With the possible exception of Coco, nobody loves ice more than bartenders, who are increasingly turning to hand-carved cubes, spheres, and other shapes as they try to perfect the art of getting you happy while maintaining the integrity of the drinks. To find out why so many great bars are chipping away at frozen water, we've enlisted amateur Edward Scissorhands, Oregon Bartenders Guild President, and Imperial bar manager Brandon Wise to school us in the hows and whys of the art of cocktail ice.
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Ice cutting is, of course, nothing new. But in the past couple years, more and more bars specializing in craft cocktails have featured perhaps the best reason of all not to piss off a bartender: homeboy's holding an ice pick, going all Sharon Stone on a big-ass block.
Wise's bar invested in a machine that produces crystal-clear 50lb blocks of ice. Each block produces 40-60 cubes, depending on the shape. A big cube takes about 20 seconds. A well-rounded sphere takes about two minutes. Regardless, it's a show. But does the shape actually make a difference?
Here're the purposes and benefits of the five most common shapes of ice:
REGULAR OLD ICE CUBES/CRUSHED
Best used for: Bourbon on the rocks; super-fruity drinks. The benefits: For bourbon or Scotch drinkers, its quick melt allows the drink to become more diluted over time, offering a strong start and a finish that replicates a splash of water. In drinks with tons of syrup, the dilution also helps the drink be a little less intense, transforming it into something mellower over time.
THE BIG CUBE
Best used for: Old Fashioned; Vieux Carre. The benefit: Big blocks don't melt slower -- they melt more evenly. The size gives the illusion that less has melted. In fact, the big cube chills the drink faster; every bit of liquor is touching the cube, allowing a consistent temperature throughout. Yeah, science!
Best used for: The Vesper, or any cocktail that requires both ice and champagne. The benefit: Aside from covering a wide surface area, it's basically only there to look pretty. And it does. You can impress a fancy Liz Taylor-type when it's standing up, or a hot mathematician when it inevitably turns into a rhombus. Yeah, girl, you know you like that rhombus.
Best used for: Whiskey Highballs; Tom Collinses; other "Grandpa Cool" drinks. The benefit: Much like the the big cube, this long, rectangular cut guarantees each bit of liquid is hitting ice, creating a much colder drink for much longer than regular ice.
Best used for: Cocktails that come prefaced with the word "mixologist-made"; fancy-pants liqueurs and whiskeys. The benefit: "Let's be honest," says Wise as he shapes a boulder, "there are only two reasons to use spherical ice in cocktails. One, it looks cool. Two, you've randomly found yourself in Japan shooting a commercial for whiskey (à la Bill Murray)."
Best used for: Every drink ever. The benefit: Some say using Vanilla Ice is "deadly", and that it may "kill your brain like a poisonous mushroom", but we think it perfectly chills any drink that has had juice kicked into it.