Ice, water, or just a glass?
When traveling in Scotland or Ireland it is no secret to the native population that I am an American. I dress, walk, talk, and act like an American. So when I go into a pub and order a dram of scotch they almost always ask me if I want water and/or ice in it as most Americans they have run across in their publican careers have desired it in that fashion. I always order it straight up and am usually rewarded by a kind supportive word from the publican. When offered water in my single malt Irish whiskey at a pub in Roundstone Ireland I declined by saying “No, no I don’t want to poison the whiskey” which did bring an appreciative laugh from the pub staff. I was once in a small hotel in Fort William Scotland and after a couple of pints of Guinness I decided to try their local scotch selection (having been told that sometimes one can find a totally unknown and locally produced bottle which is a real treat). I said “Please I would like a glass of that one there on the end” pointing to one I really could not pronounce and not wanting to make too big of a fool of myself. I then added “I will have that neat please” thinking that I would get a “well done” or “good man” from the bar tender. Instead John the bartender said in his wonderful highland accent “It’s single malt scotch of course you’ll have it neat if you try to put ice in it I’ll break your fingers!” John works as a tour guide last I heard at the Ben Nevis Distillery in Fort William, look him up he is a great guy and the Ben Nevis tour and film is a fun stop with the requisite sample and buying opportunity at the end of the tour.
Yes many people actually take offense if you put ice or water in your whisky or whiskey, especially folks in Scotland and Ireland and it is understandable that they are very proud of their heritage and I am sure they honestly feel it is better straight than any other way. You have to remember two things though. First, it is almost always cold, wet and rainy or maybe snowing in Scotland and Ireland so yeah why the hell would you want a cold drink when you have spent most of your life just trying to get warm. In that respect the no ice makes even more sense. In Florida, however, it is blasted hot 9 months out of the year and ice in the whisky is sometimes a necessity when it’s 99 degrees in the shade (50 for your Celsius folks). So yes sometimes I do actually put ice in my whisky but not always. Second, there are some producers of scotches that actually tell you to put just a bit of good still spring water in the scotch in order to “open up the bouquet.” They also advise to be careful not to drown it. This is especially true for cask strength scotch. I have tried the Macallan cask strength (116.4 proof) and yes a splash of water did prove to make the experience more enjoyable and yeah it tasted better that way. Splash not tidal wave, splash!
I have found that in some parts of America (parts of California) they don’t seem to get the concept of “neat” as a drink order. I ordered a Glenfiddich at an Irish pub in a suburb of Los Angeles and made it very clear to the waitress that I wanted it neat. She served me the whisky with a healthy dose of ice water in it saying “here hon, we cooled it down for you some!” I was not happy, but hey I just gave up at that point and drank it.
The bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter and we are back to whatever you like then by all means do it. To preserve the health of your fingers and perhaps arms, legs, and eyes, you might want to give thought to ordering your whisky “neat” in Ireland and Scotland. Yes you can drown the scotch but some water or ice to make the experience more enjoyable to you should be just fine and dandy. As always, enjoy and let us know how you like your whisky to which some would reply “I like it when you buy it!”
The Whisky Warrior