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Ask the Expert

Essential Guide to Mixing Cocktails [title] Stirring

Ice

Ice is an essential ingredient to great cocktail making.  Unfortunately many customers may think that this is a clever way of reducing the amount of liquid served – those in the know understand that this is not the case.  In fact, a drink which is served in a glass that has been filled with ice will stay colder much longer and the ice melts more slowly and does not quickly dilute the drink.  Adding only a few cubes to the cocktail will start to melt down almost straight away and quickly appear to water down the drink.

If you are relatively new to cocktail making – why not try out this experiment to demonstrate the effect that ice can have on a cocktail recipe?  Using an example of a Classic Martini recipe featuring gin and vermouth, chill the serving glass, garnishes (olives etc) and vermouth in the fridge and place the gin in the freezer.  Using the chilled ingredients without any ice – mix these together in the serving glass and drop in the olive or sliver of lemon zest.  When you taste the finished cocktail – it will be overwhelming in strength and unlike the distinctive Martini you were expecting.  If you then make the recipe using the ingredients stirred with ice in a cocktail shaker and then strained into your cocktail glass, the difference will be quite apparent.

Why is that?  The use of ice changes the composition of the cocktail entirely.  Here's the science bit!  Apart from diluting it – the ice mellows the so called “burn” effect of the strong alcoholic ingredients used in a Martini – yet at the same time, it also releases and enhances their full flavours and aromas.  Did you know that this is a method that is widely used in tutored (professional) tastings of products such as malt whisky to appreciate the depth and complexity of flavours?  Rather than taste the whisky neat, a little still mineral water is added and gently swirled around the glass to mix the water and whisky together.  When you then nose it before and after the water is added – the difference will be marked.

When working behind a bar – a plentiful and constant supply of ice is essential to great cocktail making.  Here are some tips which we hope will be useful:

Do's:

  • Good drink making ice is best in big cubes of about 3cm in size.
  • Be generous with the ice – the more the better!
  • If making your own ice cubes in trays – use filtered or bottled water which will then avoid the likelihood of a slight chlorine taste often found in tap water.
  • Ice should be dry in texture and would feel almost sticky when you touch it.
  • Use cracked ice in a blender for frozen drinks – it creates the kind of “slush” effect without damaging your blender, whereas lumped cubes does not break down totally and could cause problems with the blender.
  • Store your ice in a big ice well with a drain and make sure you drain it regularly.
  • If you're going to be making a lot of recipes using crushed ice – such as a Mojito – it is worth investing in an electric ice crusher instead of a hand cranked one.  This will save you time and arm ache!

Don'ts:

  • Don't use ice that has started to thaw.
  • Never scoop the ice with your hands or an ice scoop made of glass.
  • Never re-use ice that you have already shaken or stirred with – not even if you are making another cocktail of the same recipe.

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