When I first began making my own cocktails several years ago, the drinks I was producing were mediocre at best. The act of combining alcohol and serving it in a glass seems inherently easy, but without some basic knowledge and technique the results will often be disappointing. This is the first part in a series of posts aimed at beginners getting started in the cocktail world.
Perhaps the most overlooked of all cocktail ingredients, ice plays several important roles in a cocktail. The first and most obvious is as an agent to cool the drink down whilst mixing. Coldness inhibits taste receptors in the tongue, which makes the drink more palatable and taste less, well, alcoholic. Try drinking neat vodka and ice-cold vodka and you’ll see what I mean. The ice also adds an amount of water to the drink, which further helps take the bite out of the alcohol, as well as bringing out the flavours.
The first cocktails I made were Cosmopolitans, which I concocted using a three-part cobbler shaker and about four small cubes of ice. At the time I only had one ice tray in the freezer, so I didn’t want to waste too many cubes on each drink. When I had finished shaking these cocktails, only very small bits of ice were left at the bottom of the tin. I didn’t see a problem with this… the ice had done it’s job right?
I had made two key mistakes when it came to the ice. Firstly I was not using nearly enough ice, which meant the cocktail was not getting as cold as it should during shaking. Secondly the ice cubes I was using were far too small which resulted in the ice-cubes melting more than they should, diluting the drink. As I said earlier the dilution effect of the ice is important in a cocktail, but too much and the flavours in the cocktail will be weakened.
What I ended up with a drink that was not cold enough, and diluted more than it should be, completely ruining the taste it was supposed to have. My solution to this problem, once I realised it was a problem, was to go out and buy a big bag of ice from the local supermarket. I then used ice as if it were going out of fashion, filling my mixing tin to the brim with it, and always using fresh ice for each new drink I was making. The result was much colder drinks which tasted a great deal better than they did before.
So when it comes to ice, please don’t use it sparingly. Buy plenty of good sized ice trays, or big bags of ice from the local supermarket, and fill your mixing tin to the top with it. Your drinks should be getting so cold that condensation forms on the outside of the tin. Using the right amount of ice may not seem all that important, but it’s almost certainly the cheapest method to improve the quality of your cocktails!
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