Have you ever noticed that different types of ice work better in some cocktails rather than others? Well, there’s a reason for that.
When it comes to cocktail making, there is a science behind the type of ice used. There are very few cocktails that don’t require the use of ice at all. Arguably one of the most important ingredients of a drink, whether used in the shaker or the cocktail, ice plays a role.
Brandon McDonald, a bartender at the Ice Plant in St. Augustine, Florida, has offered his expertise when it comes to this simple yet pertinent ingredient. The Ice Plant utilizes a 300 lb. block of ice when creating cocktails.
Brandon added, “Ice Plant uses an ice machine (a Clinebell) that utilizes directional freezing — forcing water to freeze from the bottom up instead of the top-down, which pushes sediment up and agitated freezing —keeping water moving as it freezes to remove air bubbles and sediment to create 350-400lbs blocks of ice. The top inch or so will have whatever debris was in the water and gets sliced off before the block is broken down to usable 2.5″x2.5″ cubes.”
Because of this, he has become very versed in the use of ice. Different types of ice can modify cocktails. The drink created will determine the type of ice used. Crushed or pebble ice has a high surface area so, it will melt faster. Spheres and large cubes have less surface area in a drink, which results in a slower melt, allowing for the ice to dilute the drink less and less.
Why is diluting important? In some cocktails, it’s essential. “Dilution is necessary to make sure you aren’t drinking straight alcohol, taking some of the burn away from a cocktail,” says Brandon. Often when sipping on rum, a large ice cube is added to melt slowly into the drink.
In a lot of cocktails, adding in ice can make it more enjoyable. Brandon notes that cooling down cocktails will enhance certain flavor profiles. It can add a different texture, strength, and overall taste to a drink. Some cocktails taste better chilled — it makes them more refreshing.
The quality of ice can be impacted depending on the region. A cocktail made in New York can differ from one made in California because of the water used. Sometimes there may be a trace of magnesium, sodium, calcium, etc., in the water, altering the flavor of the cocktail. Brandon notes that ice with sediments or air bubbles can influence the taste and water the cocktail down faster.
Ice making might seem like an easy task. However, Brandon offers advice for those making it at home. “Start by using filtered or distilled water. Then utilize direction freezing- the easiest way is to put your mold in a cooler and then put the cooler in a freezer while leaving the lid off of the cooler. Directional freezing kits are also available online.”
As simple as it is, ice truly can make or break a good cocktail. While it’s not the focus of the drink, Brandon states further that adding flowers or herbs to ice cubes makes for an Instagram-worthy picture. “Ice rarely is the star of a drink — not noticing the ice at all might be the best way to make it picture-worthy.”