When at a well-reputed restaurant, you expect quality in all aspects and an attention to detail is a must. However, one area that the consumer often overlooks is the quality of the ice. Unless you are in the industry, you will never fully appreciate the role of high-quality crystal clear ice. As a consumer, it is not just something to look for in your beautiful bespoke cocktails, but in a glass of mineral water, your ice cubes should have a perfect clarity.
While you may have previously overlooked your drink’s frozen offerings, I got talking to a mixologist while waiting for a table at one of London’s top bars and he explained why ice is important and what to look out for.
The importance of Ice
When you consider ice is served in almost every cocktail and when it chills the drink it becomes part of the drink, a high-quality ice is almost as important as the base spirit. While your establishment may not skimp on fresh juices or beautiful garnishes, it could be ice that is letting you down.
Good ice melts slower and has no imperfections. Ice that is cloudy could have trapped air which makes it melt quick or impurities and as the ice melts, these could end up impacting your drink.
While the importance of ice may have taken a while to filter into the consciousness of the casual drinker, royalty has known its significance for years. Wenham Lake in Massachusetts is renowned for its clarity and with the help of Frederic Tudor’s imported ice, it became the standard which other ice much reach. It is reported that Queen Victoria sourced her ice from it.
The right ice for every cocktail
Though you may be forgiven for thinking ‘ice is ice’, you would be wrong. When it comes down to the careful crafting of a cocktail, you can’t throw in a couple of cubes and be done. The father of all cocktails, Jerry Thomas, had rules on ice, and though things may have changed since the 1800’s some of it is still relevant today:
“As a general rule, shaved ice should be used when spirits form the principal ingredient of the drink, and no water is employed. When eggs, mild, wine, vermouth, seltzer or other mineral waters are used, it is better to use small lumps of ice.”
If you are looking for minimum dilution (for drinks like Old Fashioned or Negroni) a larger volume means they will melt slower and thus impart less liquid to the drink. Reducing the surface area by making the ice spherical lowers the melting further.
Some cocktails require cubes, mainly mixed drinks served in highballs as it helps to preserve carbonation. Others are ready to be mixed with crushed ice, though often it is just for the juleps. The saying ‘Never use the same ice twice’ should be adhered to. The ice you shake with should never enter the glass, instead it should be served with fresh ice.
How far is too far?
A piece of beautifully clear ice is a marvel I am beginning to appreciate, however it can be taken too far. I am not suggesting everyone should dig out their ice picks and start hand-crafting imported ice for the ultimate cocktail experience (though some do). I do draw the line at monogrammed ice.
Though this seems to be a growing trend across the pond, more and more restaurants and bars are stamping initials and logos into their ice. Apogee in Chicago takes things one step further with their ‘Spirit Animal’ cocktail. Though it serves 3-4 people, having a cocktail served in an animal-shaped ice vessel seems to be taking things a little far.