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The Importance of Being Iced

By: Courtne

Have you ever gone out for a drink, had a cocktail nirvana moment, then rushed home

to see if you could self-replicate? Did the results come out a loose interpretation of a fleeting memory?

That's happened to me too.

So what is it about drinks at the bar versus drinks at home? You buy the same spirits, you get the freshest fruit. You buy the fancy muddler and the high-class shaker and still 7 out of 10. Why?  The reason can often be simple.  And it is likely due to the first molecule you ever learned about in that dreaded high school chemistry class. That’s right. Good ole H2O, often known in cocktail application as ice.

Typically when people think ice and cocktails, they think I need ice to make this drink cold. But that’s just part of the equation.  While true- ice does make things cold- it has a whole other purpose that is often overlooked by home cocktailians. Until now.

Lesson One begins here:

Let’s begin with the easy part. Ice is made of water, yes? So when it melts, it dilutes the drink. Now, before you start thinking ugh, horrible watered down cocktails, understand dilution is an important and lovely thing when it comes to a well made cocktail. It is the key to cocktail magic. It can help bring out aromas and flavors you may not have noticed before and help balance all of the other ingredients perfectly. It can also extend the life of a cocktail, preventing it from becoming insipid or just plain un-enjoyable. Dilution is often the difference between an OK cocktail and a wide-eyed-moment-of-bliss cocktail.

So can cocktail perfection be had merely through the proper use of ice? For the point of today's blog, yes. It can be the secret sauce that gets your drink from a 7.0 to a 9.0 (let us save the 10's for the bartenders). Unfortunately, there is no indicator light for when you’ve achieved the perfect level of dilution in any cocktail. But there are a few handy tips that can improve your sipping results dramatically.

Tip One: Make the good stuff. You spent all that money on top shelf ingredients, your ice shouldn’t play second fiddle.  Take the time to make some ice from purified water. Less impurities means the harder the ice will freeze and the longer it will last in your cup. Plus you can avoid those times when your tap water brings its own unintentional flavor to the party.

Tip Two: Make it the old fashioned way. In the old days, cocktails were revolutionized by the “Ice King”, Frederic Tudor.  This industrial pioneer decided cocktails (and every other drink) would be infinitely more enjoyable cold. And hence he harvested huge blocks of ice from local ponds and delivered them to various venues. Bartenders would hack off large chucks to cool their drinks, which up until then, were served at room temperature. Why was that so special? Aside from new to the world cold drinks; two words. Surface area. The less surface area the ice has, the slower it melts, achieving measured dilution and helping to bring your drink one step closer to perfection. No, I’m not suggesting going out to a buy a 12x12 chuck of ice and a sturdy ice pick. But if you see one of those ice ball molds or extra large ice cube trays that make only 4 cubes, you may want to invest.

Tip Three: Look at your ice.  If you are making a stirred drink, you’ll want to keep stirring the drink until the edges of your ice cubes go from sharp to round. If you are making a shaken cocktail, you’ll want to shake until the outside of the shaker becomes nice and frosty (so that’s why bartenders prefer a metal shaker!).

Ok, so we understand ice is for cooling and diluting. But purified mega-chucks of ice can’t be the key that unlocks all cocktail success, can it? Of course not. That was just the tip of the… right.

So what about crushed ice and shaved ice and --for the really advanced-- ice spears and Lewis bags?

That my friends, is where Lesson One ends and Lesson Two begins…

Posted: August 23, 2012 | Permalink
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