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Among the greater joys in my life is the recent opening of a whiskey bar within walking distance of my house, and I'm now a regular at said bar, tasting and experimenting different ways of enjoying this fine spirit.

Recently I chose to have my whiskey served over ice. The bartender pulled out a large cube from the freezer and let it sit in the glass for a minute or two before pouring the drink over it. His stated reason was that "it would melt less" in my glass.

As I make my own whiskey balls at home, I've been searching for any scientific basis for this claim to try to confirm this claim, but haven't found anything. I did find a link suggesting this practice was to prevent cracking:

it’s very important to temper the ice before use. That means let the ice sit out on the counter for about 5 minutes or until the freezer frost disappears. Ice is too hard and too cold when it first comes out of the freezer. If you pour your favorite spirit on the silicone mold prepared ice ball ... it will crack. By introducing something room temperature to the ice, you condition the outer part of the ice before you make it into an ice ball or put in your drink. You get a perfect ice ball every time.

While I have observed my ice cracking as described, it doesn't bother me, and seems purely aesthetic. I can thus understand how in a service environment such as a bar, presentation is important.

Does cracking ice impact the drink in any other way? From the description above, it seems the "freezer frost" disappears somewhere; would this frost end up as water in my glass, as the bartender claimed, in addition to the cracking? Does it have an impact on how quickly the drink is chilled?

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  • Was the glass pre-chilled? I can imagine that the important point of doing this, is to chill the glass and by doing this, creating a colder environment for the ice (and drink), so it doesn't melt as fast.
    – d4zed
    Aug 10 at 8:12
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    @d4zed Good point! At home I chill my glasses with ice... then pour it out... then put in the ice sphere for the real prep. Aug 10 at 23:14
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I don't have an answer based on prior knowledge, but based on the info in your question about preventing cracking, it makes sense that it would also prevent ice melt.

Each crack increases the surface area of the ice. If you think back to your Chemistry class in school, you can increase phase change and chemical reactions through three main physical ways: increasing surface area, application of heat, and by shaking/stirring.

The warmer liquor will (eventually) work into the cracks, and increase ice melt due to increased contact with the larger surface area.

Is that increased ice melt due to cracks going to be significant enough that you notice when drinking your whiskey? I can't say. Even if I could point to a scientific study that quantified the difference, it's ultimately down to your personal taste.

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