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Ice Matters:  5 Tips for Making Great Cocktails!

The purpose of ice in a cocktail is two-fold: the ice not only chills the drink, it dilutes it as well.

Whether cubed, cracked, crushed or shaved, all chilled cocktails require some form of ice. As most bartenders will tell you, chilling a cocktail is important because the cold sensation of the drink helps to inhibit the taste receptors on the tongue.  This, in turn, helps the drink become more palatable and not taste quite so alcoholic.  In fact, the higher the alcoholic content, the colder the drink should be.  When a drink gets warm, you taste the alcohol.  It was for this reason that many drinks made during the early part of the 20th century were no larger than 3 ounces in size.  They were meant to be consumed quickly.  The glassware followed suit and was small in scale as well.  Dilution is equally important in a cocktail.  When ice melts into a cocktail, the dilution makes the drink smoother and, hence, more appealing.  However, too much dilution will weaken the flavors of the cocktail.

5 Tips for making great ice and, hence, great cocktails:

  1. Try to use “fresh” ice.  Ice that has been made and stored in a freezer for an extended period of time will pick up the flavors of the freezer and impart them into your cocktail.  For the same reason, you should never reuse ice that has already been used to make a cocktail.  For real cocktail purists, you can also quickly “rinse” your ice before placing it into a shaker, pitcher or glass.  This technique was used quite regularly during the early part of the 20th century and can be found in many old cocktail recipe books.
  2. After you have poured the ingredients for your cocktail into a shaker or pitcher, fill the shaker or pitcher at least half way with large cubes.  As a general rule, shake or stir for approximately 30 seconds to achieve the proper dilution and temperature of the cocktail before straining into a glass.  Keep in mind that metal shakers and pitchers tend to retain cold better than glass ones.
  3. Size matters.  Small ice cubes used in a glass melt faster, diluting your drink quickly.  The longer it takes to drink a cocktail, the less finish or taste the drink will have.  Large square ice cubes have more surface area so they melt much slower than smaller cubes.  Large round ice spheres have even more surface area than the large cubes, making them often the most preferred for cocktails.  Keep in mind that the size of the glass needed for the cocktail will depend upon the size of the ice used.
  4. When filling ice trays, the hotter the water, the better the ice. You can use hot water straight from the tap, but distilled and boiled water is best, if possible.  By using hot water, the water will freeze more slowly resulting in clear and flawless ice.  Water that is already cold will chill quickly producing air bubbles that get trapped in the ice.  This will result in not only a cloudy look to the ice but will produce brittle ice as well.
  5. Never chill your spirits in a freezer.  In order to achieve proper dilution in a cocktail, spirits need to be warm to melt the ice.