If whiskey is one of your favorite beverages, then you know how great it is. It’s the celebratory drink you have when life is going great, and it’s the comfort you need when your world doesn’t seem quite right. You can share it with family and friends, or meet new friends via a shared interest.
There are so many different ways to drink whiskey, but perhaps the worst way is watering it down with ice cubes. If you want to keep your whiskey cold, you need a way to do that without diluting it. Enter: whiskey stones.
What Are Whiskey Stones?
While whiskey stones in their present state haven’t been around all that long, the idea has been around for generations. The man who invented them claims he got the idea from a set of stones his grandfather used to use to cool off liquids coming from a piping hot stove. His grandfather would leave these stones outside his Swedish home in the cold and then place them in soups and stews to cool them off.
Modern whiskey stones are cut and sanded into different shapes. While the original designs were shaped into cubes roughly the size of dice, their size varies now. You can find them in many different shapes and sizes, but they’re all designed for the freezer. When chilled, they can be added to your shot of whiskey or other beverage to chill it without diluting it.
Most whiskey stones are made of non-porous soapstone and keep your drink cold without diluting it. They won’t deliver too much moisture, and they’re a fun bar tool that looks cool and is different from what you might normally see.
Do Whiskey Stones Work?
Whiskey stones have been around for more than a decade. They were originally made from a metamorphic rock called soapstone, which is perfect because it’s so soft. They’re cut and sanded to eliminate any sharp edges that could break your glass. However, now you can find whiskey stones in stainless steel as well. They’re typically called whiskey balls rather than whiskey stones.
Both varieties lower the temperature of your drink, but they don’t work as quickly as ice. You may find as you use whiskey stones that you need to chill them in a deep freeze or somewhere other than the freezer in your kitchen. Maintaining an extremely cold temperature will ensure that your whiskey stones work better.
The physics of a whiskey stone means that, when frozen, a stone can pass its coldness onto whatever liquid it contacts. Ice works the same way, but as ice offsets the warm liquid, it changes temperature as well, and melts.
Stones are solids and won’t revert to a liquid state, so they won’t dilute your drink as they warm up. Their solid nature also means they won’t alter the flavor or aroma of your whiskey either. That’s because particles of the stone don’t actually mix with the liquid itself.
Because of their density, whiskey stones take longer to cool, so you need to leave them in the freezer for longer than you would an ice cube of a similar volume. By this reasoning, you might also think they take longer to warm up, keeping your drink cool for extended periods.
Unfortunately, because of the way thermodynamics works, this isn’t true, and this is the main problem with whiskey stones. They only have one job to do, but they’re not entirely effective at it. More on that in a moment.
How to Use Whiskey Stones
Everybody has their own preferences. Whether you prefer to add water to your drink first, drink it straight, or mix it with something else, whiskey stones can lower the temperature and preserve the original taste. While too much water will dilute your drink, whiskey stones can eliminate that excess moisture. When you first get your whiskey stones, they should be rinsed and put in the freezer for at least 4 hours.
When you’re ready for your beverage, place the whiskey stones into the glass and pour your favorite whiskey on top. It will take 1-2 minutes for the stones to lower the temperature of your drink, so they do require some patience.
The Downside of Whiskey Stones
Let’s return to a discussion on thermodynamics. This principle is what makes ice so good at its job. Ice cools liquids in two different ways. The first, and most obvious, is that it passes its coldness onto your beverage when it’s a solid cube. As it warms up and melts, it also mixes with the beverage, which cools it down even more.
Water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. As it warms up, it turns back into a liquid, but it doesn’t immediately become warm. It turns into a cold liquid and warms up gradually. That means that everything else surrounding the newly melted water will continue to cool down until everything meets in the middle at room temperature.
This second form of cooling inherent to ice is what impacts the functionality of whiskey stones in a way that doesn’t work as well. Because whiskey stones don’t melt and mix in with the beverage, they’re limited in their capability to the surface area of the solid form coming into contact with the liquid.
In short, once you pour your whiskey over the top of your whiskey stones, they will warm up quite quickly. Unfortunately, you may not even be able to notice a difference in the temperature of your whiskey at all. To compensate for this downfall, you need more whiskey stones than you do ice cubes in a drink of the same size, but there are elements of whiskey stones that make this unreasonable as well.
As with anything you put in your drink, it has the potential to make it to your mouth. All you have to do is tilt your glass too far and you risk chipping a tooth on them as they come tumbling toward your face.
The second downside to putting so many in your drink is that it increases the risk of them scratching or scuffing your glass. While they’re manufactured to avoid this, it’s still possible. After all, they’re made of stone and your glass is delicate.
Because of their downsides, people have been trying to find more effective ways to cool a drink. While most are made from stone like soapstone, marble, and granite, there are also surgical-grade steel and food-safe stainless steel options. The problem is that they have the same issues with thermodynamics that whiskey stones do.
Recently, many people have started using ice spheres. With just a freezable mold, you can make spheres of ice roughly the size of a racquetball. They’re much denser than a regular ice cube, meaning they have more cooling power and they melt much slower.
This will cool your whiskey without diluting it too quickly, and until there’s a better option, this might be the best way to keep your whiskey cool without watering it down. You can also put your bottle in the freezer, but the breadth of flavors will be masked by cold temperatures.
Cleaning Whiskey Stones
While cleaning your whiskey stones takes little effort, it’s very important. If you put them back into the freezer unclean, they can accumulate bacteria. You need to clean them after every use by rolling them under warm water. A drop or two of dish soap will also ensure they get clean.
Rinse them thoroughly and let them dry naturally or use a clean dish towel to remove excess moisture. They can also absorb flavors inside the freezer, which is why it’s important to give them a more thorough clean at regular intervals. You can remove these flavors by soaking your stones or baking them in the oven.
The Best Whiskey Stones
There are plenty of options when it comes to whiskey stones and other devices that can cool your drink. They come in many different shapes, sizes, colors, and materials. Here are some favorites.
This set is made from pure granite found on the beaches of New England. Each piece is sculpted to a disk with a variety of colors and nuances as complex as the flavors of your whiskey. They look beautiful both in and out of your drink.
The set comes with a display board that fits all 6 perfectly. Perhaps the coolest thing about this set is that it’s dishwasher safe and easy to clean.
Each set of 3 stones has a different theme. You’ll find these soapstones engraved with icons like the beach, mustaches, barbecue, birthday, cooking, fishing, golf, cars, music, your favorite cities, holidays, and more.
These are great options for parties and backyard gatherings because they give guests an easy way to identify their drinks. Plus, you’ll be the coolest host on the block.
These whiskey stones are likely the best overall because they are not only attractive, but they seem to work better. The package includes two balls and some small tongs, so the cold steel won’t make contact with your skin, which can not only warm it up but also hurt.
The tongs make it easier to place the balls in the glass as well as take them out. This improves the overall experience.
These spherical balls are ready after only 90 minutes in the freezer. The shape allows the ball to roll around smoothly in the glass instead of tumbling around clumsily. The lack of sharp edges ensures you don’t scratch your glass.
If you’re looking for the best whiskey stones for your drink, there are plenty of options. I personally prefer the Balls of Steel because I think stainless steel works better than soapstone overall. The round design allows it to float around the glass better and they’re easier to use.
However, as far as aesthetics go, my preference would be the On the Rocks set because the granite is attractive. It looks great in your glass and gives it more character.
No matter what you choose, you need to choose it for the right reasons. Whiskey stones don’t work as well as some might say they do, so don’t expect a lot more than a pretty stone in your glass and a slight variation in temperature.
That’s not to say whiskey stones aren’t worth it, but your expectations should be managed before purchasing them so you’re not disappointed.