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Straight Up, Or On the Literal Rocks

Remember when whiskey stones, an unnecessary answer to a non-existing problem, tried to unseat ice?

Whiskey stones can happen to the best of us. I should know: They happened to me.

When I graduated from college in 2007 and moved to New York City, my call drink was Jameson-rocks. It felt impressively masculine and appropriately frugal: an early-20-something good time in a glass. Around the same time that I was discovering cheap Irish whiskey, the cocktail renaissance swept America, and with it arrived accoutrements of all sorts: glassware tailored to every variety of spirit, souvenir muddlers, novelty cocktail shakers, swizzle sticks. For my first apartment, I bought a set of cheap steel bar tools and stainless-steel Martini glasses (¯\_(ツ)_/¯), all of which went unused. Soon after, whiskey boomed and so, for a moment, did whiskey stones.

“Disruptive” products are those that upend the status quo, providing a desirable alternative to a mundane thing that consumers hadn’t realized could be improved upon. The Kindle stores an entire library; escalators are stairs you don’t have to climb; Velcro shoes save their owners at least 10 seconds every day. Then there are barely disruptive products. Things like casual button-down shirts designed to be left untucked, privacy-invading eyewear by Google and Crystal Pepsi. This is the realm whiskey stones occupy, and yet the little ingots of semi-innovation have enjoyed unreasonable popularity despite their obvious drawbacks.

Proper-noun Whisky Stones are meant to be the gold standard in the faux-ice space.  On paper, perhaps they are: They won’t melt and dilute drinks, they can be washed and reused and they look and feel kind of cool. Plus, who thrills at refilling ice cube trays?

In an interview posted on the company’s blog, former investment banker and inventor of Whisky Stones Andrew Hellman spoke of his inspiration: Swedish “cooling stones,” which he alleges were hung outside in winter in the early 1900s and dunked in hot liquids fresh off the stove. (I haven’t found evidence of their existence, but it seems plausible enough.) “When we invented the product back in 2007, it was, obviously, entirely new. Nobody had ever seen anything like it,” said Hellman.

That was true, to some extent; the confidence required in attempting to dethrone ice as the most efficient method of cooling liquid was unheard of before the early millennium. And yet whiskey stones turned out to be not merely redundant—in fact, they truly didn’t work as well as ice. For one, whiskeys of all kinds are intended for dilution. Ice isn’t merely an option—it’s an integral part of the experience. Moreover, while ice cools continuously until it is entirely melted, cold whiskey stones can only absorb so much heat; they necessarily quit cooling when both the whiskey and the stones reach equal temperature. But the downsides don’t end there. There are tales of ruined glassware and chipped teeth that add to the general absurdity.

The thing about whiskey stones is that they really do seem like the perfect gift—they contain a promise that is simply too good to be true. Who among us hasn’t been enchanted by a potential life hack? Who hasn’t pored over SkyMall catalogs at 35,000 feet, eyes wide with hypoxia-induced desire for a lawn zombie or motorized sock organizers? Whiskey stones are like all those enchanting, quick-fix gadgets—the ShamWow! the Ped Egg!—you can binge-buy from an armchair at 3 a.m.

Most can agree that the moment of the whiskey stone has passed, and yet they live on. As Father’s Day presents, at Urban Outfitters checkout counters, in poorly targeted Instagram ads, and, yes, in my freezer (four different freezers in four different apartments, actually), somewhere behind the frozen bananas destined for smoothies, perhaps propping up a pork loin. And though I’ve never put them to use, it’ll be a tepid day in hell before they’re gone.

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Tagged: whiskey, whiskey hub