The Importance of Ice – Part 1
By Jim Meehan, mixologist, James Beard Award Winner
Quite simply, a cocktail is composed of four elements: liquid, glass, ice and oftentimes a garnish. Those who prefer to savor a spirit on it’s own are faced with three of the four building blocks: either liquid and glassware alone or with ice. Many would concede the liquid as the most important element, but before writing off the other elements, it’s important to concede that we evaluate our food and drink with our eyes first.
It’s basic human instinct to appraise what we eat and drink with our sense of sight, to both ensure what we’re ingesting looks safe and enticing from an aesthetic perspective. The next sense we use is smell: to verify the absence of off-odors, and prepare our next sense; taste, for what’s to come. Most poisons have a bitter flavor, which is why we taste bitterness at the back of our tongue: before we swallow something potentially dangerous.
None of us would put something hideous or harmful in our mouth, and all of us are naturally drawn to aesthetically pleasing and aromatically inviting food and drink. While food and beverage serve as fuel to keep us alive, alcohol is something we ingest for hedonistic purposes only; either formally or casually. While the enjoyment of beer and wine benefits from service in the appropriate glassware, ice is typically reserved for the appreciation of spirits and cocktails.
From a purely functional perspective, ice cools spirits and cocktails and dilutes them as it melts. Dilution can be controlled, as it is by bartenders who shake or stir a cocktail using ice that is either withheld from the final mixture when served straight up, or poured over fresh ice, which will continue to keep the mixture cool, but further dilutes it as it sits. The addition of water through dilution makes a spirit more quaffable, and brings out flavor nuances that are undetectable at full strength.
The aroma and flavor of a cocktail or spirit varies based on the temperature and strength which it’s served, which is why neat spirits are so powerful: at full strength, the warmer they are: the more volatile their aroma. Spirits connoisseurs tend to prefer to sip their spirits neat, with a splash of water, or over ice; but the size and quality of the ice was rarely taken into consideration in the West until recently.
Stay tuned for The Importance of Ice – Part 2 as Jim Meehan talks about the history of ice in Japan.