Fact: Ice is kind of a big deal in cocktails. It provides balance and temperature, and in many cases it adds to the visual appeal of a drink. Different drinks require different forms of ice (e.g., a Moscow Mule versus an Old Fashioned) but the main, unifying factor comes down to its quality.
It’s probably safe to say that if you’re reading this, you can make a bunch of ice in a matter of hours — unless you’re out in the wilderness somewhere with amazing cellphone reception, in which case I’ll make myself a chilled cocktail in your honor. The problem with the ice you make at home is that it’s not very good for cocktails. That ice was designed to be added to Tang (the official drink of astronauts) or maybe some super-sweetened ice tea. So what makes for quality ice and why does it even matter?
It matters because the last thing you want when you take that virgin sip is to be greeted by a watery diluted mess. You also want to keep a drink as cold as possible (unless you’re drinking a hot toddy, but work with me here!), and the best way to make that happen is with quality ice that will hold up in your glass while you work your way through. Such a tough job.
Imagine making a drink. In fact, let’s make two (because we’re thirsty!):
If you stir a drink with that white-looking ice (it’s white because the water froze too quickly, trapping tiny air bubbles in its path which now refract light) from your average freezer, it will tend to melt more quickly and over-dilute that tasty martini you were about to enjoy, literally watering down your experience. Now let’s make a shaken drink with that same ice — it will break up into pieces in the shaker while you’re dancing around with it since it’s much more brittle due to having pockets of air all over the place, therefore melting more quickly and you guessed it, over diluting the drink once again.
So now we know why quality, clear, beautiful ice is important in our cocktails: to make them taste and look better. But how that ice makes it to the able hands of bartenders is no easy task.
Basically it goes like this: A massive block of ice (weighing from 300 to 500 pounds) is commissioned. That block is then broken down into more manageable pieces by carving it based on planned usage for the bar for any given week. Some places even go the extra step of carefully working individual pieces of ice for a drink as it’s ordered. Watching this process truly helps you understand the attention that craft cocktail bars give to their drinks and their patrons.
So next time you’re at a fine cocktail bar and order a drink, pay close attention to their use of ice and while you sip it, think about how that very cocktail started long before you even knew what you wanted to drink.
Clear Ice At Home
If you’re feeling daring (not to mention patient) and want to give clear ice a try in the comfort of your home, I’ll be putting up a tutorial in my next post. Stay tuned!
Photo credit: Raul Zelaya