Expert Mixology Tips for Using Ice

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We’re living in the golden age of cocktails. From the most elite houses of mixology to the TGIF bar at the airport, the drinks we’ve downed over the past decade have never been more delicious or nuanced. The booze is better, fresh ingredients are ubiquitous and there’s no shortage of talent behind the bar.

The latest sign this renaissance is still raging is the energy barkeeps are pouring into the ingredient once considered an afterthought: Ice.

While a few select mixologists have been making and using specialized ice for years, this trend is finally trickling down to your corner bar as more and more drink makers accept the cold fact that ice is the most important ingredient in nearly every cocktail. And when used properly, it’s a simple way to make drinks tastier, from the first sip to the last.

“At some point, a cocktail will see ice,” says Charles Joly, beverage director at The Aviary in Chicago. “If you work hard to source great ingredients but ignore ice, it’s a major oversight.”

Before you roll your eyes, remember, a cube doesn’t just cool, it’s adding water the moment it hits booze. Freezing quality H2O will improve taste, but only slightly. Ice’s most powerful cocktail-enhancing power lies in the simple science of how the stuff melts.

Different shapes, sizes and densities melt and cool liquids at different rates. A sphere, for instance, has less surface area than a cube of the same weight (no corners), so it melts slower—perfect for your otherwise neat Bourbon.  By applying these physics, drink makers can control how the cocktail’s taste evolves over time.

“Ice is to the bartender as fire is to the chef,” says Sother Teague, beverage director at New York City’s Amor y Amargo. “These sizes and shapes we craft are our way of differentiating things like baking, broiling and grilling. It’s a major tool.”

—Joseph Hernandez

Photo: The Ice Kings at Aviary in Chicago
This bar has not one, but two full-time ice chefs, who shape, freeze and carve about 30 different types of ice every day. 

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Expert Mixology Tips for Using Ice

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