COLD AS ICE Nothing goes together like vodka and cold. In fact, vodka exists largely because of the cold climate of Russia and Eastern Europe, where grapes failed to thrive. Unable to produce wine, people looked to grains, potatoes and other agricultural sources to produce beverage alcohol. Following a complex process of mashing and fermenting, four distillations and three filtrations, wheat from the fertile black soil of Russia’s Tambov region is crafted into smooth Stoli® vodka in this tradition.
Ask most Americans about vodka and they simply know it tastes great cold—whether in Martinis, frosty shot glasses or sipped on the rocks. Like everything in mixology today, the notion of ice-cold vodka is being reexamined by a new generation of inquisitive and scientific-minded mixologists. In their world, the shape, composition, temperature and presentation of ice in mixed drinks are important variables that can dramatically affect how the customer perceives his or her drink.
“Ice cold” technically refers to 32-degrees F, the freezing temperature of water. However, ice can be, and should be, much colder. The temperature in a typical commercial freezer is near 0-degrees F, ideal for storing a bottle of Stoli® for traditional Russian-style sipping. By using ice that is supercold, straight from the freezer, you’ll achieve better and more consistent drinks. Ice cubes going into the shaker should appear dry and frosty, as compared to wet, which indicates the ice is beginning to melt. If you fill trays of ice to create large cubes, it’s also a good idea to keep them in a freezer separate from any food items; ice is quick to absorb off odors and flavors from the freezer.
Perhaps one of the biggest revolutions in ice revolves around ice that has been molded or hand-shaped to benefit cocktails and on-the-rocks drinks. Some studies indicate that a single large ball of ice lasts about 80 percent longer than the small cubes of generic “cheater” ice placed in the same drink. This means slow and steady dilution, along with a stunning appearance. While hand-chipped ice blocks date to the beginning of bartending, Japanese bartenders pioneered the current ice-sphere trend, where sharp tools are used to painstakingly carve an orb of crystal clear ice. “Ice is one of the elements that has defined the cocktail since its appearance, a way to regulate both temperature and dilution. Today, bartenders have more control over the art of cold than ever before.”The beauty of this presentation has set off a space race of sorts, with competing technologies to create clear, spherical ice. Some of the best equipment, like Taisin, can cost nearly $1,000, while a simple silicone mold that will produce spheres of ice without the desirable clarity can be had for around $10.
A new product from Wintersmith promises to create clear ice spheres that resemble the hand-carved variety for less than $100. There are also custom ice services sprouting up in many cities, like Favourite Ice, launched in Washington, D.C., by a former bartender at W Hotels for the purpose of providing custom and hand-cut ice.
For bartender Anne Marineau, ice is a vehicle that can be used to add beauty and flavor to her delicate drinks. By freezing flower petals or herbs and spices like star anise or rosemary into an ice cube, the drink becomes both beautiful and dynamic, releasing flavors as the ice melts to become an integral part of the drink. Other mixologists avoid unwanted dilution, or add flavor, by freezing juices into ice cubes.
Ice is one of the elements that has defined the cocktail since its appearance, a way to regulate both temperature and dilution. Today, bartenders have more control over the art of cold than ever before. By experimenting with where you store your vodka, on the shelf or in the freezer, the type and amount of ice used, the method of chilling glasses, shaking or stirring, and the size of cocktails served, mixologists are seizing full control of the notion of “ice cold,” ensuring each drink is presented with the perfect chill and proper dilution, which is every bit as important as accurate measurement in achieving a well-balanced cocktail.