The lovely Katie sent me a deeply disturbing article from the Wall Street Journal about… yes, you guessed it, AMERICANS WHO PUT ICE IN THEIR SINGLE-MALT SCOTCH. Parts of this piece actually make it sound reasonable, and even the author breezily admits to liking a “scotch cocktail”. Pardon me while I boot and then rally on top of my high goddamn horse.
It’s fine to put ice – or blasts of water or soda – into a run-o’-the-mill blended scotch like Famous Grouse, Cutty Sark or Johnny Walker (Red or Black, not Blue), because they aren’t meant to be all that great anyway. Water and ice smooths out the rough edges, and makes a vaguely unpleasant drink into something merely boring. Frankly, if you’re going that route, I’d suggest a nice bourbon, but then again, I retain a significant amount of “sorority girl” in my Weltpolitik.
A single malt, however, is an entirely different beast. It hails from one particular distillery with its own idiosyncrasies, usually aged between ten and twenty years, and is presented to you as an expression from that tiny place and time. Something like a Macallan 18 year old can actually contain several much older barrels in the mix (called “vatting”), aged in rare sherry casks. There’s currently a shortage of these kinds of whiskies.
Let’s go even further. I have a bottle of Glenfarclas 41-year-old, distilled in December 1966, one of 326 bottles taken from Cask 4107. This particular cask was selected for an amazing flavor that conjures chocolate, dried apricots, the burnt top of crème brûlée, charred firewood and ancient leather chairs. A dram is only a third of a shot, but it’s an experience that took longer than most of our lifetimes to achieve.
Imagine finding a lost Van Gogh or Rembrandt, something indescribably evocative – then having it carefully transported from the old Austrian attic where it was discovered, all the way to your house in America. When the movers get there, you say, “Okay, cool. Now stick it in the pool.” THAT’S what you’re doing when you chuck ice into a single malt.
Hey, I’m all for snazzing up your drinks with as much shit as possible. Gimme a Purple Schoolbus or a Grasshopper or a rum with Five Alive, Mountain Dew, coconut flakes and rainbow jimmies any day of the week, as long as we’re on the Outer Banks and the Heels are playing. But if you’re planning on tossing a couple of fluoride-laced ice cubes into your glass of 1986 Bruichladdich, you should save yourself the trouble and just hit yourself on the head with a hammer while you flush $20 bills down the toilet.