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The Importance of Being Iced Pt. 2

By: mbhnyc

So we know dilution plays an important role in cocktails, but let's delve a little deeper, shall we?

Let’s explore how proper dilution is achieved and why the different kinds of ice are important to creating a great cocktail.

First off: Process.

There are two main forms of achieving dilution in cocktails; shaking and stirring. Knowing how these processes work in relation to the ice and your drink will be a large part of the battle in achieving the desired flavor.

Note that most drinks reach between 30-50% dilution level, providing a balance between the ice-cold water, spirits, and other ingredients. Very few cocktails, such as an Old Fashioned, rely simply on ice to provide dilution over a slow period of time. For most cocktails, this process should be quick to make our drink come to life, which means either shaking it or stirring it to create a more elegant and transparent effect.

As a general rule, we shake cocktails that have citrus in them, and stir those that use only spirited ingredients.  As "Lesson 1" mentioned, surface area plays a role in the rate of dilution, meaning the smaller the ice and the more of it, the higher the rate of dilution. However, for our home-bar purposes, we can most often make a great tasting cocktail from a wide range of ice, whether it be a single large 2" cube or several ice-tray cubes. It's just a matter of understanding the physics behind the process and making minor adjustments when necessary.

Second: Understanding Different Uses of Ice.

After shaking or stirring a cocktail, ice plays another important role in a drink: keeping it cold.

It is said that a drink starts to "die" after it hits the glass and is presented at the bar. Simply stated, a cocktail is best when first poured. This is for two reasons: (1) it starts to get warmer and farther away from its ideal drinking temperature and (2) if there is ice in the glass, it starts to over-dilute the drink within a matter of minutes, greatly diminishing its enjoyment.

So, we have to stay acutely aware how we're keeping a drink cold and not over-dilluted. Drinks that are served up (martinis, daiquiris, gimlets, etc.) are not poured over ice; instead, we chill the glass to prolong the proper temperature. However, drinks served in rocks or highball glasses are typically best when strained from the ice used to prepare them and poured over fresh ice.  Often, large cubes or spheres are placed in stirred whiskey drinks while long spears are used in a Collins. These large-format ice cubes minimize the surface area exposed to the liquid, thus keeping the drinks cold and ensuring proper dilution. Purchasing or creating your own forms for freezing large-format ice at home is possible, and will easily improve the quality of your cocktails.

Crushed-ice cocktails (Mint Juleps, tiki cocktails) use many tiny ice pebbles to keep the drink very cold and refreshing.  These cocktails are typically composed using a mixing technique called "swizzling,” which marries the ingredients but allows most of the dilution take place after it’s been served. As these drinks rose in popularity in the 1800s—especially the Sherry Cobbler—straws also gained popularity to avoid the unsightly avalanche of ice pebbles caused when drinking from the side of a glass. Of course, Scotsman crushed ice-machines aren’t terribly practical at home, so I recommend hand cracking ice cubes with the back of a spoon, or crushing lots of ice at once with a Lewis bag and wooden mallet to increase the surface area for these style cocktails.

Ultimately, knowing how a drink should taste when properly diluted is the key to taking your drinking experience to a new level. Though quality ice is important, the valuable lesson is learning to employ good technique and knowing how to take the imperfect ice you may have at home to make perfectly delicious cocktails.


Posted: August 31, 2012 | Permalink
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