Many bar owners and operators put plenty of thought into the spirits and glassware they offer their guests. What too many fail to do, however, is really focus in on yet another aspect of great cocktail production: ice. Ethan Bondelid, owner of House of Loom and The Berry & Rye in Omaha, NE and Ben Rowe, the beverage director for House of Loom would like to change that. You’ll have the opportunity to learn from industry experts like Ethan and Ben next year at the 2016 Nightclub & Bar Convention and Trade Show.
“Everything starts with ice,” says Ethan about his approach to cocktails, “If you have some of the best spirits you’re putting into a cocktail, ice is critical.”
As an owner, operator, bar manager or mixologist, you need to consider putting a dedicated ice program in place. It doesn’t do much good to create craft cocktails with the best spirits and other ingredients if you’re using inferior ice. Ice corrupted by minerals and bad tastes coupled with a tendency to melt too quickly will only serve to water down your cocktails and impart unwanted flavors (and possibly scents). That isn’t to say that water is bad – it’s not. Ice is water, after all, and water opens up spirits, exposing complex flavors and aromas and imbuing cocktails with a pleasant mouthfeel.
Ice comes in many shapes and forms but the most common for cocktails are the spear, perfect cube, sphere, block and crushed. Spears can be created through the use of molds, as can spheres and blocks. Blocks tend to look impressive in Old Fashioned glasses. For clear ice cubes, there are a few different routes you can take. You can either invest in a Kold-Draft icemaker which will run you around $3,000 for a single unit. Another option is a Hoshizaki icemaker, which will cost you between $4,000 and $4,500. Then, of course, there’s the option of making your own ice blocks and spheres.
To make your own ice, you’re going to need molds, water and, of course, a freezer. Clear ice is very important as it indicates that the ice is pure and, as you already know, it’s more aesthetically pleasing. There are many bits of advice out there offering up ways to create clear ice and luckily for you, Ethan has experimented with all of them. This means the information he has to share is the best way to do things. Boiling water, which is commonly recommended, turned out to have no beneficial effect in the way of creating clear ice. Instead, Ethan recommends keeping 5 jugs of distilled water on hand. To make the large bricks of ice that will become blocks and spheres, Ethan uses coolers. He fills them up, places them in a walk-in freezer for 3 days and then turns them upside-down until they start sliding out. The bricks are removed and then the show starts. Using just a regular saw, an ice pick and an ice mallet, the bricks are scored and then blocks are chipped off them. For spheres, 2-inch blocks are set into an aluminum ice sphere mold. These will run you about $1,100 for a large one (which you’ll want for their weight and effectiveness) unless a brand like The Macallan is willing to work with you, which can bring the cost down to around $600. You can also get these through Cocktail Kingdom. Spheres are superior because they melt much more slowly, delivering spirit-opening water without watering down cocktails.
Some of you are probably shaking your heads. You’re thinking, “This is ridiculous. I’m not about to make my own ice bricks and then have a bartender, barback or bar manager take the time to hack blocks out of them. Why bother?” Well, there are two excellent reasons to bother. The first is that you can charge more for your cocktails. Let’s say a cocktail featuring premium spirits costs you $1.10. You can charge at least $10 for that cocktail, meaning a cost to you of only 11 percent. The second reason is social media and advertising. Attractive drinks drive people – in particular Millennials – to snap photos and share them all over social media with locations logged and hashtags galore. Artisanal makes for attractive cocktails.
Of course, creating attractive, efficient ice is only half of the equation. For the other half, Ben Rowe teaches his bartenders how to shake and stir properly. Stirring seems to be a lost art, with many bartenders just dumping ingredients into a shaking tin and swirling them around a bit with ice. To stir, use a bar spoon. Don’t, however, bang around the ice. Move with intention but don’t abuse the ice, slamming and banging it. You won’t know when to stir if you don’t know when to shake. If you want your cocktail ingredients aerated in order to activate and “awaken” them, if you’re using citrus, eggs and/or herbs, you want to use a shaker. While there’s nothing wrong with using a Boston shaker, most pint glasses are flawed and therefore don’t seat fully. Instead, consider getting a cobbler shaker with a weighted bottom. Hold the top with your thumb, shake with a rolling movement…and shake hard. The goal is to really bang around the ice and smash it against the bottom of the tin. You’ll know that you’re cocktail is shaken enough when the tin frosts over. Perform a double strain, which takes barely any more time compared to a single strain, and serve.