When making almost any cocktail, ice is extremely important. There are the few exceptions, but specific shapes of ice are work differently, and so te cocktail itself, as well as glassware and personal preference, may determine the style of ice used.
I’m beginning to feel a lot like an “ice nerd,” as Camper English over at Alcademics puts it. Camper is concerned with making clear ice at home in practical methods. So far he is on an interesting track. Ignoring that the aesthetic of cloudy ice doesn’t bother me, I am more interested with the style of ice and the effect that the ice has upon the cocktail. Though, ice should be free from flavors, which is quite often caused by impurities in the ice, though it may also be caused by ice sitting there, stale, and having absorbed various aromas around itself. For this reason, if cloudy ice is appearing on account of filtered water, it isn’t the worst thing in the world, since the cloudy ice comes from air bubbles, and uneven freezing rates of the water in the ice. Though, in order to minimize the threat of flavor corruption, you might as well utilize bottled or filtere water to get the most pure tasting ice. As such, and even though I have mentioned this before, I figure I might as well bring up ice in its’ own article, thanks to the importance of ice.
Ice can be summed up in three major styles: cubes, cracked and crushed. Cubed ice is as it states, an ice cube. Important in Collins style drinks, as well as other long cocktails, cubed ice provides decent chill, without overly diluting the drink; the larger the ice cube, the generally the slower dilution rate. Ice gives up its’ thermal properties when agitated, so when stirred or shaken, and when exposed to a temperature which is at a drastic difference than itself (Boudreau). Since the difference in temperature is based upon how much of the cube is exposed, id est surface area, something such a cube is better off than a crescent or cylindrical shaped ice cube. To make this even better, you can use something known as molded ice, or ice which has been shaped: ice spheres are a great example of this technique. Large chunks, blocks, spheres of ice, et cetera, are great for drinks that will be served on the rocks, especially singular sipping spirits. It prevents over dilution, or extremely rapid dilution, of the libation.
Ice cubes or chunks can be struck with a hammer, the back of a bar spoon, or an ice pick, and the resulting pieces of ice are known as cracked ice. These pieces, not too small, yet not too big, create more surface area, which helps to dilute a drink faster. Personally, I tend to stir with larger pieces of ice, even though it requires more stirring to acquire the same effect. Cracked ice is sometimes used in conjunction with ice cubes in order to chill a stirred cocktail faster than if it was just large pieces of ice. It is thanks to the dilution, caused by the agitation through stirring, that the liquid gets cold. One thing to note however, is that dilution is necessary. Without dilution, the cocktail would be pure alcohol, and that is not appealing to many people.
Crushed ice, which is our final category of shape, is ice that has been repeatedly smashed into small pieces, which are close to being shavings in some instances. To make crushed ice, you can take ice cubes, and strike them in a Lewis bag until finely damaged; a Lewis bag is a canvas bag which absorbs some of the water, and keeps the ice in a specific place, so it is easier to handle upon finishing the brutalization of the ice. As Boudreau has suggested, ice which has been crushed tends to add more of a “water flavor” to the drink, but also helps chill a drink through the act of stirring (Boudreau). Swizzles and swizzle sticks help this process, but also, just rotating the ice around a glass assists the agitation of the ice, and thus the chilling of the liquid. Crushed ice is most famous in juleps and swizzles.
I had mentioned that a Lewis bag is used to absorb some of the water in crushed ice. This is because you want cold, “dry” ice. Dry means it is not melting and releasing water just sitting there; when it is covered with water, the ice is already giving up some of its’ thermal properties and will over dilute the drink. Lewis, or canvas bags, or even napkins, are great for the purpose of absorbing that extra water, and preventing the over dilution; dilution isn’t a bad thing, by any stretch of the imagination, but it is something that needs to be carefully monitored. Another thing is you want the ice to be fresh, and free of various flavors or odors it might have absorbed; ice found in a grocery store is not fresh, lacking in oxygen, and usually slushy by the time you get it into a drink.
One of the bigger movements, in terms of ice, at least in the region of Japan, and New York, is to take large blocks of ice, then carve them down into small pieces. This is how ice balls, or molded shapes of ice are created in Japan. However, in the US, traditionally its just done to make chunks of ice, or cubes of ice. The reason for this, is because the cubes can be larger, which creates more solid blocks of ice, and is useful in rocks glasses, as well as when shaking, to prevent absurd amounts of dilution. In order the carve the ice, take a knife and score the ice, then using a rubber mallet, gently tap on the hammer. The ice will sheer apart. Repeat the process until desired size cubes are made; after which, you can take a knife and shave the ice to the shape or size that you want.
Boudreau, Jamie. Raising the Bar with Jamie Boudreau. “Ice.” Small Screen Network. http://www.smallscreennetwork.com/video/241/ssn_raising_the_bar_ice_640x360/ (accessed May 21, 2010).
English, Camper. Alcademics. http://www.alcademics.com/ (accessed May 21, 2010).