Ice Age

Cheers to keeping cocktails well-chilled.
Cheers to keeping cocktails well-chilled. Thinkstock

No cocktail is complete without the perfect cube (or sphere, or wedge, or ...)

No cocktail is complete without the perfect cube (or sphere, or wedge, or ...)

There was a time when chipped ice was reserved for highbrow balls or haughty Hollywood sets featuring debutantes, mobsters, or the Victorian aristocracy. Now the craft cocktail movement and its populist overtones have brought the elevation of cocktail ice to a fever pitch. Custom, artisanal ice is an enormous trend, and beverage directors and mixologists are taking advantage of this latest element to add verve to their cocktail programs in more and more unique ways.

Premium ice cubes began to attract national attention just after the Millennium. This premium ice is commonly created from on-site mold machines like the Hoshizaki, which make perfect 1.25-inch by 1.25-inch cubes, or the more pricey Clinebell, which takes three days to freeze a 300-pound hunk of ice of the sort generally used for creating a dramatic feature to chip in the front of the house. The production process also results in notably slow-melting (and therefore, slow-diluting) ice.

The Clinebell produces especially clear ice, thanks to a process that freezes the water from the bottom up. The cooling air is also circulated, which bursts any bubbles that might form while the ice sets. Suppliers take these giant chunks and break them down by handsaw into cubes or spheres to sell to restaurant, lounge, and bar managers who desire larger cubes that take longer to melt. Today, nearly two-dozen companies, including PDX Ice in Portland, Oregon, and Favourite Ice in Washington, D.C., are well-known distributors.

But lucent ice is only the tip of the trend. Starting in 2013, Chicago’s Just
Ice began freezing flowers in blocks of water. Likewise, at Power House in Hollywood, California, Mike Chung suspends an edible orchid in an ice sphere as a centerpiece garnish for his picturesque cocktail, aptly named The White Orchid. Once the ice melts, the flower’s delicate flavor allows the combination of Tito’s vodka, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, yuzu, and white cranberry syrup “to evolve,” Chung says, as well as “slowly exposing the flower for a visually pleasing transformation.”

In 2014, the Beyond Zero Ice Maker, introduced at the National Restaurant Association show in Chicago, proved that you can also turn liquor and wine into a product that won’t dilute a cocktail as it melts—which means no more stigma to adding ice to your wine.

The same holds true for other flavors, such as coffee and tea. At Urban Farmer Steakhouse in Portland, Oregon, the staff highlights local vendors such as Stumptown Coffee to make balls of coffee ice, over which the Café Pepe cocktail (Vida Mezcal, Averna Amaro, and Drambuie) is strained. In Denver, Colorado, the Kizaki brothers cool their green tea cocktails at Sushi Den, Izakaya Den, and soon, their third restaurant OTOTO, with cubes of frozen green tea, which they say adds another layer of depth.

Indeed, it didn’t take long for restaurateurs to figure out that flavored cubes and spheres not only deposit extra flavors but also look more appealing. Kim Haassarud, mixologist for Omni Hotels & Resorts, notes that while spherical ice cubes that range from an inch to two inches are ideal for preserving the aromatics in all-alcohol, stirred cocktails, “fruit cubes are great for visual aspects in a drink. Ice cubes made with fruit pieces in clear cocktails like gin and tonics makes them pop.”


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