Why bartenders are paying more attention to ice
If you live in a major U.S. city, odds are you’ve seen the wave of fancy cocktail bars that have become en vogue. The fact is, Americans are starting to focus more on what they eat and drink, and the quality of ingredients is an integral part of developing top-notch cuisine. Well, that same concept applies to mixology, and many renowned watering holes are delving into customizing ice for each drink. Of course, there is a lot that goes into this process. While ice might seem as easy as pouring some water in a cube tray, some of the best bars in locales such as Washington D.C., Chicago, Seattle and New York City are going above and beyond when crafting their signature drinks.
Ordering crystal clear ice and shaping it is a hefty challenge in itself. Many establishments purchase large ice blocks, as sediment and air bubbles can be easier to cut away, leaving a gorgeous, translucent block with which to work. From there the ice can be shaped to melt at certain rates, to fit in specific bar glasses or to aesthetically add to the drink. This process is not only time consuming, but also takes up a lot of space. Bartenders often need a preparation area specifically for ice. For example, in an interview with Eater, Columbia Room bartender Matt Finke explained:
“We let it sit for a bit, because if it’s fresh out of the freezer, it will crack. We cut it into sheets with a chainsaw, then do the initial shaping with an udon noodle knife, which works well for shaping the ice.”
While a chainsaw may seem a bit drastic, the overall process ensures that each cocktail is made with pure ice shaped to provide a drink with the right temperature and dilution. Other establishments have used king cubes or custom molds to create larger blocks of ice specifically meant for drinks such as gin and tonics or simply a whiskey on the rocks.
Some speakeasys and cocktail bars are taking this idea a step further by developing ice with various flavors. For example, Eater notes that Bourbon Steak infuses ice spheres with liquids such as rosewater and vermouth. This allows bartenders to have much more control over how a drink is diluted over time. Remarkably, ice chefs seem to be taking the cocktail industry to a whole new echelon.