Ice storage and harvesting has always been around, but it wasn't until the large-scale commercial availability of ice when the world of cocktails suddenly expanded with one of its most important ingredients. Ice will cool your drink and when it is properly served, it doesn't dilute but makes your drink a perfect combination of refreshment, taste and alcoholic beverage. Unfortunately, many people still think that ice in your drink is an old bartender trick to scam you out of your hard earned cash. As Jumbles St.Pierre likes to say; "We’ve all had that customer trying to teach us that less ice means a stronger drink, to which I just can't help but roll my eyes. You see, ice is supposed to keep your drink cold, and less ice will get warm faster, melting up your drink and leaving you with a lukewarm vodka-coke."
But where most people use cube trays or the occasional ice-machine in their fridge, bars have elaborate ice machines, and some restaurants will go the extra mile with hand-carved ice. And we're not talking sculptures, no. Hand-carved ice cubes for your drink, so you get the right type of ice and the right amount, in the exact shape your drink requires.
If you think that's all a little too much; have a look at this movie, and see how ice has become the final frontier in luxurious wining and dining.
But what's more, custom-frozen giant chunks of ice give a bartender much more creativity and control. And what is cooler in your drink than a crystal clear ball of ice? Getting that clear quality by the way, is a science of its own. You might have noticed that the ice cubes that come out of your freezer look cloudy? Not only do they look less appealing than those cubes bouncing up and down in every whisky commercial, they are also inferior because cloudy ice melts faster than the clear, professional-grade ice.
So how DO you make those clear ice cubes? Your friend might have told you that the best ice cubes are made by boiling the water first, or using distilled water, or using distilled water and boiling it twice. But actually, the only real ingredient that works is time:
As a kid you probably noticed the glass-like quality of icicles hanging down drainpipes and trees. The reason why icicles are so clear is the slow speed with which they grow. Layer after layer of ice is frozen, and air doesn't get trapped inside causing unwanted bubbles. There are machines that simulate this process pretty well, allowing you to harvest perfectly clear ice to work with.
If you want to make perfectly clear ice at home too, you will need to decrease the freezing rate of your ice. To slow down your freezer you can simply use a small insulated cooler which you place inside your freezer; anything inside that cooler will cool down much slower, giving air bubbles a chance to escape before they get caught by the ice.
1. Get a small, insulated cooler you can fit inside your freezer.
2. Get plastic molds. You'll use these to freeze your chunks of ice.
3. Put the molds into the cooler, arranged into lines.
4. Fill the entire cooler with water, so that the molds are flooded. Put the cooler into the freezer with the lid open or removed.
5. Wait until the block is frozen all the way through. Yes, it's a slow process. Then remove the cooler and the ice block inside. (If it sticks, let it thaw a little.) Set the block in a clean plastic bucket, and leave it out for an hour or so to let it temper.
6. Cut out the molds. Using a serrated knife, carefully score the block in between some molds. Use a mallet on the back of the knife blade to carefully split the ice. If it's starts cracking like crazy, let it temper a little longer.
7. Once the molds are free, you should be able to slide the blocks of ice out of them pretty easily. If they don't come out easily, let them warm just a little. The ice that comes out should be almost perfectly clear. There may be some clouding at the top, but this can be cut out using the serrated knife method in the step above.
Sounds a little too abstract? Are you more of a visual person? Check out the video below for illustration purposes. Never mind the survival knife; the principal is the same:
Should I be doing this? Well, it's a fun weekend project for sure, and certain high-end cocktail bars work exclusively with premium ice. In fact, there are companies like Gläce who jumped into the premium ice segment as well. Charging $40 for a bag of five (FIVE!!!) spherical ice cubes, these guys promise a "minimum dilution and maximum cooling, greatly enhancing enjoyment at the point of consumption".
In conclusion, we'd like to say that ice, although an important ingredient for sure, is just one of the ingredients that make up the unique experience of a good cocktail. At EBS, we make sure you learn all about the other ingredients too, its history and the different variations you'll encounter when you start working as a traveling bartender.
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