large cubes, hand carved from blocks of very pure ice. He insists that perfect ice is essential in crafting the classic cocktails his bar is famous for.
Back in Seattle, James MacWilliams, head barman at the renowned Canlis restaurant, is also a fan of the larger, slower-to-melt pieces of ice for Scotch, but goes for a more “organic, natural shape”, and uses mini-iceberg-shaped chunks that have been frozen to the inside of the glass. The result is a phenomenon not usually seen – the ice does not move while one enjoys the drink.
So there you have it – a glimpse into a few opinions about water and ice in single malt. And now you, connoisseurs that you are, can make up your own minds about your personal way to enjoy your single malt.