We all know that it’s always been about the gin. But recently, it has also become more about the tonic with the explosion of artisan and flavoured tonic water brands that are currently riding the crest of the craft gin wave. And now, there’s the third part of gin and tonic’s Holy Trinity: ice cubes.
Welcome to the wonderful world of ice.
Getting the ice right
As gin drinkers, we tend to focus more on the first two ingredients. But look beyond your gin and your tonic. Your ice decisions can have big consequences for the taste of your G&Ts. The ice you choose can even impact the way your drink looks. Old ice can add a stale, rank taste that may ruin an otherwise perfect G&T.
Ice made from tap water doesn’t taste as good as ice made from mineral water. Small cubes don’t cool your drink as quickly as large cubes and cubes that dilute too quickly can radically alter the taste and character of your drink.
Plastic is a waste
For most of us, the problem with ice is that we’re looking to keep our drink extra cold, but none of us like the ice diluting our gin. Some people try to rectify this with “ice stones” or frozen plastic ice cubes. But for me, all I can taste is the plastic.
For those who think less ice will avoid dilution, we have news for you – the more ice you put in your drink, the colder it becomes and the less it dilutes. The basic laws of thermodynamics tell us that the more ice you have in your glass, the slower it will melt. So, if you drink your G&Ts at a normal speed, your ice should still be intact and cooling right down to the very last drop.
We thought we’d help you through the minefield that is ice by busting some myths, offering some easy tips and opening the door on ice – one of the most important elements of a good G&T.
Here are a few bartender’s secrets to ensure your drinks stay cold right to the very last drop. These handy ice tips will help your drink by retaining (and in some cases even enhancing) the flavour of your G&T.
So, read on as we reveal the secrets of ice.
Big cubes vs small cubes
The perennial debate rages over what size your ice cubes should be. So, here’s the thing. Science tells us that one large ice cube reduces the temperature of your drink more slowly than several small ice cubes. This is important, because the large ice cube exposes less of its surface area to the drink than lots of small, individual ice cubes. The result is that the slower melting larger ice cube will take longer to dilute. This means that your drink will retain its flavour and won’t be watered down so quickly by the melting ice within.
Round cubes vs square cubes
People often ask why professional bartenders prefer large round ice cubes to small, square ones. And here, as in the previous answer, we turn to science.
Basically, round ice cubes expose less of their surface area to the liquid (for the same amount of volume) than a cube of ice. This reduced exposure means that the sphere of ice melts more slowly. The result is a cocktail that cools down fast and melts slowly. That’s why round ice cubes allow you to sip your drink in a more leisurely fashion, enjoying its undiluted flavour for longer.
Of course, spherical ice cube trays are a little harder to find, but there are plenty available in bartender’s shops and retailers as well as via Amazon. We say, get the largest spherical mold you can find. And for best results, use natural spring water for a clean taste and a naturally cool look in your glass. Couldn’t be easier, really.
Fruity ice cubes
Now, here’s a really simple way to jazz up your drinks – fruity ice cubes. In fact, nothing could be easier. These work particularly well when the fruit is placed in oversized cubes, but it all depends on the fruit. This weekend, I added a few frozen blackberries to my large, square ice cube mold. Within a few minutes, the blackberry had started to change the colour of the ice from clear to a vibrant red. Within an hour, I had a beautiful, giant ice cube forming in a beautiful shade of berry red. Once I’d popped it into my G&T, it floated in the liquid with the raspberries encased delicately behind a wall of ice. But as the ice slowly melted, the fruit flavour gently seeped into my G&T infusing it with a “fruits of the forest” taste that added real character to an ordinary gin.
You can do this with any fruit that fits inside your ice mold. I’ve tried it with blackberries, a strawberry, a lemon wedge and zest of lime. Also added a squeeze of lemon juice or lime juice into the mix for a little citrus hit when the cubes start melting. The last one I tried was adding pink peppercorns for a little spice and even juniper berries and cardamom pods. You are only limited by your imagination. This is a really simple way to pimp your G&T.
Tonic water ice cubes
For those who complain about that feeling when their ice is watering down their cocktail, there is a better way. As mentioned previously, if you really want to stop your gin from being watered down unnecessarily, the bigger the cube you can put in your drink, the better. The larger the cube, the less melting. But if you really want to remove all risk, try making your ice cubes with tonic water. All you have to do is swap the water for your favourite Indian tonic water. That way, no matter how quickly it melts, it won’t dilute the taste and there will be no sense of flavour loss as the tonic water in the ice blends seamlessly with the mixer itself.
But, why limit yourself to tonic water?
You can add any mixer you prefer, from bitter lemon to ginger beer and from elderflower cordial to ginger beer. As long as your ice flavour matches your mixer, then G&Ts with a diluted taste will be a thing of the past. .
Smokey ice cubes
We revealed this tip recently in our “Bartender’s Hacks” downloadable pdf, which contains a collection of great tips for aspiring bartenders. One of them is smokey ice cubes.
There are several ways of doing this, some of which include complicated steps such as lighting a fire and capturing smoke under glass. We have a much simpler approach. All you really have to do is to pop down to your local supermarket or amazon and buy a small bottle of liquid smoke. Simply add a couple of drops to the water you use to make your cubes and let it freeze.
The result is an ice cube that slowly diffuses its flavours into your favourite gin cocktail adding a complex smokiness that works just as beautifully in a Smokey Martini as it does in a traditional Negroni.
Clear ice cubes
We’ve all seen those ice cubes. The ones that look cloudy – and sometimes taste just a little bit strange. The ones with cracks in the middle or unidentified objects floating in the centre. These are bad ice cubes.
So, here are a few little tips to make your ice cubes look crystal clear and to impart a glassy clarity to your favourite drinks.
The problem is that often the water used to make your ice has been frozen from the outside in. This pushes bubbles to the centre of the cube while the crystallisation process takes place. One of the key reasons for cloudy ice cubes is the speed at which they set. As a general rule of thumb the slower they freeze, the clearer the ice will be. Just think of an icicle dripping off a snowy roof. It’s the same process.
So, to get this effect at home, simply place a small, insulated cooler inside your freezer. Anything inside the cooler will freeze more slowly, allowing the air bubbles to escape before getting trapped inside the ice. It’s really simple.
- Place your cooler box inside your freezer.
- Line up some plastic ice cube trays inside the bottom and leave the cooler uncovered.
- Fill the trays with water (bottled, distilled or boiled water works best).
- Fill the bottom of your cooler with water (filling in around the ice tray). This will seal off your ice cubes and stop cold air from freezing the sides.
- Leave the cooler (with lid off) for 24 hours.
- Remove the cooler and take out the full block of ice containing the frozen ice molds.
- Chip away around the edges and remove your ice cubes.
- Leave them out for a minute to let the cloudy water melt off, then quickly drop them into your drink.
Hey, presto – glacier like ice cubes for the perfect cocktail!
Written by Steve (with a little help from Ruddles, the gin dog!)
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