All about cocktail ice in Food Arts

It’s amazing enough that the September issue of Food Arts is almost entirely devoted to ice — the best ways to freeze, well, everything; liquid nitrogen cocktail experiments; best blast freezers, etc. Fascinating concept issue, though I was sorry the wine column wasn’t devoted to ice wines.

Ice sphere

Ice sphere

But what amazed me the most was the section on (cocktail) ice and ice machines buried within the “Arctic Arts” feature written by David Arnold and Nils Noren. Bartenders really do take ice seriously. Anyone who’s witnessed the obsessive Japanese art of carving ice into perfect spheres by hand knows what I mean.   

Arnold and Noren point out that bartenders “yearn for what they see as the lost age of great ice,” namely the days when pure, perfectly clear ice was harvested from lakes. (Did you know that Boston was the epicenter of the ice trade? I didn’t, though I’ve been to frosty old Boston in wintertime and I shouldn’t be so surprised.) So since no one harvests lake ice any more (is that a new artisan industry I smell?) here are the main solutions that bartenders use for great ice:

Machines:  namely the Scotsman nugget machine, which bartenders like for particular drinks like cobblers; the Kold-Draft, which makes big, 1 1/4-inch squares that melt relatively slowly; Manitowoc, which apparently is known for its quiet operation; Hoshizaki, which produces a special crescent-shaped ice cube that supposedly minimizes splashing when you pour and creates “superior displacement,” making pours look taller than average; and the Ice-O-Matic, which uses the ingredient ionic silver to inhibit bacteria and slime fungus growth (ick!).

Freeze your own ice. Arnold/Noren note that Sasha Petraske’s joints freeze big ice molds in domestic chest freezers, and use them to carve ice spears and use it for “shaking ice.”

Buy good ice. Apparently Richie Boccato at Dutch Kills rejected ice machines altogether and orders 300 pound blocks of ice, which can be used for about 300 drinks. “There’s always a block on display at their ice carving station, which makes for a great show.” The team there was trained for five months on ice prep techniques prior to opening, and they use Japanese wood saws, upholstery hammers, and ice picks to break them down. Yikes!

Liquid Nitrogen:  Possesses only 15% more cooling power than the same amount of ice. But it freezes quickly and makes smaller ice crystals, which imparts a smoother texture in the frozen substance. (and besides, nitro is just so flash these days…yes, Vegas, I’m lookin’ at you.)

And I can’t resist quoting one last comment from Don Lee of Momofuku:  “If sushi is all about the rice, a drink on the rocks is all about the rock.”

p.s. If you still have an appetite to read more about cocktail ice, this thread over at eGullet is for you.