Should you put ice in the bourbon?

Bourbon is a magical drink! It is a drink you can enjoy alone after a day-long of work, or you can share its magic with family and friends. You can have it as a neat drink, or you can have it ‘on the rocks’, that is, with ice! This article will guide you on how you should put ice on bourbon and you can enjoy that comfortably.

But wait a minute, what is bourbon? In brief, bourbon is whiskey. Too short a description? Let me explain a bit; whiskey, which is bourbon, is a distilled spirit from grains. The grains are mashed to release their natural sugars, which are then fermented into alcohol. In this case, the grains used are corn, wheat, rye, and malted barley.

The resulting liquor is then distilled and further gets aged in wooden barrels to add to its color and flavor. Bourbon, however, has some set requirements that guide this whole process and MUST be followed.

Now you know in a nutshell what bourbon is. Let me get you back on track, should you put ice in your bourbon? Ice is like a filter when it comes to bourbon drinking. When drinking straight bourbon, it is easy to feel it’s ‘heat’. Ice numbs the harshness of bourbon and makes it more palatable; good news for a bourbon newbie, right? Ice also tends to bring out the natural sweetness of bourbon.

So, what is the science behind it? When you take a sip of your chilled bourbon, it takes a bit of time to warm up in your mouth, thus ‘waking’ up the “flavor molecules, so the aromatics shoot straight up to the nose via the sinuses, where the aromas are perceived as additional tastes.” The process is known as “retronasal olfaction.”

You can enjoy bourbon in several ways that depend on your personal choice or experience. Let us look at the most common;


You may find that you enjoy your bourbon just plain in a glass and nothing else added to it. The preferred temperature to enjoy a neat drink is room temperature. Swirl the alcohol in your martini glass for some minutes to release ethanol, which might hit you hard. Having the ethanol released will help you enjoy the drink better, taking in its flavors and smells.

With water

Bourbon enthusiasts swear that adding drops of water to your drink helps bring out smells and flavors you otherwise would not have experienced. You could try this out by pouring a glass of neat bourbon, take two or three sips, then add a little water to experience something new.


This is mixing up your bourbon neat with different other drinks to come up with mind-blowing cocktails. Some of the most common cocktails are the Mint Julep and the Old Fashioned.

With ice

Ice chills the bourbon and adds a bit of water as it melts. Some people would prefer one or two ice cubes as it is said to smooth out the whiskey and release its hidden tastes. A rule of thumb is not to put too much, though. Putting ice in your bourbon is referred to as ‘on the rocks’.

More about ice

Putting ice in your straight bourbon seems like a straightforward thing to do, right? Well, not to burst your bubble, but you need to have some basics right. Your water has to be just right.

It would also help if you had your fridge cleaned thoroughly as any odor might affect your ice and, in turn, your bourbon alcohol content. So no, you cannot just fill up your tray with tap and put it in your freezer. Here is a little guide on the ice options available to try on your bit of bourbon.

Big cubes

Having large cubes of ice will ensure they do not melt too fast to water down your drink. The larger the ice is shot glass, the slower it melts.

Big spheres

These are just like cubes but round in shape. They should be huge, and Crystal clear. To get them to be Crystal clear, as a whiskey drinker you may need to use distilled water or boil your tap water before you freeze it.

The block

This is just one large cube that is super-sized—a great addition to that bourbon punch.

Crushed ice

This is the best drinking experience for your bourbon cocktail. It has many names, such as pellet ice or cracked ice. “Sonic” is the most common example of this kind of ice, which offers a soft texture great for your  American whiskey drink. If you have no access to Sonic, though, you can still “put regular ice in a plastic bag and smash it.”

Collins Spears

This is a long, spear-shaped cube that is ideal for drinks that are served in tall glasses. One such drink is the Tom Collins, where the cube got its name from. Of course, it does not melt quickly, so it will give the best experience in enjoying your bourbon experience.

A few rules to making your ice

  • The splashes of water used should be filtered or distilled. Of course, distilled water is the best, though it means you will have to buy it. Or you can filter your tap water to remove any particles or unwanted flavors.
  • Make sure you boil your water before you freeze it. This will make the ice freeze faster and become more apparent. What hot water does is to resist oxygen from penetrating during freezing.
  • The trays you will use for freezing should be silicone ones. They are flexible enough to allow you to get the ice out nicely.
  • You might find it a good idea to have some bit of ice for later use. Place the finished cubes in a container that is airtight and make sure the lid is sealed tightly.
  • When making a cocktail, for example, only take the amount of ice balls you are sure to use. This will prevent frost from building inside your container. Frost tends to absorb nasty tastes and, therefore, will affect the overall flavor of your bourbon.
  • Do not store that for so long. The longer it stays, it definitely will have some unwanted flavors. A week is enough after you have made your batch of ice.

Tip: Ice should be made clear. Why do you ask? When the ice is cloudy, it could mean that there is air trapped inside the cube, which would, in turn, make the cube fragile. Fragile ice cubes melt faster and therefore diluting the drink much more quickly. Cloudy ice could also mean that there are impurities in the ice cube.

A summary

Ice is an excellent addition to your favourite bottle of bourbon. It chills it, and of course, makes it a more palatable cold drink; sometimes, especially for a beginner, drinking a neat bourbon could be overwhelming. Ice will help smoothen it and offer a fantastic experience to bourbon drinkers.

However, it is essential to understand the different effects offered by different sizes  or pieces of ice; 

  • Small-sized ice cubes or pellets cool a drink much faster. They dilute it more quickly too to a real deal.
  • Medium-sized ice cubes take a bit more time to cool your drink on rocks glass but also cut it slowly.
  • Large ice cubes are the most recommended because they melt slowly and cut the same, therefore offer you an excellent bourbon experience without watering down your premium bourbon.
  • It is also important to note that the water you use for your ice will most definitely affect your bourbon’s overall taste. Unfiltered water has impurities that may cloud your ice and alter the taste of your bourbon. It is best to use distilled water. 

The best ice molds to use is one that is clear and large enough so that it does not melt quickly. However, there is no pressure on whether or not to put pieces of ice in your bourbon; it all just boils down to your preference and the kind of experience and flavor profiles you want from your extra bourbon.

As a bourbon aficionado, you can feel free to experiment, or not. Cheers!

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