You know the scene – a few friends unexpectantly drop over, you’re all sitting in the backyard fixing the wrongs of the world and someone suggests a cocktail.
Excellent idea! You’ve just got a new Gin in from a little know boutique distillery and the artisanal tonics are lined up along the bench like soldiers about to go to war. You have lemons, you have limes and there might even be a few stray olives at the back of the fridge.
You fling your jigger in the air like a flair bartender of old, pull out a few glasses and then it hits you (not the jigger of course because you caught that with an expert sleight of hand, but something so much worse) – you don’t have any ice.
Sadly, this scene is more typical than you would expect. Unlike a commercial venue, where they have an ice machine that’s bigger than your fridge humming 24 hours a day, at home, it’s a different story. At home, you have a few little ice trays, which inevitably are never refilled by your housemates.
But let’s get serious here, you’re a cocktail connoisseur and as such, you have a responsibility to yourself, your friends and primarily to your drinks to ensure that there is always fresh ice on hand.
Ice is as important an ingredient as the booze and you should think of it that way, as another ingredient in your drink.
As fire is to a chef, ice is to a mixologist. It’s what enables you to take the raw ingredients and make something spectacular; something that everyone will want to consume.
You see ice not only serves the purpose of bringing down the temperature of your drink and giving it that special chill but it also adds dilution.
When stirring, the dilution is right once the ice has lost its sharpness and the edges have a slightly rounded quality. When shaking, you’ll know it’s adequately diluted as soon as the shaker tin has developed a light frost on the outside.
That said, here are some basic rules to keep in mind.
Think of ice as an ingredient. And as such, make sure you use fresh, good quality ice. After all, you wouldn’t use bruised fruit in your cocktails, so why compromise on your ice? It forms the foundation on which a drink is built.
The clearer the ice, the better — as it indicates purity. Cloudy ice forms because of impurities in the water and because oxygen bubbles get trapped. Oxygen in your ice will make it melt quicker and impurities can impart flavour into your drink.
Consider how long you shake or stir your drinks. Shaking and stirring times vary markedly depending on the size, shape, and amount of ice you use. A slow stir with large ice cubes will result in a less diluted drink than an energetic shake with crushed ice. Which leads us to . . .
Consider the size and function of your ice. Are you using a single large cube or spear? Several smaller cubes? A scoop of crushed ice? The bigger the ice, the slower it will melt. Crushed ice, used in drinks like juleps or brambles, melts quickly, so you get a quick chill as well as a controlled and constant dilution of liquor.
In contrast, a chunk of ice—say a large cube in an Old Fashioned or a large block of ice in a bowl of punch—melts and dilutes more slowly, preserving the potency of the drink, but still softening it over time.
Keep it cold and don’t let it sweat. Pulling your ice from an ice bucket or well that has been sitting around for an hour will dilute your drink very quickly. Fresh ice cubes will preserve your drinks for longer without ruining them. Keep your ice in the freezer for s long as possible before using it.
Add ice last, just before you are ready to mix, whether by shaking or stirring. This allows you to measure the liquid easily and a chance to add anything else should you suspect you may have forgotten something. Also in the event you’re distracted or called away mid-assembly, your drink will happily wait for you, undiluted.
Give your ice a helping hand. If you can, store your glassware in the freezer with the proper ice cube(s) alongside. This is particularly useful for parties. A cold glass means an even colder drink.