03.06.11 by Shirley
Found: Cocktail Equilibrium
Create balance in your cocktail glass with tips from craft cocktail gurus Bittercube and the use of unlikely ingredients H2O and ice.
There’s something to be said about balanced cocktails … not too sweet, not too spirituous, not too strong. So how does a master craft perfectly proportioned cocktails every time? Bittercube scoops us on balancing cocktails using water in this fourth part of a 5-part series.
served raw: there are various types of ice machines and ice trays, how does this affect the water content of a drink?
Nick & Ira: There definitely are a variety of ice machines that we have made cocktails with. As a consulting company and event planners we end up behind many different bars, even makeshift bars with bagged ice, and it’s important for us to know what kind of ice we’re working with. Of the many ice styles, the three that we generally have had to work with are Manitowoc, Hoshizaki, and Kold-Draft.
Before we discuss the differences and our preferences, it is important to state that well-balanced cocktails can be made with any ice, as long as its pure water.
In some circles, Kold-Draft has become known as the king of ice. Some cocktail bars consider it a necessity, though we wouldn’t go that far! Kold-Draft ice is frozen to a lower temperature than most other ice machines, so it melts slower and does not easily break apart. Because of these characteristics, it makes for great shaking. Kold-Draft does have its downside though, cocktails take longer to shake because the ice doesn’t break up. It can be hard to quickly give a stirred cocktail enough water content without first breaking a couple of the ice cubes as well. And of course there’s the machine itself, Kold- Draft machines are infamous for breaking down. All that being said, if you open a bar or restaurant and can pick an ice machine, Kold-Draft is our first choice.
Manitowoc is the worst ice we deal with on a regular basis. We’re not sure we would even categorize it as ice! Inside the machine there is a series of frozen plates and water slowly freezes around these plates and builds up. You can take this ice fresh out of the bin and break it apart easily in the palm of your hand. The biggest problem with Manitowoc is that it melts very quickly. It melts in an ice bin, it melts in a highball before the cocktail even hits the glass, and most important, it melts quickly in a shaker. But, it’s possible to use Manitowoc and create well-balanced cocktails. An eye must be kept on the bin to see how watery the ice is getting. Re-upping with fresh ice as much as possible is a good thing to do. Add Manitowoc last — to a shaker, a highball, etc. We try to have as few iced cocktails as possible when using Manitowoc, often creating an Old-Fashioned, for instance, Sazerac style rather than with ice. When shaking with Manitowoc, or any watery ice for that matter, make sure not to over shake and water the cocktail down.
Hoshizaki is an all-around solid ice machine and is suited for nearly any use, and for most bars and restaurants, will be the best fit. Hoshizaki has less expensive machines than Kold-Draft, and these machines break down less frequently. The ice cubes aren’t as beautiful or square as Kold-Draft, but they stay cold, don’t water down too quickly and dilute and chill cocktails with ease.
The purpose of using high quality ice is that you have more control over your cocktail’s dilution. When using a chip ice a cocktail starts to dilute instantly and if you shake that drink for any length of time you’ll be adding a great deal of dilution as well. When using colder and larger pieces of ice when stirring or shaking allows you to have more flexibility with what happens during your shake or stir.
As far as home use is concerned, ice that comes out of standard ice trays that you fill up and place inside the freezer are perfectly suited for cocktails. One thing to think about is that the ice in your freezer can trap flavors that are coming up from the refrigerator so if you using ice from your freezer make sure you have a nice smelling fridge!
Chunking ice from a large block is a great technique for home use and is used in cocktail bars around the country. This allows a cocktail going over ice to to be balanced while stirring or shaking, and then to be continually chilled with a large ice chunk, which will dilute a cocktail very slowly.
All this is to say, when crafting cocktails at home or behind a bar, don’t be scared if you don’t have the best ice in the world. Well-balanced cocktails can be created with any ice. The most important thing is to understand how watery the ice may be and to evaluate how quickly it melts and chips away. Don’t be scared to straw a cocktail a number of times before it is balanced. We are notorious, compulsive straw tasters. Straw tasting takes the guessing work out of water content, so don’t be afraid to give your cocktails a taste as their water content comes into balance with other ingredients.
what are the differences between stirring vs. shaking?
Here’s a general rule: If a cocktail has a citrus component it will be shaken, if it doesn’t, it will be stirred. When shaking a cocktail, it’s often important to breakdown the acids in the citrus. Cocktails that have a citrus element also generally require more dilution than a cocktail that’s focused on the nuances of a spirit, like an Old-Fashioned. Stirring a cocktail, when applicable, allows you to have more control over the cocktail’s dilution.
A few other rules to follow would be if a cocktail has an egg involved it will be shaken aggressively, and if the cocktail is going to be topped with seltzer or sparkling wine it’s going to be shaken lightly.
Of course, rules are meant to be broken of course. At Tales of the Cocktail in 2010, we spent a lot of time with our friend Kirk Estopinal, who runs the amazing cocktail bar Cure in New Orleans, and he started telling us about his experiments with stirring lemon juice into cocktails. I think this was at 5:30AM on his back porch while we were drinking Japanese Gordon’s Gin from the bottle! Anyways, we had a long discussion about the topic and became inspired. Since Tales, we’ve created a number of stirred cocktails that have a citrus element. We’ve even started developing a Stirred Lemon Liqueur.
are there things other than ice that help balance through dilution?
When topping a cocktail with sparkling wine or seltzer, dilution is occurring and should be accounted for when balancing a cocktail. We have definitely imbibed our fair share of topped cocktails that are diluted too much. The general rule is to roll a cocktail rather than shake it if it is too be topped with sparkling wine or champagne. The idea is to chill the cocktail with the ice and dilute it with the topping agent.
the Japanese Mizuwari is a drink that focuses heavily on dilution through ice and the perfectly carved large cube — can you talk about this drink or others like it, and why it has maintained its position in cocktail culture?
We very much prefer to drink and serve spirits on the “proofier” side. A spirit out of the bottle that is 80 proof or lower is best imbibed without dilution at all. A small amount of water can be added to spirits between 80 and 100 proof to take some of the heat away and allow nuances to shine. Spirits above 100 proof need some form of dilution, be them water or ice. Of course, this is simply our opinion. Using chunk ice for spirits on the rocks is a perfect way to chill a libation without diluting it too much.
Maple Old Fashioned
- 2 ounces Jim Beam Black Bourbon
- Fat ¼ ounce Wisconsin Maple Syrup
- 9 drops Jamaican #2 Bitters
- 7 drops Bittercube Bolivar Bitters
- Fat orange peel, for garnish
- Stir the ingredients and strain into rocks glass with fresh ice, garnish.
The First Word
- 1 ounce Blanche Armagnac
- 3/4 ounce Green Chartreuse
- ¾ ounce fresh lime juice
- ½ ounce maraschino liqueur
- ⅛ ounce simple syrup
- 15 drops Bittercube Orange Bitters
- Shake ingredients in a shaker and strain into a coupe glass.
- Pour filtered water into a sheet pan, large metal bowl or other such contraption. Let it freeze — this may take a while!
- With an ice pick and mallet, break the ice into large blocks. Break these blocks into smaller chunks. Take the side of a large spoon and chip away at the chunk until it fits in the glass of your choice and does not have too many jagged edges.
- Put back in freezer until ready to use.
- *There will be nice sized chips of ice leftover that will be great for shaking, so separate the chunks from the shaking chips and re-freeze.