The true about ice, the essential cocktail ingredient

ice as a ultimate cocktail ingredient and the science behind it

Let’s admit it when it comes to cocktail ingredients ice is often overlooked and won’t be the first one to think of.

But ice is arguably the most important ingredient used in the modern craft cocktails.

The ice you shake, stir or blend a cocktail with, not only chills and adds necessary dilution to your drink but it’s also an important feature in its presentation.

Plus, when ice melts it affects the flavour by smoothing out and binding ingredients together. Ice, as one of the most prominent cocktail ingredient, simply matters.

We can think of only a few rare exceptions that don’t require ice, whether it’s one of the latest cocktail trends room temperature cocktails or hot drinks.

What is ice and the science behind it?

Although, we can say that ice is simply frozen water but in fact making ice can get quite complicated because many bartenders and cocktail aficionados are trying to recreate the specific type of pure and crystal clear ice.

The important factor of ice used in a cocktail is how fast it melts in a given length of time. Basically, the bigger the surface area of ice exposed to the environment then more heat gets transferred into the ice and therefore melts faster.

Relationship between surface area and volume

how ice melts in cocktails

When something gets larger the surface area increases but not nearly as fast as its volume.

When you triple the size of cube then the surface area will increase 9x but the volume 27x.

  • The Bigger volume of ice melts much more slowly than a small volume because it has a lower surface area to volume ratio.
  • A couple of small ice cubes will melt faster than one piece of ice with the same volume because of the larger surface area.

How the size of ice effects a cocktail’s chilling, dilution and presentation

Trying to use the right ice for the right drink can seem to be a bit overwhelming but there a few general rules of thumb that you can follow:

Large Ice

Larger pieces of ice melt more slowly because of the surface area and volume ratio and is often used when you don’t want to add too much of a dilution in a drink over time. 

The latest trend and preferences from bartenders are to use the large block Ice in the most cocktails, to not only have an absolute control over the dilution but also from the presentation point of view. 

The large chunk of ice(spears) will enhance the long drinks such as Tom Collins and a nice big cube of ice or ice ball(spheres) works well in the Old Fashioned, Negroni or a neat spirit. For the ice at home, you can buy silicone molds for the large ice cubes or spheres.

Small Ice cubes or Crushed ice

Smaller ice cubes or crushed ice chill and dilute drinks faster. You will want to use these for highly concentrated drinks such as Swizzles or Mint Juleps with a higher ABV to quickly chill and water down the cocktail to make it immediately more drinkable.

How the taste and clarity of ice influence your drink

If you’re using high-quality ingredients to make your cocktails, why would you make your ice cubes cloudy with impurities and air bubbles trapped inside? 

The clearer the ice, the better—Oxygen in your ice will make it melt quicker and impurities can impart flavour into your drink. If you want to make a difference then make your ice cubes crystal clear. You can use the directional freezing method explained by Camper English to make clear blocks of ice with a few extra tools and also comfortably at home.

Shaking vs. stirring

When you think of properly chilling your drink without extra dilution then think again.

Dave Arnold in his book Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect cocktail proved through the series of tests that Chilling and dilution are deeply connected.

So without chilling, there wouldn’t be a dilution and without dilution, there wouldn’t be a chilling.

Basically, as you stir, your drink gets colder and ice melts. Whenever you stir a drink you want your drink to be chilled and achieve certain temperature. But no matter which method of stirring you use or in what time you get there the dilution will be always the same.

How can you practically use it?
Imagine you have to make a round of drinks and make them at the same time. You can leave the drinks that are supposed to be stirred sitting in the mixing glass for a bit and start making other drinks. Once you get them all chilled to the certain temperature. It won’t affect the dilution of your drink.

Stirring a cocktail with ice

  • Make sure you chill your mixing glass before stirring a drink that way your drink will be chilled faster.
  • The process of stirring should be done smoothly without any excessive noise which leads to a possibility of chipping the ice (extra dilution) or in some cases air bubbles(texture).
  • How do you know that your cocktail is chilled? First of all, your mixing glass will be frosted on the outside and if you follow the rules above, it’s usually about 20 stirs in each direction (40).
  • Although, if you use larger ice, then you need to stir it longer or faster. Large blocks of ice might cause a warm and under-diluted drink.
  • You need to remember that stirred drink gets less cold and diluted then shaken one so after 2 minutes of constant stirring, a drink reaches the equilibrium with no further chilling.

Shaking a cocktail with ice

  • The faster the drink moves the faster it can get chilled.
  • As long as you shake your cocktail vigorously for at least 10 seconds, your drink will be chilled.
  • After shaking for at least 14 seconds, your drink will reach the equilibrium that means very little chilling or dilution will take place.
  • The style of shaking or the quality of ice doesn’t influence the final result that much. But always get rid of any excessive water if there is any stuck to the surfaces of ice, it may overdilute your drink.

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