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Ice is an Ingredient

December 18, 2009

Just yesterday there was a conversation happening over at On The Edge about cocktails that made me realize the need for today’s post.

A commenter named Jaci eschewed the use of ice in her peppermint cocktail, lest it water down the drink.  Instead, she chilled the cocktail shaker.  And while I’m sure that is a reasonably effective method of chilling down a drink, it misses a broader point.

Ice is an important ingredient in cocktails.

Like it or not, cocktails are all about dilution.  You dilute a base spirit with liqueurs and other flavorings.  And the small amount of water that is thrown off by your ice is a critical component to a balanced drink.

Certainly the dilution from water needs to be managed.  Nobody wants a waterlogged cocktail.  The size of the cubes, the manner of mixing, and the amount of time the drink spends in the mixing glass all play a role.

Here are some maxims to remember:
1) The larger the cubes, the less water they will shed.
2) Stirring aids the cooling process, and keeps the cubes intact.
3) Shaking will get a drink colder, but will throw off more water, and break up the ice.
4) And of course the longer the drink sits on ice, the wetter it gets.

Modern cocktail recipes tend to be very specific about these things.  And if you muck about with them, it could affect the balance of the drink

Some bars use shamelessly small ice and shake every drink as a matter of course.  They produce watered-down drinks.  Not because they are trying to defraud their customers, but apparently because they don’t know how to do it any other way.

Jaci’s Peppermint Martini (obviously her words, not mine) is a drink that shouldn’t be shaken anyway.  Rather, given its build of spirits and liqueurs, and the absence of just-squeezed juices or eggs, it should be stirred.  Ideally her mixing glass would be filled with large ice cubes, and she would stir for about 15 seconds.

I hope that the recipe provided was for two cocktails.  At 7.5 ounces, without the benefit of a fraction of an ounce of water, it is a monster.  Let’s assume that a cocktail will hold its chill for 30 minutes, which is generous.  The bearer of this drink will need to have more than three shots of vodka in half an hour, or else be left with a warming minty cocktail.  Ick.

But on the positive side, Kristi was looking for holiday-themed cocktails.  I’ve been mulling this one over, and I think I finally came up with something.  Although it needs to be tested to make sure the proportions are right.

My favorite part of Christmas is the aromatics of the event.  It’s the smell of the tree that always gets me.  Which led me to think of the piney-ness of a classically made gin with prominent juniper notes.  The other great smell of the holiday that pairs with the tree are pomanders.  You know, those oranges studded with cloves that can be used as ornaments.

So here is my entry:
The Pomander Cocktail

2 oz. Tanqueray gin or other gin with pronounced juniper notes
½ oz. just-squeezed orange juice
¼ oz. Cointreau
¼ oz. spiced clove syrup*
Dash of Fee’s orange bitters
Orange peel for garnish

Shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.  Squeeze any oil from the orange peel over the drink, and rub around rim.

If there were some kind of prize, I’d probably spend some time tinkering around with this drink to perfect it.  I think it has promise.  But instead, I’m going to start getting ready for the last night of Chanukah, and eat my last guilt-free fried foods.

So as they say, adjust to taste.

* For the spiced clove syrup, take a tablespoon of whole cloves, one cinnamon stick, a few allspice berries and a few black peppercorns in a pot with a cup of sugar and a cup of water.  Heat on medium low until the sugar fully dissolves.  Strain and chill.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Raf permalink
    December 18, 2009 3:13 pm

    I was just contemplating ice yesterday. I want one of these for Christmas:

    Here’s a demo:

    p.s. I don’t think a frozen shaker would chill a drink. Not enough thermal mass and not enough surface area. On the importance of ice:

  2. December 20, 2009 7:31 pm

    There’s an axiom for this: “Ice makes the drink.” My daughters are sick of hearing it.

    And I mean any drink. Like, even Coca-cola. That stuff (and soda in general) is formulated too-sweet, on the assumption it’ll be served over ice. I have a bit of a diet Pepsi habit. Sometimes I buy it at the bodega, and sometimes the counterman tells me, helpfully, “You know, there’s some that’s cold, in the cooler.” “Thanks, man.” But why would I want that? I have ice.

    Similarly, I remember a time in college when an Anheuser-Busch rep staged a tasting in our on-campus bar. He gave out clear plastic cups and bottles of Budweiser, and asked us to pour one down the side and another down the middle, then taste and compare. Everybody preferred the down-the-middle glass. The rep explained that they over-carbonate the bottled product on the assumption it’ll de-carbonate in the pouring, thus hit the lips as intended. Who knew?

    These distinctions are lost by now, though not in my world — where there’s always ice, and we pour down the middle.


    • December 22, 2009 2:08 am

      I am with you on the importance of drinking soda over ice and pouring down the middle.

      When I make margarita’s, I prefer to strain a chilled cocktail over fresh ice. On the same principle, when I drink a soda over ice, I prefer it to be chilled first.

      Pouring down the middle also helps to form a nice head, which is a fantastic device to help bring the smell of the beer to your nose. I too learned all about this in college. But if memory serves, my knowledge was handed down from the good folks at the Dock Street Pub in Philadelphia.

      • December 23, 2009 12:47 am

        Sure. And the middle-pour thing isn’t a perfect rule. You can overdo it. Depends on the product. Point here is that sometimes the makers assume you’ll handle product certain way, and they correct for that. If they’re wrong and you take it as prêt à manger (apply fancy-talk surcharge) a connection’s lost.

        WRT soda on ice or, say, iced tea, I reckon that if I’m in for the melting I’m all-in, so store these at room temp and maybe even give the ice a minute to surrender — like you would with brown booze, which nobody keeps in the fridge.

        Your Margarita example is a difference case, though. I agree that you want to achieve a base chill and dilution that then hold for a while over the serving ice — something you wouldn’t bother with for a Bloody Mary.


  3. December 21, 2009 1:14 pm

    Not to be, er, fussy, but your item 1, about large cubes shedding less water–that would be, of course, in a given amount of time (as suggested by item 4). I would think that, if the ice is not running with water to start with, small ice would always be good when preparing a drink, since the extra surface would get the drink to the proper temperature more quickly; and larger ice would be better in the drink as it’s served, since the larger mass of ice compared to surface would hold the chill without diluting too fast. There are obvious exceptions to the Big Ice In The Glass theory, of course–don’t be messing with the crush in my Derby Day mint julep!

    • December 22, 2009 1:43 am

      I readily admit being ill prepared to have an in depth conversation on thermal dynamics. But let me assure you of three things:
      1) In this forum you do not have to worry about being fussy.
      2) Small ice in the mixing tin results in a soggier drink.
      3) I fully support crushed ice in all applications that require its unique properties.

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