Bourbon is a Southern drink: since the 1700’s, it’s come from Bourbon County, Kentucky, where abundant fresh streams and corn provided for its easy distillation. It’s been accordingly enjoyed on verandas, wrap-around porches, in rocking chairs, in carriages, overlooking farmland, and on humid summer nights. That is, when the temperature is high and people drink for refreshment. Bourbon is appropriate either neat or with ice, so long as it’s poured over ice, not crushed by cubes dropped in a glass already full.
Scotch is a different animal entirely. Scotch whisky (the Scots stubbornly withhold the “e”) is made in no such warm climes. Scotland is known for its beautiful green hills, not its sweltering Kentucky evenings, and so its liquor is meant to be served at room temperature, not over ice. A little water perhaps, to open up the whisky, but never ice cubes. A chilled Scotch numbs the tongue, masking its complicated flavor: the Scots are proud of their respective smoke and peat, the variations thereof dependant on the region of distillation, and are averse to sacrificing either for the sake of a smoother sip.
Americans prefer their Scotch on the rocks. Americans, of course, are not Scots. We used to drink our Scotch in Highballs – a tall glass of whisk(e)y with water and seltzer, and in the 1940’s we started to order it straight, with ice. The Scots don’t approve: their whisky, crafted with such art, is best enjoyed as is, without frozen tap water’s adulterative chemicals. Scottish distillers are often craftsmen descended from generations of the same, artists who labor over a product and don’t want it mucked with later on. The Scots, after all, are the experts, and for my money, I’ll trust their opinion.