Ice, Ice Baby
Chilled Out with the Cocktail Ingredient of the Moment
Ice is the cocktail ingredient of the moment, a carefully considered component that does a lot more than chill out.
The Manhattan Royale served at Z Bar in Chicago’s Peninsula Hotel is a gold standard, says Vlad Novikov, Z’s director of cocktails and culture. In a way, he’s literally quite right. Priced at an attention-getting $100, this embarrassment of riches is a blend of 18-year-old bourbon and black truffle bitters served in a crystal glass. The kicker? A single, crystal-clear ice cube sparkles with bits of edible 24k gold.
“It adds flash and fun,” explains Novikov. “More to the point, it is visually pleasing and gets people talking. Guests notice. The ice is what they’ll remember.”
If ice used to be a one-size-fits-all solution, bartenders have come to consider it more purposefully. “Ice is about more than making drinks cold. It also provides dilution, and in most drinks, that’s something you want the ice to help you control,” explains Camper English, a San Francisco-based writer and beverage consultant. “It also factors in aesthetics and perception. It increases the satisfaction and adds to the appeal
of the whole package.”
Discuss ice with Juyoung Kang, head bartender for The Dorsey at The Venetian hotel in Las Vegas, and she doesn’t lead with rapturous descriptions of hand-sawed cubes of brilliant clarity or a cylinder into which an edible flower has been frozen. Her practical, operations mindset starts at a different point.
“It begins with water, and if the water isn’t purified properly, ice will taste bad,” she says. “It’s common to forget that with ice machines, but they need to be cleaned and maintained for the ice to be right. The lines, too, should be cleaned regularly.”
Continues Kang: “People get all caught up in the flashy part of the business, but solid operations are what keep bars running.”
A little flash definitely plays in her game, though. “You drink with your eyes,” Kang says. “Shapes and clarity don’t necessarily taste better, but they look cooler and guests absolutely notice the ‘wow’ show.”
Turning Water into Wow
Matt Tocco, beverage director for Nashville’s Strategic Hospitality, a restaurant group that counts Catbird Seat, Henrietta Red and Patterson House among its assets, is something of an ice artist. With a passion for the artisanal aspects of ice and 10 bar and restaurant concepts to serve, he can justify a full arsenal of machines with which to create ice of different shapes. “And that includes a couple of saws to cut the giant blocks,” he says.
Smaller operations can easily get by with less. Depending on volume, one or two ice machines can suffice. Operational style and needs will decide if two sizes of cubes or cubes and crushed are most efficient. For fancier flourishes, “molds are where it’s at,” Tocco states, adding that they pop out big cubes, slants, spears or perfect rounds.
Larger markets also can turn to specialty ice vendors for customized versions, including cubes that are stamped with the brand logo. But they come at a cost that will need to be factored into pricing. “Don’t break the bank,” offers Tocco. “Go with what makes sense.”