Spirited Away: Chilled Bourbon


And now for something completely different.

I have to confess something. I love wine. I drink wine regularly, if not in volume (at least, not since the kids came along). My wife and I used to collect and, interestingly enough (to me, at least), wine is how I ended up spending a couple of years in a French culinary school.

In reaction to “all of that”, my wife implemented a couple of common sense rules about wine, some of which I’ve outlined in the Julia Rule. In short, she put me on a budget, but the net result (perhaps counterintuitively) was that the overall quality of our table wine went up — considerably. Nothing like a challenge to inspire a cheap bastard to greatness creativity.

Some years ago, I branched out to “the brown liquors”. I’m not sure why. I think it was a “yes, I’m man enough to drink Scotch”, though it all seems suspiciously hazy at this point. However it happened, I spent a happy decade sipping Lagavlin, Balvenie, Bunnahabhain, Talisker, Oban, Laphroaig, Glenmorangie and (many, many) more. I was, and still am, a Scotch-neat kinda guy. James, the valet, would bring out my white-tie tux, and sort me out; then, I’d grab a cigar from the humidor and head down to the leather-stuffed couches and the dark-wood-trim drawing-room, or perhaps pop in for a friendly little game of billiards with all my relatives at Downton Abbey, passing the evening in erudite conversation. Ahem.

I don’t know what happened, but somewhere along the way, Scotch got expensive. The Julia Rule kicked in, and I ended up going native — I made the switch to bourbon.

Bourbon is a poor American cousin to Scotch, but aside from some Old World snobbery, it’s really quite similar as a drink. In fact, the same kinds of gradation occur and at the higher end, the results can be wildly sippable — and yes, even without a mixer, or piles of crushed ice.

My current favorite bourbon? If I tell you “Woodford Reserve”, that should pretty much tell you that I’m a sipper and I have little or no tolerance for moonshine, or the wicked burn that can come from “poorly made” whiskey. And yes, I’m calling whiskey that burns like a house on fire “poorly made.” It should burn, yes, but no booze should remove your esophagus or feel anything remotely like pouring napalm directly into your duodenum. That’s just bad form. Anyway, yes, Woodford is definitely on the “smooth” side.

Other fun things I’ve found recently that turn my crank are Black Maple Hill, Noah’s Hill, and Evan Williams Single Barrel. They range in price, from $30-$50 a bottle, or about 2/3 to 1/2 of what a “good” (but not “great”) single-malt Scotch will cost. There are more great bourbons out there, and I do branch out, but thanks to some pointers from Positive Feedback’s Dave Clark, these are my current favs. I’ve recently started a kick on rye whisky (talk about “the burn”!); Templeton is proving to be very drinkable, with a nice syrupy texture.

So … long story … ah … long.

I like my bourbon chilled. Not freezing, but chilled. Which usually means “ice”. Which also usually means “watered down.” Now, if I wanted water in my bourbon, I’d have poured it that way, but there doesn’t really seem to be a lot of options here other than shoving the bottle into the freezer and maybe creating bourbon slushies (I don’t think bourbon can freeze in a regular, commercial freezer).

Well, one day I made the mistake of parking in front of the local rock shop. With the kids. Yeah. It was bad. Naomi nearly lost her darling little mind, zipping from tray to tray, “shopping”. Zach zoomed over to the fossilized shark teeth and spent several happy minutes cooing at them. Me, I found some Whiskey Stones.

There’s a lot of varieties out there. I have some from Terraforma, but a set of six Sipping Stones will be a bit cheaper and more than enough for a single drinker, but if you’re pouring for two, you may need a larger set. They’re all pretty much the same, and spring from the same idea — they’re all soapstone rocks you can stick in your freezer until you want you some chilled bourbon. Soapstone is non-porous and has no “taste”, so what you get is a glass full of bourbon-on-the-rocks (ahem) — and that’s it. No watery taste.

In theory, this works … perhaps a bit better, however, than in real-life. To get true chilling, you’ll need more than 3 per glass — two of them didn’t do a damn thing except look weird in the low-ball glass I tend to favor for my brown liquors. Three didn’t actually fit … until I poured myself a double. Ahem. Anyway, the energy exchange isn’t as great as it is with ice — so while they may remain cooler for longer, they simply don’t get my drink noticeably cold unless there are a lot of them.

The other option I found recently is giant ice cubes. I was at this bar recently — odd, for me — when I got my bourbon served nearly flush up against the glass with this big ass 2″ clear-ice cube squatting in the middle like some kind of champion sumo wrestler. Williams Sonoma sells some “King Cube” ice cube trays, but again, Amazon sells a knock-off from Tovolo that is about half the price.

The upside is that the cubes, being so big, tend to not melt entirely away by the end of your tasty adult beverage experience. I’m told that since there’s more ice, and since it’s all of a piece, it’ll all melt slower. Not sure about that, but what I do know is that the damn cubes do not precisely fit into my glasses.

The shape, coming out of the soft silicone molds, are also not quite regular — but since this is my third bourbon of the night, I’m no longer sure I give a damn. The cubes also tend to come out hazy (which are bubbles, apparently) from top to bottom. Clear would have been neater, but to get the cube entirely clear requires a much slower freeze than I have patience for, but I’ve been told that chilling in the fridge overnight first might help that, but probably won’t solve it. Time for a specialty ice maker? Pour me another, and let’s talk about that ….

I did find that pouring the bourbon over the King Cube did tend to melt it just enough so that the cube will “settle” into the drink by the end of the pour. A damn fine-looking drink, if you ask me.

But, sadly, much like the whole “shaken not stirred” controversy — shaking melts far more ice, so the resulting martini is heavily watered down — the King Cube will also heavily melt into your drink. If you don’t mind that — that is, you tend to prefer your bourbon “on the rocks”, then this will work out just fine. And truth be told, by Bourbon #3, this is probably not a bad idea.

Anyway, not sure any of these will really solve my issue, but I will soldier on in this endeavor, a coupla fingers at a time. But not tonight. I think I’ve had enough.

About Scot Hull 1039 Articles
Scot started all this back in 2009. He is currently the Publisher here at PTA, the Publisher at The Occasional Magazine, and the Executive Producer at The Occasional Podcast. There are way too many words about him over on the Contributors page.


  1. If you have a Muji nearby, they have a fantastic silicone round ice mold. Expensive at ~$12 each, but worth it. There’s no better place in the world to drink whiskey than Tokyo btw. And I was born and raised in Kentucky.

    Drinking a gift bottle of Woodford Reserve at the moment. Neat. Getting used to my new loudspeakers. Enjoying life.

  2. What about plastic ice cubes???
    That is what I would use…if I like Whisky and Bourbon.

    I am not even a big wine lover, despite the fact that you can get very good wine for cheap in Switzerland (Swiss whites are da bomb and not exported (heheheh)).

    In the past at a wine festival in Alba (north Italy) I had some GREAT frizzante red (not sweet) the label was from Tenuta San Francesco something… Sure would like to score some of that again!

    • Not sure about plastic — most non-reactive plastics are still reactive enough to “add something” to whatever they’re in contact with. I guess I’d prefer glass or rock — or just ice/chips.

  3. Rocks versus ice – one reason ice works better is that the melting process absorbs a lot of heat.

  4. Store your bottle in the freezer. Due to the alcohol it won’t freeze but is perfectly chilled when drinking. Works with gin & vodka also.

  5. Hi folks,

    As you know, some scotches and bourbons open up a bit with a little water. Traditionally that’s a good way to engage the rather formidable Lagavulin or – recently – the more mild and retiring Sulivan’s Cove Whisky from Tasmania. (She requires a little water to show her true spirit.) I generally use slivers of ice chipped from the glaciers on the northeastern slope of Greenland Ice Sheet. There are a number of organizations that offer charter services that allow you to collect that ice, but be warned it is a bit dear and the risk in the winter months is real.

    I will sometimes drink my lovely blended Bushmills with one of these, but I’m not sure that it is suitable for any single malt the far side of Glenfiddich. They do look cool : http://www.amazon.com/Tovolo-Sphere-Ice-Molds-Set/dp/B007ACTN54/ref=pd_bxgy_k_img_y

    So, a more serious question, can we begin to pair cocktails with particular systems? I genuinely thought this is where this post as going. For example, does a well-made martini work better with, say, a gutsy Bel Canto solid state amp and a pair of Martin Logan Motis ESLs? Balvenie Doublewood might be more suitable for a Harbeth/Red Wine Audio set up. To really enjoy full-range output of a big McIntosh Amplifier and a pair of big Wilsons you need a refined, but robust Caribbean rum.


  6. I have taken the same libation path as you Scot, from the red stuff to the brown stuff. I still love wine, but drinking a good bottle every night is much like a having a uncontrollable drug habit on the bank account at 50-80 bucks (or more) a pop. So my wife drinks bourbon, and turned me on to it and voila: $$ savings $$. I have never figured out a way to get the ice ball you get at a high end bar for my whisky, but the mega cube you have here is the perfect solution. On my way to amazon right now…great post my man, bravo.

  7. I always used to drink my Scotch neat but I’ve been adding an ice cube recently. I like the way the flavours unravel as the cube progressively melts. I got completely legless one evening ‘doing the cube’ with cask strength Glenmorangie.
    Talisker, Ardbeg, Dalwhinnie and Glenmorangie are my favourites of the readily available Scotches but I was once treated to a couple of sips of some ridiculously expensive, ultra rare ones courtesy of Kevin at Living Voice. They were simply in a different class and for the first time I really understood where the phrase ‘Water of Life’ came from.

    My experiences with Bourbon have been mixed so far but I’m open to trying some out.

    • I sense a challenge! You bring a bottle of whatever it is that Kevin was pouring for you that day (ahem!), and I’ll round up a half-dozen of my favorite American bourbons, and our wives can laugh at us. 😉

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