Cocktails starring perfect crystalline ice are among the hallmarks of today’s quality bars. Often, these mighty cubes and spheres, which add much-needed chill, texture, and viscosity, are chiseled straight from a sleek chainsaw-cut block by an adventurous bartender. These practical theatrics add yet another facet to a finely wrought drink. But from a utilitarian perspective, thoughtful ice selections ensure cocktails are served at optimal temperatures. Little is worse for customers than sipping a drink that quickly dilutes before their eyes.
To keep this essential component both playful and seductive for guests, bartenders are getting more creative with “frozen water.” For example, at Measure at the Langham Place, New York hotel, head bartender Sarah Karakaian makes lavender ice cubes for the herbaceous Yuputka cocktail, which consists of rosemary-infused Bulleit rye, lemon, and egg white. Likewise, in Washington, D.C., Luca Giovannini, head bartender at Fiola Mare, enlivens the classic Gin & Tonic with a rotating slate of seasonal ice cubes in flavors like green tea and pear.
As bartenders pay careful attention to the ice that buoys their libations, they are also taking the opportunity to explore the attributes of smoke. Together, the interplay is powerful. At Branch Line in Emeryville, California, patrons relish both realms when ordering the Date Old Fashioned. Melding date-infused rye and Lapsang Souchong–infused Angostura bitters, it’s served over a large ice cube. Zachary Brian Taylor, the bartender who dreamed it up, says, “I love incorporating elements of smoke into cocktails because it’s a natural balance to rich sweetness—and smoke always evokes fond memories of campfires.”
Nostalgic cocktails such as this typically have an attractive emotional pull on patrons based on aromatics alone—but coupled with a distinctive, rarely seen smoky flavor profile, it creates an inventive way to savor imbibing rituals.
Ranjini Bose, bartender at the New York City bar Seamstress, says her Goodnight Stella is a hit with revelers because “the Negroni has grown in popularity over the last few years. A lot of people are drawn to variations on this theme.” A jolt of smoke is infused in this spin on the original by turning the glass over a burning rosemary sprig, which is then served beside the drink on a small plate. “People get really curious about it, and they love the presentation,” she points out. “I wanted to do something interesting with Spring 44 Old Tom gin, which works great in a Negroni because of its soft herbal qualities. The smoked rosemary adds another dimension, making this a botanical-forward cocktail. You would get a different effect, say, with smoked wood chips.”