Of Rocks and Whiskey

We’ve all heard of whiskey on the rocks. This usually refers to ice but in a new twist, some people are now pouring whiskey over real rocks. I first learned about this over the holidays when a pal of mine sent me whiskey rocks, six little cubes of soapstone. The instructions tell you to place the rocks in the freezer. When cold put them in your glass, add whiskey, and consume without having to worry about melting ice cubes curtailing your enjoyment of a fine beverage.

As so often happens, the New York Times has cottoned on to this latest craze in geology. Yesterday, they had a short story about the rock cubes. Apparently, some, including a noted mixologist (isn’t that what we used to call a bartender?), scoff at the cubes. The only substance that should mingle with a fine scotch or bourbon, these purists say, is a splash of water. I suspect that if you are purity personified that you would use only bottled water.

I have tried the rocks and I was not terribly impressed. They did not cool my scotch, though I did enjoy having the small gray cubes in my peat-colored drink. Using them did get me thinking about soapstone. I wonder if the purveyors of these icy rocks know that one early name for soapstone is lardite, which comes from the French pierre de lard. The name refers to the marbled texture of some soapstones. Other names include steatite, pagodite, potstone, and soap earth.

Soapstone is a metamorphic rock (usually from a peridotite) rich in the mineral talc. Because of the talc, it is usually soft and easy to work. (When I teach rocks and minerals to student groups, I get them to notice the feel of talc and to realize that it’s the material in talcum powder, which they are most familiar with because of its use for diaper rash, yet another fact not mentioned by the seller of these fad stones.) Soapstone does not absorb water but does soak up heat slowly and then retain it for long periods. I have not read, except in advertising, that it retains cold as well. In Norway, soapstone is used as a building material. The best known example is the Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, built between the 11th and 14th centuries.

The NYT articles says that the cubes are selling well. As I have long said, anytime you can connect people with geology it’s a good thing. So I will drink to these rocks.

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