We were settling in at our table for lunch at a New York steak house. As members of the Red Meat Club assembled, we all ordered our first cocktail of the day, and more than one of us asked for a Bloody Mary. The drinks arrived to much rejoicing, except from the corner where iconic bartender Dale DeGroff was sitting. With more sadness than I had ever, or have since heard in his voice, Dale said “You know, this is a perfectly good Bloody Mary, except for this ice,” whereupon he cast a few of the paltry ‘cubes’ from his drink onto the tablecloth.
Even though I had been tending and managing bars for more than a decade by then, it was the first time I started actually thinking about ice. Dale explained that these little “ice chips” would chill the drink, but would also melt quickly, thus watering down the drink. Ice is one of the foundational products of the beverage business. It has only been so since the 1850s or so, when ice made with mechanical refrigeration slowly replaced ice from lakes and ponds. Technology has changed the world of ice over and has helped our industry. There are lots of different kinds of ice, each with a unique set of properties.
The Most Important Factors
Colder, harder ice will melt more slowly in a drink, and the cubes will not adhere to each other, making the ice easier to handle. Surface area, shape and size of ice are all interrelated when it comes down to how certain types of ice will behave. Doughnut-shaped ice will melt much more quickly in a cocktail or soda. Yes, it will initially chill the drink down more quickly, but at the expense of diluting it. The sphere (or more practically, a cube) will have longer staying power in the glass, and ultimately will make the drink colder without watering it down.
Now the question arises, which kind of ice is best for your business? Cubes: The generally agreed-upon best size for ice cubes is somewhere around 1 ¼” on each side. These cubes are great in highballs or for a spirit served on the rocks. They are also near-perfect for making shaken and stirred cocktails because they make the drink very cold, but with the perfect amount of melting. Crushed: You can make crushed ice from cubes, but it takes either an ice crusher or a Lewis bag and a mallet. If you are going to be making a lot of Mint Juleps and ‘mist’ or ‘frappé’ cocktails (spirits poured over crushed ice), it might make sense to have a machine that will produce this type of ice. Block Ice: This is the most old-fashioned of the current popular types of ice and also one of the trendiest. Many bars will feature a big block of ice that they chip chards off in front of the guests.
So, how are you going to choose which ice you’re going to use in your bar? First, you will analyze your needs (volume, quality drink-making, visual impression), and then select from among the available shapes, styles and qualities of ice that are made using modern ice-making technology. And one last bit of advice: always get a bigger machine than you think you need. There is no such thing as too much ice. ·
Step by Step
1. Choosing ice carefully is essential.
2. Selecting the right ice will depend on the drinks you are making.
3. Most bars will need and use several sizes and types of ice.
4. Ice can be as dramatic looking in a drink as it is useful.