Cocktail lovers have long mused over how to adorn their favourite tipple — from the garnish to the type of glass.
Now they’ve turned their attention to the humble ice cube. It is a trend set by the smartest bartenders, fanatical about what some call the most crucial ingredient of all.
After all, why spend money on delicious alcohol, and mix it with precision, then finish it with something that looks like it was prised off a pack of frozen peas?
From rocks to spheres, shards to icebergs, there’s a large array of ice shapes to choose from nowadays, each suited to chilling — or diluting — different types of drink to enhance the experience.
Helen McGinn shared advice for pairing different shapes of ice with cocktails, as bartenders spark the summer trend (file image)
Here, our drinks expert Helen McGinn reveals what is cool this summer. Remember, the water you use should be fresh (top mixologists even select signature mineral waters) and the ice should be kept in the freezer before serving — letting it sweat in a bucket will dilute your cocktail very quickly.
Welcome to the new ice age . . .
IN GOOD SHAPE
The classic shape — the one made by the standard ice cube trays in most of our freezers. These are ideal for throwing into the shaker when making cocktails like a Martini (unless you prefer yours stirred, of course).
If you’re using cubes in a highball cocktail — one made in a tall glass — fill it with at least four or five cubes, rather than adding a few cubes at the end.
And don’t worry about lots of ice diluting your drink, because keeping the drink colder means the cubes won’t melt and it will stay stronger for longer. Essential when it comes to cocktails.
CURVES TO ENJOY
Helen said ice with a curved surface that are as big as golf balls, are best served with drinks in tumblers such as Negronis (file image)
These are nearly as big as golf balls, bigger than a cube and with a smooth, curved surface.
The science bit is that, with less surface area in contact with what’s in the glass, the ice melts more slowly. Which, in turn, means the drink stays stronger for longer.
These are great for drinks in tumblers such as Negronis, keeping them deliciously strong as well as looking fabulous.
Moulds for round ice cubes are widely available if you want to make them at home, but you can also buy them in big bags at the supermarket.
Perfect to throw into a G&T, too, especially when served in a balloon-shaped copa glass.
IT’S CRUSH HOUR
The drinks expert explained that crushed ice is essential for cocktails on a hot day, including mojitos, mint juleps and wine-based slushies (file image)
Crushed ice is essential for making cocktails to sip on hot days, such as mojitos, mint juleps or wine-based slushies.
And if you want to knock up your own frosé in a hurry — that’s frozen rosé — you’ll have to up your crushed ice game.
You can, of course, stick ice cubes in a blender and blast them to smithereens, but I prefer the old-fashioned method. Namely, putting ice cubes in a freezer bag, wrapping it in a tea towel and whacking it with a rolling pin until shattered (the ice, I mean). You tend to lose less to dilution compared with putting it in the blender.
ON THE ROCKS
Helen revealed messy ice cubes are best paired with short, sharp cocktails such as an Old Fashioned (file image)
Basically, these are messy ice cubes. If your fridge has an ice dispenser, you might get so-called ice rocks from it rather than regimented cubes.
Art of bubble-free ice
The buzzword in cool cocktail circles, ‘directional-freezing’ is all about controlling the direction the ice freezes to ensure it’s clear, without bubbles or cloudiness.
Anna Sebastian, award-winning bar manager at London’s Artesian Bar, says: ‘This essentially means making sure there is no oxygen in the ice.
‘Do this by freezing a large Tupperware box full of water for 24 hours, then cutting off the cloudy bit at the bottom.’ Use a large serrated knife while holding it in place with a tea towel. A small ice pick can help.
She adds: ‘What’s great about this ice is that it melts far slower yet keeps the drink cold, so you enjoy your drink at a perfect temperature. Plus it looks great — always a talking point.’
Find Anna Sebastian’s pre-mixed cocktails at skywalkercocktail.co.uk. All proceeds from sales go to help rough sleepers.
They don’t look as neat as cubes, but their often larger size can be a bonus, particularly if you’ve got a short, sharp cocktail such as an Old Fashioned (whisky, sugar, bitters, and water) in your hand.
This is because they melt more slowly than small cubes. And if there’s one thing a short drink needs to be, it’s potent. They’re also the perfect size (not too big) to throw into a shaker.
Well, not quite an iceberg, but we’re talking really big chunks of ice that work brilliantly in jugs of pre-mixed cocktails, summer cups or punches.
Equally, you can pop one of these in your tumbler (sometimes called a rocks glass) if drinking a sipping spirit like certain gins, rum or bourbon.
Make icebergs by filling a small tub or container with water and freezing, then break it into big chunks using the trusted tea towel, freezer bag and rolling pin method, or by splitting with a knife.
A long drink like a Tom Collins — gin, lemon juice, sugar syrup and soda served in a tall glass — calls for plenty of ice.
But rather than throwing in four or five separate ice cubes, a single long ice shard won’t melt as quickly, while looking fantastic in the glass.
If you have a silicon ice cube tray, simply cut out a few of the dividers to join four squares together in a row. Then freeze as normal and make your own.
Helen said pre-mixed cocktails and punches work well with really big chunks of ice (file image)
Shivi Ramoutar, chef and author of The Ice Kitchen, suggests pimping your ice cube. As she says, ‘Why freeze water when you can freeze lots of colourful, tasty and cleverly combined ingredients?’
Here are a couple of Shivi’s suggestions for you to try:
- Chop celery into small pieces and pop one in each hole of the ice cube tray, along with a couple of celery leaves. Generously sprinkle sea salt and cracked black pepper in each, add a few dashes of Tabasco and Worcestershire sauce and top with a splash of lemon juice. For an extra kick, grate in a little fresh horseradish. Add the frozen cubes to your Virgin or Bloody Marys.
- Put small pieces of cucumber and strawberry into each ice-cube tray hole, add mint leaves and small pieces of orange and top with lemonade. Add these to your Pimm’s.