Ice. Let’s face it, you’re not going to get very far without some. Ice is to the cocktailista what fire is to the chef. It’s not enough just to have any old ice. We need the right ice. Huh? Isn’t ice just frozen water? Please; you’ve got cubed ice, crushed ice, cracked ice, shaved ice, blocks of ice, wet ice, dry ice, ice spheres, cloudy ice and clear ice. OK I probably missed a few but you get the idea. In general you’re going to need two kinds of ice – cubed and crushed. Cubed ice doesn’t actually need to be cubed – just chunks of frozen water of about 1.5 – 4cm. About 90% of your shaken and all your stirred cocktail will be made with cubed ice. Cubed ice – especially larger cubes – doesn’t melt too quickly so it will chill your drink without overly diluting it (whether in shaker, mixing glass or drinking glass). Crushed ice does the opposite. It’s large surface area to volume ratio means that it chills very quickly and adds a lot of dilution as it does. Crushed ice is heavily used in Tiki drinks whether shaken, blended or swizzled and a smaller number of regular cocktails, for example the Bramble. Shake with crushed ice and you’ll immediately see the difference. Your drink will be colder quicker than with cubed ice. The easiest way to make crushed ice is to invest in an ice crusher. Cubed ice goes in the top, you spin the handle, crushed ice drops into the container. Easy, and strangely satisfying in this electric world. The other way is to put it in a clean cloth bag (aka a Lewis bag) and bash the heck out of it with a mallet. Probably even more satisfying but a bit messy and inconsistent in my opinion. Do buy crushed ice if it’s available close to home, but remember how quickly it melts…
Let’s get some ice.
You’ve got a freezer right? Or at least an ice box? Otherwise we’re both wasting our time here. Oh, good. Reserve some space in there by way of a clean food grade plastic tub as big as you can get away with without pissing off the rest of the household. Actually, push it a bit, we’re gonna need as much as we can get. If you have space get a smaller tub for crushed ice otherwise keep a ziploc bag of crushed in the main tub. Nothing goes in this tub except ice. Now you can either buy ice or you can make ice – and why buy ice when you can buy rum instead? Besides, the ice you buy tends to be in big round chunks that are precisely the only size that isn’t very useful in cocktails – although it’s fine for keeping a bucket of beers cold. Let’s skip ahead to making ice for cocktails.
If you’re lucky you might have a fancy fridge/freezer with an ice maker that makes small cubes and crushed ice. If so use it to keep your ice tub topped up – because the ice reservoir is usually quite small. Job done. If you don’t have such a fridge/freezer simply sabotage the one you have and persuade your partner to replace it with a more cocktail friendly type.
If you want to get serious you might consider buying an ice maker. Yes, really. They look a bit like a bread maker and churn out ice at a pretty handy clip. I have a nice one that churns out a tray of lovely clear ice every 15 minutes or so. It won’t quite keep up with a cocktail party but you just stock up in advance.
Otherwise we’re down to making our own ice, which isn’t exactly the end of the world. Just get a couple of ice trays and get in the habit of emptying them into the ice tub regularly and refilling them. Pretty soon you have a decent supply of nice regular cubed ice. Don’t bother with those ice cube making bags that you can buy. As well as being wasteful, they’re a pain to use and make crappy cubes anyway. An alternative method is to fill a clean rectangular plastic tub (as big as you have freezer space for) and put in the freezer until it’s solid. Once so, take it out and leave it to rest for about 5-10 mins before turning the block out onto a clean cloth. Now the fun bit. Take a clean bread knife and a wooden mallet or similar blunt instrument. Make a slight score in the ice with the knife (watch those fingers – it will slip a bit at first!) and gently tap the back of the blade with the mallet. The ice will split surprisingly cleanly and easily. Continue and make cubes of the desired size. I suggest cubes of about 4-5cm to save time and effort. You can also cut some larger blocks for drinks like Old Fashioned and Negronis.
If for any reason you don’t have lovely clean tapwater like us lucky Amsterdammers then use bottled or filtered water – whatever you would use to drink.