One big ticket discussion item that often comes up is the topic of ice (Scotch on the Rocks?),water and mixers as ways to enhance the experience of a good single malt.
Here is my personal take on the addition of these items to a good single malt.
Ginger ale and Cola are the two most common requests I had as a bartender for (flavoured) mixers to a scotch. Usually these were additions to a blended scotch, such as Bells or Grants, and I do think that Ginger Ale in particular can enhance the harsher flavour of a blended whisky (malt and grain) when used in moderation.
Cola on the other hand never made any sense to me. While Cola can accentuate certain drinks – such as rum – I don’t feel it brings anything to a scotch, whether it be blended or single malt.
Would I add a mixer to a single malt? Absolutely not! The beauty of any single malt comes from the (sometimes subtle) differences in flavour from producer to producer. These different flavour notes are a complex product of the local geography, the malting process, the unique shape of the stills used by each distillery and the aging process used for each product within a producers arsenal. It would, in my opinion, be a travesty to mask all of that with a flavoured soda drink.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that if you need to add a flavoured mixer then you really do not enjoy scotch enough to appreciate a good quality single malt. Stick with blends and save some money.
Ice and Water
Ice is a trickier cat. Once again, I really have no problem with adding ice to a blended scotch whisky, as it really helps to tone down the harsher tone of the grain whisky. Single malts, however, generally lose their subtlety of flavour when ice is added. The main reasons for this is that by cooling the drink it reduces the rate of evaporation of the liquid, meaning that the ‘nose’ or aroma of the whisky is dulled down. In addition, the tongue can sense more flavour notes for a warmer product. Again, personally I avoid ice in all single malts at all costs, and generally try very hard to persuade others against the use of ice as well.
Water, though, can have the opposite effect. Unless the single malt is particularly mild or subtle in flavour to begin with (like most lowlands and the Bruichladdich 10y.o.), a small splash of water can really open up the aromas and flavours.
In fact, water is an essential addition to any cask strength single malt. These were never intended to be enjoyed at 60% strength, and should be watered down to the equivalent of 35-40% (experiment on the qty for each cask strength product) to really get the most out of the product.
Note, that all the comments above are really my personal preferences for enjoying whiskys at their best. As always, if something works better for you and helps you enjoy a whisky product that much more then by all means go for it.