The drinking industry’s war on ice is in full force. Fearful that ice will water down their precious booze, entrepreneurs are suggesting alternative chilling systems to bring the temperature of their hooch down.
But do they work? Ice is effective at chilling a drink because it melts, releasing near-frozen water into your dram. Can alternative technologies do the job, too? There are whiskey stones (soapstone cubes), or the new Tilt Chilling Sphere, a metal spheroid that you fish out of your drink with an included hook, which doubles as a cocktail pick. How effective can these non-melting chilling systems be?
We did the science, folks!
Here’s the experiment: Take 20ml of 80 proof vodka (imported!) at room temperature (69.3 degrees Fahrenheit). Chill it with a similar volume of frozen material (all fresh from the freezer at 1 degree Fahrenheit) — ice, stone, or metal sphere. Then measure the impact on the temperature of the vodka at 1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes, and 20 minutes.
Here’s what we found:
ICE (1 cube)
After 1 minute: 54.8 degrees
After 5 minutes: 52.4 degrees
After 10 minutes: 49.9 degrees (ice has nearly melted)
After 20 minutes: 49.5 degrees (ice has melted completely)
WHISKEY STONES (3)
After 1 minute: 56.5 degrees
After 5 minutes: 58.4 degrees
After 10 minutes: 60.7 degrees
After 20 minutes: 63.7 degrees
TILT CHILLING SPHERE (1)
After 1 minute: 59.2 degrees
After 5 minutes: 49.3 degrees
After 10 minutes: 46.6 degrees
After 20 minutes: 46.1 degrees
Of course, the ice was initially the most effective at chilling the spirit because it melts, and it melts quickly. But unlike the other cooling systems, it also waters down your drink. Is this a bad thing? Most spirits can handle a little water, but some might suffer. How you deal with this is a personal question. But ice works the fastest, gets drinks very cold, and maintains the low temperature until it’s gone. If you need more, just add more. And there’s nothing to clean up afterwards. How can you argue with that?
The whiskey stones have a very specific and troubling issue with them: These have been sitting in my freezer for many months, and when I took them out they smelled — badly — of fish. I didn’t think soapstone could attract smells like this, so be warned if your whiskey stones have been sitting in the freezer since your birthday. (The smell may be primarily due to the bag the stones are held in, but either way, the odor does transfer to the stones.) Surprisingly, they did chill our drink very quickly, though that low temperature was not sustainable and quickly wore off.
The Tilt sphere was the least effective chiller at first, clearly because it makes very little surface contact with a small volume of liquid. But it surprisingly caught up with ice — beating it, actually — after 5 minutes in the glass. (That said, you can always use more than one cube of ice, but you won’t fit more than one Tilt in your glass.) It may be even more effective with a larger volume of liquid. The rather large sphere makes drinking with the sphere in the glass uncomfortable (hence the little metal hook you get for removing it). Still, this is a neat trick to chill a drink quickly, and while the Tilt hasn’t been in my freezer nearly as long as the whiskey stones, it doesn’t have any odor — and since it’s stainless steel, it should be less susceptible to smell absorption.