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I don't really drink alcohol so it's more of a theoretical question. I know that some people don't like ice because it dilutes the drink, so they prefer to use metal or stone cubes instead.

However they have smaller thermal capacity and thermal conductivity than water ice.

So my question is - why not use ice made from the very drink you are trying to cool?

Granted, some cocktails may be ruined by freezing but something like whiskey or bourbon or gin should be fine, I think. Sure, freezing alcohol requires much lower temperatures then water but the whole glass shouldn't be too cold; such ice won't dilute the drink and should have reasonable thermal capacity/conductivity.

Sure, it may require a specialized freezer (in a bar or a restaurant) but a simple dry ice box should also work.

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    Just keep the booze in your regular freezer. Then it's already cold when you pour.
    – user25939
    Jan 2, 2023 at 4:02
  • You could just add the dry ice. It cools the drink down and makes your whiskey fizzy. Jan 2, 2023 at 9:08
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    "However they have smaller thermal capacity and thermal conductivity than water ice." - As an owner of metal cubes, they do have liquid (likely water) on the inside. Jan 2, 2023 at 10:06
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    @user3819867: Thanks for the interesting comment! It helped me to find a Physics.SE question about these cubes: Why do my "steel ice cubes" have water in them?
    – sumelic
    Jan 2, 2023 at 16:52
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    fairly obvious and easily researchable answer: ethanol freezing point under atmospheric pressure
    – njzk2
    Jan 2, 2023 at 22:25

6 Answers 6

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Ethanol has a much lower freezing temperature than water: -114°C. This is considerably colder than dry ice and would require expensive specialised equipment to make and store. It would also be dangerous if it made contact with skin or was swallowed.

Freezing an alcoholic drink, which is mostly water, mostly freezes the water while mostly alcohol stays liquid, so it wouldn't be feasible to have a solid that was the same mixture as the drink itself.

Using frozen alcohol would be dangerously cold and would immediately melt anyway. What is commonly done if someone wants a very cold drink without ice is to store the ingredients and glassware in the freezer so that they start very cold (but still liquid).

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    Just beat me to it, whilst I was looking up the exact figures ;) CO2 -78°C, Ethanol -114°C, Nitrogen -210°C & yes, whisky a mere -27°C… still below your domestic freezer's capability.
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 1, 2023 at 16:18
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    Technically disagree with the second paragraph - you can freeze alcoholic drinks until solid. But not in a common household freezer.
    – Stephie
    Jan 1, 2023 at 16:26
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    -1. It is not true that two dissolved liquids somehow freeze "separately" from each other (although under some conditions, this can happen, as in fractional freezing). Normally, the mixture has its own freezing and evaporation points, which are not (!) a linear combination of the freezing points of the components.
    – rumtscho
    Jan 1, 2023 at 17:20
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    @rumtscho No, the answer is correct. When freezing ethanol-water mixtures, the water will freeze sooner, and the ethanol will become enriched. This is specifically done with alcoholic beverages, called freeze distillation.
    – user71659
    Jan 1, 2023 at 23:20
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    @arne those are not ice crystals. They are anise crystals, which precipitate out of solution - a completely different mechanism from freezing.
    – rumtscho
    Jan 2, 2023 at 17:36
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You could - provided you have a specific custom freezer that can reach as low as -17° F / -27°C - produce whiskey ice cubes.

The question is, should you?

If you are cooling your drink, you are significantly reducing the amount of volatile compounds that you can smell and taste. A purist would probably scoff at the suggestion to drop an ice cube or two into their prized single malt and the Cognac aficionado would lean back, gently cradling their sifter in the warm hand and shaking their head. But seriously, you would be dulling the taste of your cocktail and likely touching said whiskey ice cubes wouldn't be nice either.

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    @Willeke the question was "why don't people use whiskey / bourbon / gin ice cubes" and my answer was "because the drink would probably be too cold, so parts of the flavor would be dulled".
    – Stephie
    Jan 1, 2023 at 16:23
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    "likely touching said whiskey ice cubes wouldn't be nice either" (LOL!) Worse than the unpleasant prank that children play on others, encouraging them to toch their tongues to a metal gate in winter. Jan 2, 2023 at 0:32
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    you'd probably need a much colder freezer than that. If you don't flash freeze it, you'll end up with pure water freezing out first and the remaining liquor being concentrated and possibly not freezing at all. Jan 2, 2023 at 5:00
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    You're not reducing what you can taste, only what you can smell. For many people (such as myself), the only recognisable characteristic of room-temperature whiskey is ethanol. If I want my nose to not be overwhelmed by the smell of gasoline so that I can identify other characteristics in the drink, cooling is essential. I submit that if you don't need that, then possibly your nose is too dull already!
    – Graham
    Jan 2, 2023 at 17:49
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    @DanIsFiddlingByFirelight No, you wouldn't. You'd get a solid that's a much higher fraction water than the original liquor, and a liquid that's a much higher fraction ethanol. But both would still be mixtures.
    – Cascabel
    Jan 5, 2023 at 18:40
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Many cocktails are shaken with ice, this isn't to mix it - you could do that with a spoon - it's to dilute the drink with water. This seems counterintuitive, but that's usually desired. The idea of having a martini (essentially gin with some value-adds) without some dilution isn't appealing, they are already very strong. A typical martini is about 28% alcohol after shaking or stirring, using alcohol cubes would bring that up to almost 40%, which is a 42% increase in alcohol!

Cask strength whiskey is between 60-65% alcohol, water is added in the bottling process to bring it down to 40% typically, this is partly due to laws but mostly because over 40% the flavor is too strong. In fact, some single malt aficionados recommend adding a small amount of water to some whiskeys to 'open them up'.

So, alcohol cubes aren't widely used because you don't want them.

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  • The question is based on the assumption that “ some people don't like ice because it dilutes the drink”, but I have heard that usually from soft drink consumers. I think your arguments are valid.
    – Stephie
    Jan 1, 2023 at 18:17
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    " A typical martini is about 28% alcohol after shaking or stirring, using alcohol cubes would bring that up to almost 40%, which is a 42% increase in alcohol!" OP doesn't suggest ethanol cubes but cubes of the frozen drink, which will not change the concentration Jan 2, 2023 at 7:27
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    After my tour of a scottish distillery I saw that their shop sold bottles of the same spring water used to manufacture their whiskey, precisely to "open it up". When you are a purist you don't want water from other places to contaminate your single malt! :-)
    – Vorbis
    Jan 2, 2023 at 8:17
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This is one of the rare "why not" questions which happen to have a technical reason behind them, rather than a random "it could have been done, but nobody cared enough to do it".

  1. It would be way too cold. Hard alcohol seems to freeze somewhere between -25 and -30 C (I found different numbers when trying to look it up). You would need to get it even colder so it doesn't melt right away - these are "ultra low temperature" freezers, which go between -50 and -86 unless you want the fancy stuff (but luckily for you, alcohol has no DNA you need to preserve). Altogether, it would cool down your drink to the wrong temperature.

Here, we also have the point that Stephie mentions - there are also people who think that nobody should cool their drink even with 0°C ice cubes, and frequently the people who say that are the ones who are willing to invest the most in their drinking experience. But there are lots of people who like their drinks cooled with normal ice, and I think that even these people would prefer not to do it with ultra-cold alcoholic-drink-ice.

  1. The logistics of it would be a nightmare. Getting dry ice and the required paraphernalia is not all an everyday task, and once you have it, you have to handle the stuff. It isn't impossible, but it is way more trouble than most people tolerate when they want a drink.

And if you would use an ULT freezer instead (ultra low temperature) - well, there are all kinds of issues around that too. There's the cost (lab equipment range!), the electricity consumption - and when you have it set up, you can't just go around throwing the door open every five minutes and sticking an ice cube tray of room temperature liquid into it, or grabbing one to get out (hopefully not with your bare hands!). A bar could probably build some kind of setup with blast chillers and a temp -18 storage for the daily batch of cubes, but that's an awfully expensive investment for a novelty gimmick, needs expertise and motivation more commonly found in engineers than in bar owners, and a financial gamble without a clear payoff.

In the end, it is expensive, complicated, and without real advantages.

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    Too cold is correct, I was in a lab with a -86 C fridge, and we froze some whiskey to try it. I seem to recall I set it to -60. Just trying a little burned your tongue like hot soup. Logistics isn't an issue for a restaurant, it's just an expensive chest freezer you plug into the wall, it's easier than a soda fountain, and certainly easier than those liquid nitrogen ice cream stores.
    – user71659
    Jan 1, 2023 at 23:16
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Freezing a mixture of two liquids solid is quite a complex process.

Contrary to most of the other answers, whiskey/vodka/gin/whatever 40% hard drink starts to freeze at ~ -30C, but it is only the water freezing at first. It then proceeds towards lower temperatures to deplete the mixture of water until you have almost pure etanol. This happens at ~ -110C where the etanol freezes as well.

(This is also how some wines are concentrated - the wine is frozen, the ice is removed. Ice takes away some acid as well, so the wine is generally improved. The whole thing is done at -20C or -25C and not lower.)

Thawing will proceed in the reverse order, releasing pure etanol first and water next.

Believe me, a lot of things will go wrong.

  1. Cryo gear working at -120C is not cheap. What's worse, it is not trivial to work with.
  2. You will need to stockpile different ice cubes separately.
  3. A lot of substances will precipitate from the drink in the process. A lot of it will not dissolve afterwards. Instead of whiskey the ice will convert into a discolored liquid with solid residue.
  4. The whole thing will become undrinkably cold, undrinkably strong and even dangerous to touch. Food/drink and health regulators will not be happy.
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No need for ice cubes

If you happen to store the (~40% ABV) drink in the freezer it won't freeze but will stay cold, I personally have one of the cheaper whiskeys in my freezer that I use for mixing. If you do freeze it that may not be comfortable for humans as it will hit -27 °C (-16 °F) or less.

Why people don't have whiskey cubes

  1. Altered taste - As described by Stephie the low temperature alters the smell and thus taste of the drink, I think approximately to the same extent as the stones cooling the drink down.
  2. Choice - People who drink whiskey for fun tend to have a variety of whiskey, in order to have the whole assortment in the freezer they would need to label and store all kinds of whiskey separately.
  3. Taste change - Air humidity condenses on all surfaces inside the freezer, including ice cubes, it dilutes the drink just as much as if it were a metal, stone or porcelain cube. In addition if there is any smell in the fridge that penetrates frozen stuff it will stick to the expensive whiskey cubes as well. The same could happen to metal or stone coolers but one can simply wash the smell off them.
  4. Freezer temp - The difference between recommended freezer temperature of 0 °F (-18 °C) and the freezing point of alcohol increases the operating costs of the freezer, may cause freezer burn of other items and increase the amount of frost in the freezer.
  5. Taste of other frozen items and general quality of life - given that whiskey has a lower melting point than likely any other item in the freezer it will thaw first. This means that one would need special containers in order to prevent it from seeping out and/or evaporating and ruining frozen food.

What you can do instead of having whiskey ice cubes

  1. Store stones/metal/porcelain cubes in the freezer - this is a general good advice, no real downsides as long as you let guests decide whether they want them or not, make sure you store the stones in their boxes to reduce frost
  2. Store the whiskey in the freezer - this reduces visibility of whiskey, alters the taste, minimal frost
  3. Store glasses in the freezer - not convenient but works, make sure you store the glasses in at least a plastic bag to reduce frost
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    Regarding the bar/restaurant setting: bars would rather invest in the variety of whiskey than the volume. Sorting through the matching ice would lose them time which would lead to annoyed customers. Having the bartender sift through the ~-35°C freezer introduces a workplace hazard. If they are seasonal they have to thaw litres of whiskey and throw it away. Even if they are not seasonal they have to add a high energy PSU just to make sure the whiskey never thaws. Jan 2, 2023 at 10:12
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    Storing glasses in the freezer is common practice in Germany, at least for serving shots of "Korn" and a variety of digestives.
    – markgraf
    Jan 2, 2023 at 10:13
  • @markgraf I didn't know. I tried that on my own and the way I did it was inconvenient. Makes sense to use it for ~20% ABV as those would freeze in the freezer. Jan 2, 2023 at 10:21
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    With tumbler glasses and the like it certainly is inconvenient, but for those tiny 2cl-glasses it's easy enough. Gives a nice frozen-over look as well as the illusion of being coooooolder than it really is.
    – markgraf
    Jan 2, 2023 at 10:31

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