If you’re a bartender who’s worked in a high-end cocktail den, you know how important ice is to a bar program.
Ice can make or break a cocktail, especially depending on the type of libation being served. To learn more about how different types of ice affect the quality of cocktails, we chatted with Ervin Machado, the beverage director of Big Time Restaurant group who oversees six bar programs in South Florida. They recently opened Elisabetta’s Ristorante in Delray Beach, and he invested $100,000 on equipment to make four kinds of ice.
“Ice is a building block,” Machado says. “It needs to be viewed as a key ingredient in cocktails.” We chatted with Machado about the different types of ice that should be used in certain cocktails and why you should consider investing in a quality ice-making machine when launching a bar program.
In a Classic Cocktail, Ice is One of the Most Important Ingredients
“When we were opening the first Louie Bossi’s (another Big Time Restaurant Group restaurant), we knew we needed Negronis on the menu because it’s an Italian restaurant,” Machado says. “We tried Negronis in Italy, New York and all over. We realized that even though Negronis are fairly simple, no Negroni tasted the same, even though they are equal parts gin, vermouth and Campari. It hit us that the ice was the most important ingredient. Depending on what ice was used, the drink could either be really bitter or really watered down. What made the difference in a good Negroni was how long you stirred the Negroni with the ice. The ice needed to resist turning into water. That was the first time we started thinking of ice as a key ingredient—it’s the only ingredient that every cocktail needed to have, so it is the most important.”
Different Types of Drinks Require Different Types of Ice
“At Elisabetta’s, we have four different kinds of ice,” Machado says. “Depending on the ice you use, it changes the profile of the cocktail. The second you introduce alcohol to ice, the alcohol by volume decreases. When we’re making drinks, depending on the structure and concentration of the ice, the drinks will either melt more quickly and lower the alcohol or integrate better. You wouldn’t use the same ice for a shaken drink that you would use to cool down a drink.”
“For example, with an Old Fashioned, you want ice that has a higher resistance from melting so it chills the Old Fashioned but doesn’t water it down,” Machado adds. “The ice we use for this is 2.5 x 2.5-inch cubes. Crushed ice by itself with a drink poured over it just melts. But if you have a different ice as a base and put crushed ice on top of it, both kinds of ice will last longer and keep a drink cold over time. Pebble ice is perfect for shaken cocktails because it mixes and lowers the amount of alcohol in the cocktail.”
Consider Ice When Building Your Cocktail Program
“We always felt that ice was important but as we were building the new restaurant because we had a blank canvas to reinvent our cocktail program,” Machado says. “We believe ice is the future for cocktails. In Europe, they often don’t have these high-quality ice machines. Often, ice is a luxury there because it has to be hand-carved. With the newest technology, the ice is much more consistent and gives you perfect ice every time.”