How much thought have you put into the ice that goes into the drinks?
Jerome Sequeira is a master mixologist and the assistant outlets manager at the Fairmont Hotel Macdonald. Earlier this year, on a night when the upscale hotel launched its “Classics Perfected” program (that has since been taken off the menu), with cheeky rethinks on classics like the Old Fashioned, Whiskey Sour and Mint Julep, Sequeira chatted about maybe the most underappreciated part of the bar’s arsenal: The ice.
“Indeed, it is the most important piece of any cocktail,” he said. “Ice brings out the most flavour out of anything.”
Basically, you can put together the best ingredients, but the wrong choice of cubes can lower the quality of the cocktail.
Why? Dilution in drinks is important. “Dilution is something that is really important in mixology,” Sequeira said. “Usual bottles of alcohol have an alcohol content of something between 42 to 56 per cent. And, for those flavours to open up, the distillers and the masters who make these blends, they recommend you add a little bit of water to it.”
Ice is the only element in the cocktail that dilutes. But the magic is managing the pace of that dilution process. For some drinks, you want the ice to dilute quickly and, for others, you want a slow melt. And that’s where the size of the cube comes into play.
As Sequeira explained, in alcohol-forward drinks, you don’t want the ice to melt that quickly. A bourbon-forward drink like an Old Fashioned is meant to be very spirit-forward, and to be sipped slowly. So, that’s why you’ll find a large ice cube or globe in a proper alcohol-forward drink.
“We don’t want to dilute it because it’s a spirit-forward cocktail,” he said. “You don’t want to dilute it a lot because it will lose all the flavours.”
But, in drinks that are sweet and fruity, you want the dilution to occur more quickly. These drinks will go down a lot easier and the melting ice helps wash away some of the prevailing sweetness. As the ice melts, the drink becomes, well, more refreshing. So, you want to use smaller cubes in those drinks.
“Flavours that are more tropical, they need more ice,” said Sequeira. “With simple syrup, with lemon, if you want your alcohol to integrate well, you need that ice for a balanced cocktail. If you think it’s too sweet, there’s not enough dilution.”
You can watch the ice shrink to see if it’s diluting. But that takes time. There’s a simpler eye test when it comes to ice. The more ice that floats to the top of the drink, the quicker is the pace of dilution.
And, if you’re shaking a drink with ice, but straining out the ice bits when you serve the cocktail — think of a Vesper or a Martini — you are speeding up the dilution. The drink might not have visible ice chunks when it’s served, but shaking the ingredients together before the pour has already done the job.
So, if you’re making cocktails at home and want to experiment, make ice of different sizes.
“It makes a lot of sense to make your own ice,” said Sequeira. “And not just any ice. You need to filter your ice. You can get a bag of ice from the gas station, but you don’t know if it’s filtered or not.”
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This article appears in the October 2020 issue of Edify