Is chilling whisky a good idea? Well maybe yes, maybe no.
In 1907 Sir Earnest Shackleton embarked on an expedition to Antarctica. It was not to be his most famous expedition but for the whisky enthusiast it was certainly his most meaningful. Shackleton was of Anglo-Irish descent and he was heading into an frigid, inhospitable climate. It was only natural that his provisions would include a fair amount of whisky, Mackinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt to be exact. Surprisingly, when he returned to England the following year, he left three cases behind. Surprising not that they were left behind, surprising that after a year in the Antarctic there was any whisky left to leave behind!
The cases lied buried in the Arctic ice until they were discovered in 2010. One hundred years in the ‘fridge’ and it was still good! So good, that Whyte & Mackay was able to replicate the blend and offer it for sale today.
Chilling Whisky in the Fridge
That should answer the question, “Is it safe to put my whisky in the freezer?” Yes it’s safe, but the question you should be asking yourself is why you’d want to put your whisky in the freezer? Would you put your best friend in the freezer? Would you put your dog in the freezer? No, of course not! So why would you want to put your whisky in the freezer? You are not doing it or yourself any favors.
I know some folks store their vodka in the freezer. I suppose this makes sense. After all, people drink a lot of vodka in the summer when its hot. And, the majority of vodka is served in a cocktail. Besides, it’s odorless and tasteless, what do you have to lose? But a good whisky is full of flavor and packed with aroma, so there is a lot to lose storing your whisky in the fridge!
Why? Before I answer that we need to take a slight detour here to brush up a little on our chemistry. Relax, there won’t be a quiz and I’ll keep it as simple as I can. The freezer is full of cold air. Whisky is full of water and alcohol, about 99%, in fact. The other 1% consists of flavour substances and aromas. Alcohol becomes denser in colder temperatures and the whisky releases less of those flavor and aroma molecules for us to taste and smell.
Appreciating the taste of a good whisky has quite a bit to do with savoring those vapors, those aromas. So, it stands to reason that the less aroma released, the less intense the flavoring experience. Also, our taste buds aren’t as sharp in colder temperatures and are less likely to perceive the subtler flavors of the whisky.
Exception to the Rule
Now, I’m hearing a lot of folks out there scoffing at me. You know who you are. You live in a warm climate and appreciate having your whisky be a bit more refreshing. I can’t say as I blame you having spent a fair amount of time in the Southern United States. Folks tell me there is a change in the texture of chilled whisky, it gets thicker the colder it gets. We know that’s right because of our chemistry lesson. And when the temperature is in the nineties and the humidity is right behind it, this might be something to remember. Another exception to the rule may be when it comes to drinking flavored whiskies like Fireball. But then again, a nice cold beer might be a better choice.
So, if chilling whisky is bad, warming whisky must be good, right? Wrong. It’s those darn vapors again. Too much alcohol quickly overpowers other chemical compounds, stifling the taste. Plus, the excess alcohol overwhelms our senses, burning our throats and singeing our nose hairs!
The bottom line, I keep my whisky stored in a cool (60◦-65◦), dark, cabinet. I have found it to be the most flavorful when I serve it at room temperature. Sometimes I might add an ice cube or two, especially if the whisky is a bit rough around the edges. The ice cools those alcohol molecules and makes them a bit less pronounced. Plus, the melting ice dilutes the whisky and make it more palatable.