I start my morning with a few cups of black coffee. Not just any coffee, the kind Tarantino made for Jules- the serious gourmet shit. I admire folks that enjoy their Whisky “neat”. Witnessing someone take proper afternoon tea, English style, makes me smile. In the hot South, if we stop at four o’clock to sit on the porch- you can be sure that there is ice in our tea. Aside from drinking a beer or having a soda picnic style from the bottle, a whole bunch of us fill in our days during and between meals with iced drinks. Our culture doesn’t always create the space for a proper meal, but we tend to pleasure ourselves- even create a personal identity around our daily habits of beverage. Aside from the aforementioned morning Joe or the (tacky) habit of lugging around a twenty ounce bottle of Coke, during most of our day we have an iced beverage nearby. We address our “drink” by the liquid. We give attention to our drinking vessels ranging from stainless canteen bottles, to plastic cups, to insulated plastic tumblers, to fine barware, to styrofoam cups, and to elegance at the table. I hear folks comment when they get “good” ice- but I rarely witness them make the investment or effort to treat themselves to it in their homes.
Ice is a luxury that we take for granted. Not all ice is created equal.
Imagine having friends over on a late summer afternoon. The kids are just far enough in the yard for a nice adult visit in the shade of the porch. Everyone is relaxing and smiling and as the conversation continues you offer to make cocktails. Gin and Tonics all around. Everyone wants one. You have some great Gin, a fresh lime, a bubbly bottle of tonic. Your wife sneaks into the kitchen because she wants everyone to enjoy that new fancy barware, her favorite tray, and the linen napkins that match the pillows on the porch. When you walk out with her by your side, tray at your chest, the neighbors perk up. It just looks so damn refreshing. You know your friends, they like a good drink. Is someone pregnant? Nobody seems to be sipping. Wait. My Gin and Tonic is horrible. It tastes like shrimp- or maybe tuna salad? On top of that, the ice is floating right into your nose. It’s that half moon shape from the refrigerator and every time you try to take a sip, it’s the exact same circumference as the glass. If you’re not careful a heaving ounce of shrimp-smelling, bubbling gin is going to jump over that icewall like a break in the Hoover Dam- straight up your nose. Not that you would still be interested in continuing to consume said beverage, but that obtuse neighbor does- and he an ice cruncher. He makes a really funny grin because the frosty ice has a really awkward haptic sensation to the tooth.
It’s hard to argue what the BEST kind of ice is, there are several that top the list and have their own place and utility. I’ll skip ahead and tell you that I’m partial to a few types of ice: Big Dense Crystal Clear Chunks, Frosty “Sonic” Nuggets, perfect one inch cubes, and Hollow Cylinders. When and why I use each matters to me. No matter what kind of ice you have an affinity too, there are some basic qualities that can be measured. Among these are shape, size, freshness, watersource, surface area to volume ratio and clarity. Sounds like a diamond? the “4-Cs” . . . Perhaps it should be treated that way.
First and foremost is freshness. It’s very logical that ice is in the refrigerator’s freezer compartment, but unless you are turning over the ice compartment so fast that the maker can’t keep up- it might start absorbing the taste and smell of the food around it. Solutions to this dilemma range from buying ice for events to keep in a cooler, making small batches of personal ice in trays for immediate use, or investing in a stand alone ice maker. An under the counter ice maker is an expensive investment, the ones equipped in the a refrigerator’s freezer-box seem “free” in comparison. Very closely related to freshness is watersource. Plain and simple, the water needs to be filtered and pure and the ice needs to be flavorless.
Size and surface to volume ratio are a big consideration for the type of beverage, how fast you want it chilled, how long you want to ice to hang around, and how willing you are for the ice to water down your drink. Simply put in small-medium-large parlance: Nuggets in a styrofoam cup from the BBQ restaurant are slowly watering down that to-go iced tea as you crunch on the ice in your car all afternoon, ice maker sized cubes at the dining room table make momma happy, big ole elegant hunk of clear glacier- not melting in your whisky. Got it. You know this. Folks know this, but aside from that Chinese made silicone whisky cube maker they got (and lost) on Father’s Day last year- they just don’t seem to make too much effort.
Shape is somewhat esthetic, but there are some functional caveats. Ice with hollow tunnels are made by a production method that blows water onto a frozen metal rod, this rod then warms and the ice falls away. A whole lot of store bought ice is this shape. The classic Scotsman your grand-daddy had in his bar made “top hat” gourmet ice this way and it’s a home bar staple that many folks have today, perhaps even marketed with badges of other brands. It’s formal enough for the dining room table, nice in a cocktail- but the machine is louder than the den of hell. You will hear it when you sleep, you will go for the shotgun. On the other end of the spectrum, I imagine the most informal is nugget ice. My family loves nuggets enough that we make them in our undercounter machine. It stays slushing around in a Styrofoam cup all afternoon, usually still there in the morning if you have a glass bedside. It’s great in a cooler. You can chew it without breaking a tooth, a habit that is ultra gratifying- and frankly tacky. It’s not really a table ice.
When anticipating the need for a “fancy” table for the momma, I approach it one of two ways, getting a cooler full of really nice clear one inch cubes from the icehouse or making ice in trays.
Let me tell you about the big ice I make in trays for cocktails. It falls into the story of ice we need when the nuggets aint cutting it . . .
THE BROWNIE SHEET
Of course you need clean, filtered water. If you want a lessen on how to make clear ice, which is ideal- that’s a whole other post on science. (Read the bar manual Liquid Intelligence). Freeze a metal or silicone brownie pan full of water the day you intend to use it. Unbroken, it is perfect in the bottom of a cooler. Randomly chipped away by dropping on the hard floor or using an ice pick makes rocks glass sized glaciers- so much sexier than the cute novelty of perfect cubes and spheres. If you want a more “crushed” ice, wrap in a bar towel and beat a hard surface. If you are patient (and perhaps the Hannibal Lecter type) you can carefully score and break away perfect large clear cubes from the brownie sheet ice too.
I could talk about his for hours.
Ice, Ice Baby,