With Ice, Size Matters
Source: WSJ. By: KIMBERLY CHOU. Apr 23, 2011
Trying to up your cocktail game? If you're no longer looking for a new rhum Agricole or some artisanal bitters to set your shelves apart, maybe it's time to turn an eye to your freezer. The difference between a good drink and a great drink isn't just about the booze-it's about the ice.
The recent resurgence of classic cocktails has spawned a concurrent trend of ice appreciation. High-end cocktail bars are shaking, stirring and serving their $18 drinks with dense, extra-large cubes, hand-cut shards and spheres. And there's no reason your at-home ice should lag behind.
"Quality ice has become standard equipment for any respectable cocktail bar," said Charles Joly, head bartender at the Drawing Room in Chicago. "Ice and what it produces in a cocktail-temperature and dilution-are really important factors that are never listed in a recipe."
When it comes to ice, size does matter, not to mention shape, density and clarity. If you prefer your Scotch on the rocks, beware: Small, brittle ice will quickly dilute years of cask aging. No one wants a Bruichladdich slushie.
But large cubes or spheres of ice will melt more slowly, bringing your drink closer to the temperature of the ice without over-diluting it. Larger pieces, such as spears the length of a glass, are ideal for keeping tall, carbonated beverages chilled. And there's a place for pebbled and crushed ice, too: mint juleps, swizzles and many tiki drinks wouldn't be possible without them.
Where do these ice shapes come from? The Kold-Draft ice machine-which freezes clear, 1¼-inch square cubes by pumping water up into a refrigerated copper tray called an evaporator-has become the industry standard. The circulating water essentially freezes from the top and sides as it hits the tray, with heavy impurities flushed out through holes at the bottom. Bartenders at Weather Up in New York carve from 300-pound blocks harvested from an in-house Clinebell ice-maker. Boston's Drink and Philadelphia's Franklin Mortgage also use large blocks that more often serve ice sculptors. And many bars, including Chicago's Sable and New York's PDT, use a Japanese metal press to produce spherical ice.
For the home bartender, start with distilled water and a cleaned-out freezer so the ice doesn't absorb stray aromas. For super-clear ice, some people advocate boiling the water, letting it come to room temperature, then boiling it again before freezing. You can also cover the not-yet-frozen trays with plastic wrap to further protect ice from absorbing outside smells. But if you don't want to go through these steps, use filtered water rather than ordinary tap. Once they freeze, throw your cubes (or whatever shape they may be) into Ziploc bags.
"Ice acts like your liquid oven, stove or essentially, cold 'cooking' device where, through a change in temperature and dilution, individual spirits and modifying elements are melded into a delicious whole," said Ryan Magarian of the Portland, Ore., drinks consulting firm Liquid Relations. "Simply put, the better the ice, the better the drinks."