At a recent celebratory dinner, my girlfriend and I tore our way through the menu at one of Pittsburgh’s hottest new restaurants. The food lived up to the hype, each course more enchanting than the one before. The cocktails were just as lovely, meticulously garnished and presented in elegant glassware. And they tasted great — at first. A few sips in, however, and they were totally diluted, mere husks of their former glory.
This is not a terrible tragedy. (A watery gin and tonic has to be the First World-iest problem one can have.) But it did get me thinking about the importance of ice in modern drinking. Once it was an unthinkable luxury, but in the early 19th century, Frederic “Ice King” Tudor changed the way the world drinks when he figured out how to harvest blocks of ice and ship them all over the world. Today, nearly every cocktail we love relies on ice in some form, and the world’s best bars even employ “ice chefs” to craft the perfect cubes, spheres and spears for each drink.
The science of ice is fascinating but complex. Just know that your drink will be greatly influenced by the size, shape and temperature of the ice it’s mixed and served with. Good cocktail ice should be very cold and very dry; if you’ve ever grabbed ice from the picnic cooler you know the horrors of warm, wet cubes. And the greater the surface area, the more quickly the ice will melt. Serve an old-fashioned over a bunch of those crescents from your icemaker and it will quickly lose its bite. But the exact same weight of ice in the form of one large cube will keep it good to the last drop.
Thankfully, ice is a lot easier to find than it was in the 1800s. But we still shouldn’t take it for granted. Pay attention to the ice you use, and help make weak G&Ts as outdated as Tudor’s icehouses.