Mar 15, 2007

Does Designer Ice Make a Cooler Cocktail?

Here's a tip for your next trip to your favorite watering hole: find the ice machine. The state of a bar's ice machine speaks volumes about the establishment's overall attitude toward the customer experience and, sadly, most bars fall frighteningly short. I remember a particular ice machine at a local bar that was crammed in the corner of a perpetually too-hot storage closet. The cooling vents looked like my dryer's lint collector and sheets of ice would fall into the bin speckled with black dots. I stuck to pints (at least the beer lines were cleaned regularly).

But times, they are a-changin'. Upscale joints are now paying closer attention to their ice, ice, baby, (had to be done—just be glad it wasn't this post's headline), according to an article in last month's L.A. Times. Triple-filtered, custom-cubed, hand-chunked ice is becoming all the rage in places from the Windy City to all the way across the pond in London. But come on, just how important is ice to a cocktail? As long as I can taste the booze, does it really matter where my ice comes from or what it looks like?

You're damn straight, it does. Ice impacts a cocktail in a number of ways:
It chills the drink.
Cocktails are meant to be served cold. This can be achieved either by stirring the cocktail directly in a glass with ice cubes, blending it with crushed ice, or shaking it with ice and straining it (into an empty glass or a glass filled with new ice).

It lends a cocktail proportionality.
What the hell does this mean? It means the next time you ask me for less ice in your drink, I'm going to laugh at you. A cocktail generally contains 1.5-2 oz. of booze. If the balance of the glass is filled with mixers, you'll get a mixer-heavy cocktail that tastes like poo. Patrons who feel ice is the enemy in their cocktail should probably stick to hanging out at frat-friendly bars filled with white caps.

It enhances flavor.
Believe it or not, a little dilution is a good thing. As ice melts, it helps open up the alcohol and marry the flavors in the drink. This is why whisky is often drunk with a splash of water.
So does this justify paying the inevitable added costs of a cocktail mixed with frozen brand name bottled water that's been hand-cut on the bar? Not for me, it doesn't. But hell, I also have no interest in drinking my cocktail from a glass made of ice, nor do I care if my ice cube is a single, perfectly round orb. What does matter to me is how my ice is handled. I cringe when I see bartenders scoop up a glassfull of ice with the glass itself.* Because while I don't expect you to pull out an ice pick when making my drink, I don't appreciate lazy bartending. Hmmm...maybe there is something to be said for bartenders who care enough to use the very best.

*Scooping ice with a glass is surefire way to chip the glass, leaving dangerous and impossible-to-find glass shards in your ice sink.


kahealani said...

That is very interesting. I usually order martinis... they are made with ice but there in none in my drink. Very interesting idea...

Jessie Jane said...

Yes, if one were a germophobe when it came to dirty ice, the first option would always be a shot of booze, neat (or beer, of course).

The second option would be yours—a cocktail served straight up. When a cocktail is shaken with ice (this chills the drink, blends the ingredients, and makes the bartender look oh-so-pro), the ice will melt slightly, adding a scant amount of water to the drink. A decent bartender will also chill your cocktail glass with ice while mixing your drink, so you don't end up with a room temperature puddle.

Brings a whole new meaning to the idea of a Dirty Martini, doesn't it?!

Drink well, my friends, and patronize places that care.