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Maybe this is a non-question for connoisseurs, but as a non-drinking person I have no idea why it is so common to order certain alcoholic drinks at a bar "on the rocks" (with ice or even special "whiskey rocks" which are basically refrigerated non-dissolving shapes of plastic/metal/glass) instead of just keeping the whole bottle in the fridge. Then it wouldn't be watered down by melting ice, and be cool enough from the moment the bartender is done pouring it.

Cursory research says repeated temperature change may alter certain alcohols' flavor, but then for other spirits it doesn't seem to be a problem, so that's ambiguous. However, at a regular bar's rate of consumption, I suppose there wouldn't be enough time for a bottle to go bad − it would be empty before then. Or maybe the effect is so strong that even one cycle of temperature change is enough. I don't know.

My question is: Why most alcohols which become drinks into which ice is usually put, are not stored in a fridge instead, so that the ice isn't needed?

  • Part of the reason for doing so can simply be put down to custom and tradition. – Ken Graham Jun 3 '17 at 14:21
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I can only speak for whiskies as I use to sell and give out samples of that stuff.

There are a couple of things to understand first about whiskies.

  1. During the aging process of the whisky, the whisky is placed in a barrel to add flavour to it.

  2. If the alcohol percent is below 40%, the whisky has a hard time retaining the flavour of the barrel. This is not impossible but it is easier if it is 40% or higher.

The reason why there is on the rocks vs neat is due to this 40% alcohol threshold.

If you add ice, it will dilute the whisky below 40% alcohol content which will allow the flavours to "pop out" more. This is really good for new whisky drinkers trying to understand "how to taste" whiskies.

So for whiskies, it is not so much about cooling the drink but rather allowing the flavours of the barrel to be more prominent to the drinker. For veteran whisky drinkers, they may not need the ice and prefer it at room temperature and thus, they would not want it cold.

  • 3
    Good answer. There is a temperature benefit as well, as it brings the drink down from room temperature to an ideal serving temperature, while still staying far warmer than refrigeration temperature, which would also sharply dull the flavours. – Xander Jun 1 '17 at 0:12
  • Interesting! I never thought about it in that sense(pun intended?)! Looks like you do learn something new everyday! – Bill F Jun 1 '17 at 0:15
  • Surely diluting can't be the only reason. If you just want to dilute it why not add (cooled) fluid water? Furthermore, what about the non-melting coolants? The obvious effect of the coolants is to retain a lower temparature for a prolonged period of time (which would not work by using fridge cooled whisky since that would not be cooled anymore after being given out). – Nobody Jun 1 '17 at 11:41
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  • Volume
    If the bartender had to go into a fridge for every drink it would take longer
  • Presentation
    Customers can see which liquors are available
  • Some customers want room temperature
  • Stay chilled
    Even if it started chilled many customer still would want ice
  • Energy
    It is probably more energy efficient to use ice compared to open and close a fridge multiple times
  • Portable
    One ice machine can serve multiple bars
  • Cost
    Multiple fridges are expensive
  • Fridge could be right below the counter, no need to go anywhere. Liquors on the display are the same as in the fridge, but room temperature for those who don't want it cold. Fridges with doors that open from above don't lose energy as fast as the common household ones. One fridge per bartender would probably suffice. – user1306322 Jun 2 '17 at 21:39
  • I'm just adding counter-arguments to hear if it's a feasible idea or not, I don't know the exact parameters of actual bar setups. – user1306322 Jun 3 '17 at 1:48
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As a bartender and bar manager for 10+ years at a very busy bar several reasons are obvious to me.

Not everyone wants a cold drink. It is easy to chill warm liquor quickly. On the other hand there is no readily available method to warm chilled liquor.

As for having a copy of each liquor on display/ room temperature, logistically and financially it's infeasible for most bars/ restaurant and massively inefficient for larger establishments or commercial chains.

In your mind's eye picture how many bottles you might see on display, then picture how much space you need to store them. Another problem becomes apparent. On display there may be 30-100 bottles of liquor lined up in a way that their labels are visible.

This does not maximize storage space, but having the label visible serves two primary purposes: 1. Customers can easily see what's available and 2. Perhaps more importantly, especially for busy bars, the bartender can quickly find and grab a bottle when needed.

If the bottles are stored in fridges, either top or front open, they will need to be stored one in the front of the other to best fill the space.

An important axiom in restaurants is that your peak business is constrained by how many customers you can serve at once. Having to open doors every time you wish to pour a drink is a massive time sink. Perhaps if only 1 or 2 drinks were made every 10 minutes then it would be trivial, but if bartender needs to make 3+ drinks a minute(and a good owner will build to support busy times), or if 3 or more bartenders need to do this, then the 4-30 seconds seconds it takes to open the door find the the bottle, and/or clear bar path obstructions this causes add up to massive increases in wait time.

Moderately Busy bar with well-skilled bartenders scenario: 4 bartenders making 3 drinks each per minute = ~12 customers served per minute. Goal- guests greeted in 30 seconds, drinks delivered with a minute of greet time. Why? This is roughly the time window for someone to feel they got great bar service. This is a widely upheld service standard.

Each drink takes 20 seconds to make. Add 4 seconds to each drink and also assume that sometimes there will be wait at the door to get the correct liquor, or the open door is blocking the path.

Possible cost of having a door: the door can add (3 drinks x 4 seconds)x 3 bartenders = 36 seconds every minute to each bartender. More than a 50% increase to serve 12 customers. The service standard can not be met and the number of people served per minute with the same staff falls considerably to ~7 (12/96=.125 guests per second *60 seconds = 7.5 guests per minute)

This could problem could be mitigated by increasing the size of the bar to hold shallow, but long refrigerators that have sliding doors and allow for alcohol to be seen and easily grabbed. However, this does not solve the problem of people who don't want ice and it costs a considerable amount more in square footage, and refrigeration cost.

And of course all of these concerns are easily answerable with using scooped ice versus refrigerators. Scooped ice is elegant, refrigerating all the bottles is a kluge.

Good logistics and bar design do a lot of work towards serving customers in a bar and towards reaching profitability. With elite logistics you only need average bartenders to create excellent service. Add elite bartenders to elite logistics and you create world-class service. On the other hand poor logistics can make elite bartenders seem only average and make average bartenders nearly worthless.

One last thing: Adding ice adds to perceived value with very little relative cost. The glass size can be doubled and still be filled with the same amount of liquor. While in truth you are getting the same volume of alcohol and/or mixer it appears like you are getting more add the cost of a penny or less for the ice.

  • Great Post! At 7.5 guest per minute, I assume that this is a for bar service only? Fine dining establishment may have other sales motives (i.e fancy wine and food) that they will won't to accomplish in their guest experience. – Oenopunk Jun 17 '17 at 19:08

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