Whiskey on the Rocks?
Have you ever wondered why you actually order a “Whiskey on the Rocks”?
There is a lot of rumors and misconceptions to be found on the way a good Whiskey should be enjoyed. As this is indeed an evening filling topic, I will not go into all the details that one should know about Whiskey in this article but would rather suggest that we meet for a delicious glass of Whiskey and spend an evening exploring this wonderful topic.
Nevertheless, I would like to address a few points here so that the next time you go out with your friends and a discussion about on the rocks or not is started, you know the basics about it.
For a start, when talking about Whiskey, people basically talk about 3 different kinds of alcoholic beverage:
- Bourbon (which is only produced in the United States of America)
- Scotch (which is a blend of different Whiskey’s)
- Single Malt (which is produced at one distillery and not mixed)
The truth is a little bit more complicated than these 3 basic terms. But let’s have a look into history first. Whereas the process of distilling (the process used for the production of Whiskey) may be traced back to Mesopotamia about 4’000 years ago, the first proven distillation of alcohol is recorded in the 13th century BC, in Italy. However, the base used for distilling was Wine and the products where merely used as medicine against colic and smallpox. (However, I would assume that many a monk had a good time (distilling was mainly done in monasteries) while at work.
The first recorded mentioning of Whiskey comes indeed from Scotland where King James IV of Scotland ordered 500 bottles of Whiskey in 1494.
However, the oldest still operational Whiskey distillery can be found in Ireland in the town of Bushmills with a license to distill Whiskey dating back to 1608.
Another interesting fact about Whiskey; during the Prohibition (1920-1933) in America, Whiskey was exempt from the ban of selling alcohol if a Doctor prescribed it as medicine and it was sold through licensed pharmacies. (No wonder that the Walgreens pharmacy chain grew during this time from 20 to almost 400 retail stores!)
No matter on what kind of Whiskey you prefer, there is always the discussion on how Whiskey should be enjoyed; Neat (strait, strait-up), on the rocks or even with water?
- Neat (strait, strait-up)
This refers to drink Whiskey strait as it comes from the bottle without any means of mixing it with other fluids or chilling down by any means. If you are not an experienced Whiskey drinker, I would not suggest to drink Whiskey neat, as the rich flavors and the high alcohol content may overwhelm your taste buds in your mouth and you will not be able to taste and enjoy your Whiskey.
- On the Rocks
Legend has it that the Scottish in the old days used rocks from the cold streams to chill down their Whiskey. And that that is where the phrase “on the Rocks” came from. Now, if you have ever been in Scotland, you will know that there is hardly a need to chill drinks there as it not really gets hot in the motherland of Whiskey. Another legend says that the phrase “on the Rocks” was borrowed from the Shipping industry, as it meant that a ship was running on Rocks and therefore be ruined. This could be justified as well, as the melting ice cubes water down the Whiskey and many consider this to ruin the taste. Whatever theory you want to believe the expression “Whiskey on the Rocks” may come from, there is no real answer to it as even the biggest Experts cannot verify where the term truly originated. However, it is a fact that Ice cubes do have the disadvantage of melting and therefore watering down your precious Whiskey. Besides that, the Whiskey is diluted, there is the problem that often Ice Cubes are made with tap water which may contain chloride and tastes awful. To prevent that, it is advisable to use only ice cubes from pure water (bottled water) and/or to use large ice cubes as they melt much slower than smaller ice cubes. In recent days Whiskey-Stones have become more popular and are available in all kinds of shapes and forms. Soapstone is most commonly used for Whiskey stones as it does not crack when put into the freezer. You will also find Stainless-steel balls or cubes that will do the trick as well. However, when using Whiskey stones, make sure that you clean them carefully before putting them back into the freezer.
- Neat with water
Another way to enjoy your Whiskey is to add a little bit of water to it. I know, now you are thinking that I was just warning you about watering down your Whiskey with Ice and now I am telling you to drink your Whiskey with water!??? The difference is, that you can control the amount of water that is actually diluting your Whiskey whereas with ice cubes you have no control. By adding a few drops of water to a Whisky, you can open up different, new and subtle flavors that you previously had not experienced. This is especially true when drinking cask strength Whiskies that have higher alcohol levels (these can be up to and over 60% in some cases). With cask strength Whisky, the alcohol and resulting burning in your mouth can overpower even the most prominent flavors. By adding some water, this dilutes the alcohol and reduces its effect, giving both the prominent and more subtle flavors a chance to shine. Imagine drinking a fruit cordial or concentrate without any water and then with water – it is essentially the same idea. How much water you then add is entirely dependent on your taste.
Different whiskies deserve different treatment
Despite the myths about adding or not adding water or ice, don’t feel ashamed to drink a cheap American bourbon or Scottish blended Whisky with a mixer as they are often produced for this treatment. If you plan to drink an expensive single malt avoid adding any other flavors, as you are buying this Whisky for its unique flavor. If you can, try a sip before adding ice or water as we have mentioned. You will often be surprised at the difference in the flavors and you will learn more about the whisky that you are drinking.
It is really up to you
Ultimately, what you add to your Whisky is all down to your own personal taste and the situation that you are drinking in. For instance, there is nothing better than enjoying a whisky cocktail or whisky ‘on the rocks’ on a hot Summer’s day. There are no right or wrong answers – if you have spent money on a shot of whisky or a bottle, then you can drink it how YOU like.
PS: When you where laughing that doctors would prescribe Whiskey… Next time you have a cold and a fever, boil some water and place a glass of Whiskey in the hot water until the Whiskey gets really warm. Drink it just before you go to bed… I promise you will feel much better in the morning.