In the past few years, a new renaissance of classic cocktail culture (say that after three or four Sidecars) has sprung up on the net and in homes and bars around the country. And though mixologists, writers in style magazines, and, yes, bloggers are quick to harp on the importance of freshly squeezed fruit juices and top shelf liquors, another very basic ingredient is too often taken for granted: ice.
It’s an important part of mixing almost any drink, but it’s generally glossed over in drink recipes. If you’ve ever hosted a party and run out of ice halfway through the night, you have an idea of how important ice can be, so we’re going to amend this deficit.
We’ll start with the very basics. Those cubes that you get from the plastic tray in your freezer. This is what you want to use in a cocktail shaker, to fill a highball glass, and as your general default. When hosting a party, a five-pound bag of that weird donut shaped ice works fine as well. As a general note though, when making your own ice, better water makes better ice. If you have a filter pitcher or even a filter right on your tap, that’s the water you want to use for your ice. Also, be sure to wash your trays from time to time.
Now, on to some more specialized territory. Regular cubes are fine, and even appropriate for most shaken drinks. They help to mix your ingredients thoroughly, especially where fruit juices, dairy, or even raw egg are involved, but they’re not best for every drink. Some stirred drinks need to be treated with a gentler hand and may be overly diluted by smaller cubes. This is where you want King Cubes. A company called Tovolo manufactures these jumbo silicone trays and lately you can find them just about anywhere kitchen or barware is sold. Because of their large size (two inches across), King Cubes don’t melt as quickly as smaller cubes. Therefore, they get your drink colder without diluting it as much. This can be critical in a delicate drink like, say, a Martini, or when drinking whiskey or other spirits straight on the rocks.
For those whiskey aficionados who won’t tolerate a drop of water in their favorite spirit, there’s another option. Whiskey stones will cool your drink without a hint of dilution. Exactly as you’d suspect, these are actual stones, usually carved into cubes. Simply keep these in the freezer until needed, and best of all, they’re reusable.
On the other end of the spectrum, some drinks, generally originating in warmer climes, call for crushed ice. Most notably, the Daiquiri is traditionally served over crushed ice. Now if you happen to have a refrigerator that will dispense crushed ice at your every whim, feel free to sit back and sip your Daiquiri smugly for the next few lines. For the rest of us, making our own crushed ice can be a necessity especially in the summer time. There are two favored methods. For speed and volume, tossing a few ice cubes into a blender will certainly do the trick. A few short bursts should be all you need though. Keep in mind you’re just breaking up the cubes. You don’t want to end up with a slushie. The other method is a bit more time-consuming, but a lot more fun. Just place your ice cubes in a plastic zip-lock bag and smash the crap out of them with a big ‘ol mallet.
That about covers the practical and traditional options, but there’s nothing to say you can’t have a bit of fun while you keep your drinks cool. Perpetual Kid, a refreshingly fun online retailer, offers a vast array of whimsical and nostalgic ice cube trays. With options ranging from snowflakes to sinking Titanics, there are options here to tickle any tippler’s fancy. Shanna and I have our own wide-ranging collection including hearts, ninja stars, fish, Legos, Space Invaders, and skull & bones.
Legendary bartender David A. Embury famously wrote that a cocktail is only as good as its lowest-quality ingredient. This adage is generally applied to quality of spirits, but there’s no doubt that dirty or overly melted ice can harm an otherwise superior drink. And I’m not saying that you should be freezing Perrier to shake a Whiskey Sour, but a little bit of consideration for the ice you’re going to use to mix and serve your booze can go a long way.