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Shaking with water ice is not the best way to make cocktails at home


Shalmanese
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For a commercial environment where speed and cost effectiveness are paramount, I totally get why the cocktail shaker dominates. Shaking liquids with ice is a remarkably fast and cheap way to get a liquid down to optimal serving temperatures.

 

But I think in porting bar recipes to the home environment, we've adopted them rather uncritically without looking at the assumptions underlying them. In the home kitchen we don't par cook risotto and then cool it on sheet trays, we don't sear off a bunch of steaks and then roast them many hours later, we don't meticulously complete every single piece of mise en place before we start cooking. And the reason is because a home kitchen is a very different place from a restaurant kitchen and a home bar is also a very different place from a cocktail bar.

 

The problem with any bar recipe is that shaking a room temperature cocktail with water ice unavoidably adds a ~25% dilution of water to your recipe. It's always easy to add more water to a recipe but exceedingly difficult to take any out which means you're stuck with a baseline of 25% water dilution before you've started constructing the rest of your recipe.

 

If we look over to the culinary world, when liquids are added to a dish, water is sometimes used but far more often, it's stocks, wines, dashi, milk, tomato sauce or coconut milk to list just a few examples. The reason why is because these ingredients not only add liquids but also flavor to a dish. 

 

Not having the constraint of a 25% water dilution strikes me as a wonderful opportunity to infuse more flavor into our cocktails. Somewhere in the vast universe of cocktails, there's a cocktail involving tomato water or tea or coconut water that can't be balanced via shaking with ice and, as a result, has not been invented yet.

 

Fortunately, for the home bar, we can have certain freedoms that commercial bars can't have. To wit:

  1. We can keep ingredients chilled or frozen rather than at room temperature. Any non-alcoholic ingredient can be kept in the fridge and any alcoholic ingredient can be kept in the freezer. This would be unaffordable for a typical cocktail bar that has hundreds of bottles of spirits and a dozen mixers. But for an average home bar, keeping a half dozen of your most commonly used spirits in the freezer is totally practical. You don't even have to put the entire bottle in the freezer, you can just decant a small amount into a separate container (again, something a commercial bar can't do). If you're never planning to make more than 3 or 4 cocktails a night, then you only need a couple of ounces in the freezer at any one time, topping them up as you use them.
  2. We can make non-water ice cubes. Commercial ice makers don't work well with anything but pure water but ice cube trays allow us to make ice cubes out of almost anything, bag them into labelled ziplocks and have them stored almost indefinitely. If you're making a bloody mary, use tomato juice ice cubes. If you're making a screwdriver, orange juice ice cubes etc.
  3. We can make then chill a drink. In a commercial bar, people order a drink and then expect it within minutes. At home, you can plan ahead. For example, make the cocktail you want as you're starting dinner and then throw it in the freezer. Take it out as dinner's ready and you'll have the perfectly chilled cocktail, without any dilution.
  4. If all else fails, we can still default back to shaking with water ice but, with a colder base, so you might only have to deal with a 5 or 10% dilution.

Remember, if you want to make a "classic" cocktail using any of these methods, you still can. Simply add chilled liquid water of the appropriate amount to the cocktail in substitute for ice.

 

So sure, if you just want something that's cheap, fast and easy, continue to shake with ice like a bar uses and you'll have an acceptable cocktail. But if you really want to start pushing the boundaries of where cocktails can go, you should consider abandoning the shaker at home and start exploring what new opportunities that leads you.

Edited by Shalmanese (log)
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So sure, if you just want something that's cheap, fast and easy, continue to shake with ice like a bar uses and you'll have an acceptable cocktail.

Are you saying that a properly made margarita, daiquiri, aviation, et.al. are merely "acceptable" cocktails?

 

Or would they be better with the addition of chicken stock? Frozen, of course.

Edited by weinoo (log)

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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If I had a freezer that got cold enough, I'd sure consider W&N cubes for shaking.  That sounds like a neat idea.  But storing spirits in the freezer is impractical for me, more than at the most perhaps one bottle at a time.  (I confess I used to enjoy a shot of freezer temperature Slivovitz in the summer, before I moved on pretty much to rum.)

 

Speaking of rum, I have twenty some kinds, of which I might employ four or five a night -- three so far today.  Storing all these bottles in the freezer just wouldn't work.  (Not to mention all the gin and rye.)  Though if I did I'd sure have a lot more counter space!  As it is I'm fortunate to fit in the shaker and a little ice, maybe or maybe not a glass to drink it from.

 

Also I am not convinced that many drinks I like would benefit from reduced dilution.  I use very cold non-wet ice.  And I like strong drink as well as most of us.  At the moment I am enjoying just about the perfect zombie...if I may say so myself:  well more than four ounces of strong spirit.  However I don't think this perfect zombie would benefit from being any less dilute.

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Are you saying that a properly made margarita, daiquiri, aviation, et.al. are merely "acceptable" cocktails?

 

Or would they be better with the addition of chicken stock? Frozen, of course.

 

I'm saying if you're going to make a "classic" daiquiri, the superior way to make it would be with rum from the freezer, limes from the fridge, SS from the fridge and chilled water from the fridge and maybe a slight shake with ice or 5 minutes in the freezer if it's not cold enough. Think about it this way, people debate endlessly about the "correct" ratios for a daiquiri because each person has a different preference. I don't see how water could be immune from that debate. Some people might want a slightly more dilute daiquiri, some people might want less. With a shaken daiquiri, the people who want less are out of luck. With the chilled version, you can precisely dial in your preference for water just like you can for the rum, lime and SS.

 

And by doing it this way, you open yourself up to a whole raft of alternative plays on the daquiri. Perhaps you could try a coconut daiquiri just by subbing the chilled water with chilled coconut water. Or a cucumber and basil daiquiri by subbing water for cucumber juice and making a basil SS. Or maybe a more assertive hemingway daiquiri by using all grapefruit juice instead of half juice/half water. Using the pre-chilled version, you have options that you wouldn't have with the shaken ice version.

PS: I am a guy.

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Also I am not convinced that many drinks I like would benefit from reduced dilution.  I use very cold non-wet ice.  And I like strong drink as well as most of us.  At the moment I am enjoying just about the perfect zombie...if I may say so myself:  well more than four ounces of strong spirit.  However I don't think this perfect zombie would benefit from being any less dilute.

 

But you could, for example, have used frozen pineapple juice in the shaker instead of ice when making the zombie. It would have been exactly the same strength but the pineapple would come through stronger because it's not being diluted.

 

If you were at a restaurant and you had the choice of ordering 100% pineapple juice or 75% pineapple juice topped up with water, pretty much everyone would order and prefer the 100% pineapple juice. If that's the best thing to drink straight, why wouldn't it be the best thing to put in your cocktail?

PS: I am a guy.

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Are you saying that a properly made margarita, daiquiri, aviation, et.al. are merely "acceptable" cocktails?

 

Or actually, let's take the ubiquitous strawberry margarita as a perfect example of what I'm talking about. I love the concept of a strawberry margarita but every time I've tried one, it's inevitably been disappointing because to get enough strawberry flavor into the drink, you've introduced so much extra water that it's impossible to balance out with any ratio of the other ingredients.

 

Instead, I would contend that if you were to puree, sieve and freeze fresh strawberries, then use them in the shaker instead of ice, you could produce a strawberry margarita that you would actually want to drink.

Edited by Shalmanese (log)

PS: I am a guy.

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I'm saying if you're going to make a "classic" daiquiri, the superior way to make it would be with rum from the freezer, limes from the fridge, SS from the fridge and chilled water from the fridge and maybe a slight shake with ice or 5 minutes in the freezer if it's not cold enough.

I just don't understand why I'd need "chilled water from the fridge" and a "slight shake with ice or 5 minutes in the freezer" when I get chilled water and an icy cold drink with the melting that happens when I shake with ice.

 

More important to the taste of the drink is the quality of the rum, lime, and ss, imo.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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I'm with those for whom this seems like a solution in search of a problem.

 

The reason to chill and dilute drinks with water ice is because it's easy, fast, convenient and reliable within reasonable tolerances.  Why would I want to bother keeping pre-diluted bottles of booze in the freezer?  That seems like an awful lot of bother and wasted freezer space that could be occupied with, for example, glassware.  I would have to be faced with pretty convincing evidence that the proposed method resulted in significant improvements in the end result before I would consider sacrificing the convenience of being able to decide what cocktail I want seconds before making it.

 

The idea of freezing cubes of tomato juice or orange juice of whatever has some merits for long drinks, but again I'm not sure it would be worth the trouble.  Is it really so bad if a Bloody Mary dilutes a bit if you're nursing it?  More to the point, drinks rarely last long enough in my hand for this to become an issue.  The one convincing case for flavored ice cubes I've seen is when the cubes release an additional flavor into the drink, causing it to evolve over time.  It might be interesting to create a piece of ice that contained a different kind of booze inside that would eventually be released into the drink, but that would be a lot of work and needless to say a "special occasion" sort of thing.

 

 

I'm saying if you're going to make a "classic" daiquiri, the superior way to make it would be with rum from the freezer, limes from the fridge, SS from the fridge and chilled water from the fridge and maybe a slight shake with ice or 5 minutes in the freezer if it's not cold enough.

 

This statement speaks to much of what I am saying.  Who says that would be the "superior way"?  I'm willing to bet that it would be better the traditional way.

Edited by slkinsey (log)
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I just don't understand why I'd need "chilled water from the fridge" and a "slight shake with ice or 5 minutes in the freezer" when I get chilled water and an icy cold drink with the melting that happens when I shake with ice.

 

More important to the taste of the drink is the quality of the rum, lime, and ss, imo.

 

We take the quality of the ingredients as a given. Obviously, you need to start with good ingredients but we're asking if technique changes can make the drink even better.

 

Ratios of daiquiris are all over the place. Just from a quick perusal online, I see 4:2:1, 8:2:1, 8:3:3, 10:3:2. I'm sure you have your own personal ratio that you've tried and dialed in to be perfect for you because everyone's preferences are different. Even a quarter ounce difference in any of these ingredients would result in a completely different daiquiri. So my question then is, how do you know that the *exact* right amount of water for a 6 oz daiquiri pour is 1.5 oz? Maybe it's 1.25, maybe it's 1.75. You've never tried a 1.25oz water pour because that's impossible to achieve with a shaker. You've probably never tried a 1.75oz either because there's no daiquiri recipe that instructs you to add water. How do you know you've found your perfect daiquiri recipe unless you dial in this parameter?

 

If it ends up that your perfect daiquiri requires exactly 1.5oz of water for a 6oz pour, then consider yourself lucky and go back to shaking with ice. But given how the ratio of all the other ingredients differ, I can't see how this one wouldn't too.

PS: I am a guy.

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I'm with those for whom this seems like a solution in search of a problem.

 

The reason to chill and dilute drinks with water ice is because it's easy, fast, convenient and reliable within reasonable tolerances.  Why would I want to bother keeping pre-diluted bottles of booze in the freezer?  That seems like an awful lot of bother and wasted freezer space that could be occupied with, for example, glassware.  I would have to be faced with pretty convincing evidence that the proposed method resulted in significant improvements in the end result before I would consider sacrificing the convenience of being able to decide what cocktail I want seconds before making it.

I never advocated putting pre-diluted bottles of booze in the freezer. I don't know where you got that impression.

If you insist on absolutely having the exact same rigid convenience requirements of a commercial bar then sure, you're only option is shaking drinks. The same way that if you absolutely insist on having a risotto 5 minutes after you want one, par cooking is the only way to go. But for most people at home, the requirements are not as strict which allows for a different way of preparing drinks.

 

This statement speaks to much of what I am saying.  Who says that would be the "superior way"?  I'm willing to bet that it would be better the traditional way.

It's superior because anything you can do the traditional way can be done via the pre-chilled way but there's lots of things that can be done via the pre-chilled way that can't be done the traditional way. The benefit is less apparent when talking about classic cocktails because they're designed around traditional techniques so you're left just tweaking ratios but I'm arguing doing it the pre chilled way opens up a whole new world of variations because it's now possible to sub the water for something else.

PS: I am a guy.

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So, doing some math, if you take the 8:2:1:11/4 daiquiri recipe and use rum in the freezer at 0F, limes from the fridge at 40F, SS at room temperature at 70F and cold water from the tap at 50F, you get a drink that's 21F which is 2 degrees colder than perfect serving temperature.

If you use the 4:2:1:7/4 daiquiri recipe, you get a 26F drink which is just a little bit warmer that ideal.

So, in real life, you don't need to bother with chilled water or keeping mixers in the fridge, all you need to do is to keep the base spirit in the freezer for this to work.

PS: I am a guy.

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Shalmanese, you are aware that it is possible to control for the amount of dilution with conventional shaking/stirring, right? Shaking doesn't add a flat 25% dilution across the board. There are common and well-understood methods for varying dilution: I can shake briefly with three KoldDraft cubes, rather than the standard eight or nine, if I'm going to be serving a drink over crushed ice, for example. Or shake with three huge cubes (a la Death & Co) for less water still, or with pre-cracked ice for the opposite effect. I can apply different amounts of torque to my shake to control how much I'm chipping the ice cubes. I stir a low-alcohol drink like a Bamboo for less time than I do a more potent cocktail like a Negroni, and I understir a drink if it's served on ice (like an Old Fashioned) rather than neat (like a Sazerac). All of this is pretty common among bartenders in a commercial setting and well-understood among home enthusiasts of the sort who frequent this forum. I applaud your call for us to reconsider some of the habits of bartending we may take for granted, but I am unsure where you got this notion that conventional shaking = 25% dilution with no possibility of adjusting to taste. 

 

While I do enjoy drinks with flavored ice cubes (see Dan's Frosun) I agree with Kinsey above that the preparation required makes this method a sometimes food. 

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”In Demerara some of the rum producers have a unique custom of placing chunks of raw meat in the casks to assist in aging, to absorb certain impurities, and to add a certain distinctive character.” -Peter Valaer, "Foreign and Domestic Rum," 1937

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Shalmanese, you are aware that it is possible to control for the amount of dilution with conventional shaking/stirring, right? Shaking doesn't add a flat 25% dilution across the board. There are common and well-understood methods for varying dilution: I can shake briefly with three KoldDraft cubes, rather than the standard eight or nine, if I'm going to be serving a drink over crushed ice, for example. Or shake with three huge cubes (a la Death & Co) for less water still, or with pre-cracked ice for the opposite effect. I can apply different amounts of torque to my shake to control how much I'm chipping the ice cubes. I stir a low-alcohol drink like a Bamboo for less time than I do a more potent cocktail like a Negroni, and I understir a drink if it's served on ice (like an Old Fashioned) rather than neat (like a Sazerac). All of this is pretty common among bartenders in a commercial setting and well-understood among home enthusiasts of the sort who frequent this forum. I applaud your call for us to reconsider some of the habits of bartending we may take for granted, but I am unsure where you got this notion that conventional shaking = 25% dilution with no possibility of adjusting to taste. 

 

While I do enjoy drinks with flavored ice cubes (see Dan's Frosun) I agree with Kinsey above that the preparation required makes this method a sometimes food.

Yes. I was using the 25% figure to keep the discussion simple. To me, the ability to adjust the dilution is the less important part of this. Whether it's 20% or 25% or 30%, you're still unavoidably adding water to a cocktail. The far more interesting thing, IMHO, is the ability to replace that water with a more flavorful liquid.

PS: I am a guy.

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This thread reminds me of the fried egg recipe in Modernist Cuisine that calls for separating the white/yolk and cooking at different temperatures before recombining to serve.

 

Is it possible that through much time, effort and/or aforethought that we could reliably create drinks that surpass those created by traditional methods? Yes. I think being able to hit your exact sweet spot on a stirred drink by using freezer-stored spirits and a precise amount of chilled water is fun, but I also know that if my Negroni tasted exactly the same every time it would get old.

 

Level of effort, return on investment, tyranny of the status quo...call it what you will. I'm not sold on this revolution.

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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I see. Personally, though, I think water's usefulness as an ingredient comes from its near lack of flavor: it allows me to balance dilution and flavor separately. Similarly, it might be more 'efficient' or interesting to replace a flavored spirit in a sweetened drink with a syrup or liqueur of that flavor—a juniper- and citrus-infused syrup instead of gin, say, or Maraschino liqueur instead of kirsch—but keeping my source of flavor and my source of sugar separate gives me far more control over the overall balance of the drink. You'll note that recipes that call for particularly pungent liqueurs or syrups (like Maraschino or Chartreuse) often include a measure of simple syrup for this reason. 

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DrunkLab.tumblr.com

”In Demerara some of the rum producers have a unique custom of placing chunks of raw meat in the casks to assist in aging, to absorb certain impurities, and to add a certain distinctive character.” -Peter Valaer, "Foreign and Domestic Rum," 1937

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OK, time for me to put my money where my mouth is:

 

Tomato Martini

cocktail2.jpg

 

Ingredients:

3 oz Q Gin from freezer

1/2 oz Dolin Dry Vermouth from fridge

1 oz Tomato-Olive Water from fridge

1 Basil Leaf

3 Salt Encrusted Cherry Tomatoes

 

For the Tomato-Olive Water:

Puree half a pint of cherry tomatoes with 2 olives (I would use 3 next time).

Pour into a cheesecloth lined sieve and let sit in the fridge for 4 hours

 

For the Salt Encrusted Cherry Tomatoes:

I decided the cocktail still needed a bit more of a briny bite so I decided to make a simple garnish.

Mix 50/50 salt and water in a small bowl & heat up in the microwave until boiling and enough salt has dissolved to make a saturated salt solution (you will know you've made it when you see tiny salt crystals floating on the surface of the water).

Dip each tomato very briefly in the water, then let dry on a piece of parchment paper. The water will evaporate, leaving tiny salt crystals on the outside of the tomato.

Repeat this step again to add a second layer of salt.

Skewer on a toothpick and set aside.

 

To assemble:

Take a chilled glass from the freezer

Smack a basil leaf, rub it against the outside of the rim

Pour the gin, vermouth and tomato water into the glass

Float the basil leaf on top

Add the toothpick, making sure at least some to the tomatoes remain outside of the drink

 

The cocktail had a subtle but distinct tomato flavor while still retaining the signature oily viscosity of a martini. I used a thermapen to measure the drink right after I took the photo and it was -6C which is a tad cold for a stirred drink but I let it warm for 60 seconds and it was already at -4C which was perfect.

 

Next time, I'd use a slightly smaller basil leaf and add maybe another olive or two to the tomato water. Other than that, it was pretty damn good. I contend that there is no possible way to make a superior tomato martini using an ice shaker. There's simply no way to pack enough tomato flavor while still maintaining the signature oiliness of a well made martini.

Edited by Shalmanese (log)
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That's a huge Martini. 

DrunkLab.tumblr.com

”In Demerara some of the rum producers have a unique custom of placing chunks of raw meat in the casks to assist in aging, to absorb certain impurities, and to add a certain distinctive character.” -Peter Valaer, "Foreign and Domestic Rum," 1937

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From cooking issues:

 

Many folks think all drinks should be diluted some standard amount; 25% is often bandied about. Not true — there is no single ideal dilution. In Part 1 I showed that the average stirred cocktail is both warmer than, and less diluted than, the average shaken cocktail –so at a minimum there are two different ranges of good dilutions: one for shaken and one for stirred drinks.  But it’s more complicated still. In a series of blind taste tests with bartenders Kenta Goto, Scott Teague, Eben Klemm, Don Lee, Chad Solomon and Christy Pope, we made Pegu Club cocktails and sidecars with different known dilutions, hoping to find the ideal. No luck.  Preferences depended on a number of factors including palate fatigue (is this your first drink, or your third?), and what had been consumed prior and after. A drink tasted balanced at a low ABV (alcohol by volume), went out of balance as the ABV went up, but then come back into balance again at an even higher ABV. The more components there are in a drink –spirits, acid, sugar, bitters, etc. the more complicated dilution becomes, because each component may respond to dilution differently. For more details see Ideal Dilution Through %ABV.

PS: I am a guy.

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