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Lightly Toasted: Chronicles of the Friday Night Cocktail Club

Ice, Ice, Baby 
Apr. 3, 2011 1:39 pm 
Updated: Apr. 5, 2011 8:29 am
The most underappreciated ingredient in cocktails would have to be ice. Typically it doesn't merit a mention in cocktail recipes, except as an off-hand aside in the directions: “shake over ice.”

But there’s an old (mostly forgotten) adage about the necessary building blocks of a cocktail: one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and four of weak. And what’s the “weak”? It’s ice.  Or more to the point, water.

Consider the martini. Without ice, you have a glass of gin gently flavored with dry vermouth. Good enough if you lean that way, I suppose. But take away the ice, and you not only have a warm drink, you have a “hot” drink, as well, in the sense that it’s highly alcoholic and harsh.  The ice dilutes as it cools. It smoothes off the edges. It’s a necessary ingredient in the drink.

So the quality of ice matters. You want clean, fresh ice that doesn’t give off the essence of whatever else might be in your fridge (and for however long). To start with, you want ice made from pure, filtered water. And you don’t want it sitting around your fridge for months on end.

Recently, I watched a bartender, who was very serious about his ice, cutting cubes from a 300-pound block of crystal-clear ice with a chainsaw and a bandsaw. Okay, maybe the word is fanatical moreso than "serious."
I don’t own a chainsaw even for slicing through wood. So this is not a practical solution for me. (But for those interested in making chainsaw ice at home, see below*.)

Here then is a more practical solution. Ice for Cocktails, the recipe.

It’s old school in the sense that it requires using ice trays. If you’re super-serious about your cocktail ice, you might want to keep your trays in their own separate freezer. I’m not that obsessed. Yet.  What I do do, however, is boil some filtered water (to deoxygenate it, I'm assuming) on a Friday morning in a tea kettle, cool the water down in an ice-water bath (using regular-old ice), and then freeze it in silicone trays, to be ready just in time for the Friday night cocktail hour. Good, fresh ice really makes a difference. No fooling.

*Now then, for those of you wanting something more challenging and dangerous, here are some things to keep in mind when making chainsaw ice at home.  

All you need are a few simple tools:

1.    A chainsaw with a very, very clean chain. (Run it through an industrial dish washer before use.)
2.    A band saw for slicing large blocks into cubes.
3.    A Kold-Draft machine with inverted evaporator, a pressurized system that locks out air and impurities.
4.    Or some kind of commercial ice-block delivery service that will bring a 300-pound chunk of purified, deoxygenated ice to your door.
5.    Protective eyewear. The chips fly where they may!
6. A good pair of work gloves.
Good luck!

Ice for cocktails
Photo Detail
Apr. 3, 2011 3:24 pm
thanks for the tips. I wonder about the chainsaw, how do they keep the chain oil from mixing with the ice? Seems to show up on the trees we cut, looks pretty like Grenadine though.
Apr. 3, 2011 4:11 pm
In Japan, some bars had ice from icebergs that they chipped off with a pick.
Apr. 4, 2011 5:29 pm
So, have you made a cocktail using the measurements from the adage? In other words, is that a fairly common ratio? Glad you're back ;)
Apr. 5, 2011 8:25 am
Great questions. The chainsaw guy used an electric chainsaw and said he runs his chain through an industrial dishwasher. Still, it would need to be oiled, right? As for the measurements, I think my old fashioneds roughly meet that criteria: a couple dashes bitters (sour), some sugar (sweet), a good amount of whiskey (strong), and a handful of ice cubes (weak)! Thanks for the comments.
Apr. 5, 2011 8:29 am
And that's fascinating about the Japanese bars and the iceberg ice! Now that's Old School. (Ancient school.) Just learned about one of the "father's of the cocktail," who was called that because he was the first person to ship pond ice (taken from Boston ponds) to places like Havana. He popularized cold drinks. Not too many cocktails that don't require ice.
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About Me
My wife and I and our two devilish kittens live on Capitol Hill in Seattle. A few years ago, I got a masters in gastronomy. I'm a food/wine writer. I’m also blogging about cocktails.
My favorite things to cook
We cook fairly simple dishes using fresh local ingredients that we pick up at the Seattle farmers market. My favorite thing is making a nice slow-braised or long-roasted something on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I like cooking with wine (in the dish and in the glass...and in the cook).
My favorite family cooking traditions
My mom never liked to cook, but she did well despite herself. Her mother, my omi, was from Munich and made delicious rouladen, sauerbraten and other traditional German and American dishes. Always bins and bins of home-baked cookies at Christmas. Wonderful rye bread. And beer. Opa would say, "Brotzeit ist die beste zeit."
My cooking triumphs
We’ve made the signature timpano dish from The Big Night a couple times. And for Thanksgiving 2007, we made Turducken. My wife and I are always volunteering to cook the big holiday meals with the family. We mix a signature cocktail, and get down to it.
My cooking tragedies
I made Thanksgiving Dinner for myself once when I was snowed-in in Denver. I nearly burned down the neighborhood.
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