Expert Mixology Tips for Using Ice
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.”
Use Distilled Water
When making drinks with ice, you’re not trying to add flavor, you’re actually guarding against it. The top mixlogists want their ice-melt to be perfectly neutral. Ice from mineral or tap water can add subtle tastes you don’t want.
Freeze In Stages
Throwing water right into your freezer won’t make gorgeous, crystal-clear ice. It solidifies too fast, traps air bubbles and makes it cloudy. Instead, fill the ice mold or tray and place it in the refrigerator for a few hours, then transfer to your freezer.
Seen in: Manhattan, Old-Fashioned, Martini
There are three basic rules to ice science. First, melt-water—not solid ice—is what cools liquid. Second, the more surface area, the faster it melts. And third, the bigger the ice, the slower it melts in a room-temperature drink. The perfect cube (not your round-bottomed freezer tray variety) is bigger than cracked or crushed ice, but with more surface area than a sphere, so it quickly adds enough water to cool, while making your martini easier to drink.
The DIY Tool
Seen in: Scotch, Bourbon, Rum
Corner-less ice globes melt slowly because they have less surface area, ensuring your hooch won’t become too watered down while nursing it.
The DIY Tool
In an average cocktail, melting ice can add up to 1½ ounces of water—that’s about one-third of your entire drink.
Seen in: Mint Julep, Zombie, Rum Swizzle
Pellets are perfect for shake- and stir-free stiff drinks that, in theory, take time to down. Like crushed or cracked ice, they shed lots of water fast (helping cut your boozy mint julep). This cools it to 32˚F quickly, and is the point when the melt-rate slows. Being a tad larger than crushed or cracked ice, they last a little longer, allowing you to sip slowly.
The DIY Tool
Seen in: Aviation, Margarita, The Last Word
Shaking vigorously or blending pulverizes already-fragile cracked ice into tiny, fast-melting flecks. Those bits melt at a faster rate only until the liquid reaches 32˚F. Once that happens, the dilution rate slows significantly and is why several minutes into your frothy margarita, it’s still super cold and chockfull of ice bits.
The DIY Tool
A block is best for cracked ice for one reason: You get to wield an ice pick! To make yours, line a loaf pan with plastic wrap, fill it with water then freeze it.
Pick & Grin
When busting up your block, no one will ever suspect you’re saying to yourself “Break stuff! Break stuff! Yay!” if you’re swinging this stylish mahogany-and-steel Yamachu ice pick.
- 1The Secrets to Perfect Homemade Ice
- 2Cube: Stirred & Strained
- 3Sphere: Rocks
- 4Pellet: Potent Pours
- 5Cracked Ice: Shaken Sips