Ice means more to the professional bartender these days than simply whether a drink is served straight up or on the rocks. We now talk about dilution and temperature when we talk about ice. Plus, when ice melts it affects the flavor by smoothing out and binding ingredients together. Ice, as one of the most prominent cocktail ingredient, simply matters.
The goal when mixing a drink is to manage chilling and dilution until you reach optimum levels of both, which is when the drink is as cold as possible but not under or over-diluted. And the best cocktails are perfectly diluted, and very, very cold.
We say that ice is to the bartender as fire is to the chef. In the same way a skilled cook uses heat to prepare food, the professional bartender uses ice to prepare cocktails. And as the chef controls the heat to get different results—the bartender uses different forms of ice in different ways to prepare cocktails. And in order to know how to use ice properly, it’s important to know what ice is and understand how it behaves.
When you ask yourself why bartenders use “so much” ice in your drink, it’s just because it’s better for your drink and better for you (in terms of enjoyment and taste). Why is that? Very simple: Ice performs two important tasks in cocktails – it chills, and it dilutes.
Technically, chilling is a by-product of dilution: When ice melts, it transfers its chilling energy to its surroundings as it absorbs heat thus making its surroundings colder. It always does both at the same time, though it does so at different rates, depending on the size and shape of the ice, and the method you employ to mix the drink. Some of it happens during mixing, whether you’re stirring, shaking, blending, or twizzling. And some happens after you’ve poured the drink, if the drink is served on the rocks. The bartender’s challenge is using both of those variables in a controlled way while making a cocktail.
The more ice you have, the quicker you chill your drink, the quicker you chill your drink, the slower the dilution will be. This should not be confused as “more ice means less dilution” because if you leave your drink for half an hour, you’ll have a big old glass of water. More ice means faster chilling followed by slower dilution. – You get a cold drink at its “peak” dilution and temperature quicker than if half the ice had been put into your glass.
To consistently hit the sweet spot of chilling and dilution, you need to be aware of the various factors that can influence chilling and dilution and how fast they occur. There are two primary ones. The first one is whether you shake or stir. Shaking chills and dilutes much faster than stirring. The second factor is the type of ice you are mixing with.
Stirring a cocktail with ice
Make sure you chill your mixing glass before stirring a drink that way your drink will be chilled faster.
The process of stirring should be done smoothly without any excessive noise which leads to a possibility of chipping the ice (extra dilution) or in some cases air bubbles (texture).
How do you know that your cocktail is chilled? First, your mixing glass will be frosted on the outside and if you follow the rules above, it’s usually about 20 stirs in each direction (40).
Although, if you use larger ice, then you need to stir it longer or faster. Large blocks of ice might cause a warm and under-diluted drink.
- You need to remember that stirred drink gets less cold and diluted then shaken one so after 2 minutes of constant stirring, a drink reaches the equilibrium with no further chilling.
Shaking a cocktail with ice
- The faster the drink moves the faster it can get chilled.
- As long as you shake your cocktail vigorously for at least 10 seconds, your drink will be chilled.
- After shaking for at least 14 seconds, your drink will reach the equilibrium that means very little chilling or dilution will take place.
- The style of shaking or the quality of ice doesn’t influence the final result that much. But always get rid of any excessive water if there is any stuck to the surfaces of ice, it may over-dilute your drink.
Having said all that, don’t overthink it. Really, in the end, just trust your gut. Use your best judgment and remember to keep tasting. It is without a doubt the best way to understand the effects of chilling and dilution over your cocktails.