Tiki (and General) Cocktail Ice Science


(Source: Ice Ice Baby. Well worth reading.)

Giuseppe Gonzalez is, as mentioned here before, one skilled bartender. More, this man behind New York’s Tiki destination, Painkiller is a deep thinker upon matters mixological. Just last month, he wrote a genuinely exhaustive discussion about one of the major processes they went through setting up Painkiller: Determining the amount and form of ice to use in their drinks.

I’d planned on writing about his post a little later in the month, but the comment thread to my Kallaloo post encouraged me to advance the schedule. This is a bigger deal than it might seem, especially during this month, when Mr. Blendtec tends to be front and center.

Giuseppe’s article is well worth reading in its entirety, possibly more than once. It contains a wealth of information about bar management, recipe tasting, and general Tiki-tude. It also has some great reminders that Everything You Think You Know May Not Be True. But the real meat of the article is how ice changes your drink. And how many ways ice changes your drink. And he gives some good theoretical and experimental backing for what he concludes. I want you to read it yourself, and I couldn’t do better than he has anyway, so I’ll merely try to give you some things to focus on when you think about implementing what he talks about, whether you follow the link or not. (Expert Tip: Follow the damn link!)

First, whether you are making a Martini or an Hawaiian Bongo Wahini, ice has a second equally important function beside making your drink cold.
It dilutes it.
Water doesn’t just make your drink weaker, though too much of it can do that. Water changes, and usually enhances, the flavors of a cocktail. Determining the right amount of water content in a drink is often a big challenge on its own, but Gonzalez addresses the added complication that comes from (as is common with smooth blended drinks) much of that water content still being frozen. This month, I’m going to spend a lot more time considering the amount of ice I use in blended drinks to improve my results. And I’ll try to give some more clear directions in recipes I give.

Second, the strength of your ingredients affects your drink’s balance. This is especially important with dealing with classic recipes, or substituting liquors. Something I took away from this that I’ll apply immediately here at home is the need to modify my pours when I make my Mai Tais with Smith & Cross. I love the flavor profile S&C gives, but I knew I was facing some problem somewhere. It’s pretty significantly over-proof, so I think I’ll try simply cutting back a bit on the amount.

Lastly, we all have different ideas of perfect balance. Know your own. Adjust your ratios to reflect your own preferences in any recipe as you get more experienced. But you also need to know your ice. Is it colder or warmer than what you expect the recipe envisioned? How’s it’s surface area? Are you swizzling pre-crushed ice from your Lewis Bag? Flash blending? Smoothieizing? Shaking or stirring? Or even just putting it on the rocks? Whatever the case, know the effect of your ice on the dilution, because here is Gonzalez’s number one conclusion:

1. Balance appears to be (more) a universal quality than we had previously expected.
… when you take dilution into account and style of ice being used, the trend from sweeter to drier becomes pretty self-explanatory. Adding sweetener to a cocktail that is higher dilution, becomes vital to achieving balance.

Finally, I’ll point you, without further comment, to the bit well down in the article in which he discusses how the way they serve Zombies at Painkiller has evolved. It’s both fun and highly instructive.

About the author

Doug

I am 48 years old, married with two young daughters. My interests are tennis, reading, computers, politics, and of course cocktails. I run a murder mystery party business that caters to both corporate and private events, Killing Time, murder consultants.

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