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The Ice Topic: Crushed, Cracked, Cubes, Balls, Alternatives

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One change you might consider is switching to a smaller shaker.

Yeah, I actually was wondering about a cobbler shaker. No. 9 Park in Boston uses 'em, and perhaps this is why.

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When I was in Portland OR, everyone strained their shaken drinks because, they said, "their ice was bad." Now that I've moved from Providence to the suburbs, my ice is bad, too: instead of solid chunks that hold together well while shaking, I get much larger percentage of shards.

One change you might consider is switching to a smaller shaker. bostonapothecary mentioned somewhere a while back that he liked the combo of 8 and 16 oz tins from barproducts to deal with bad ice. Having given them a try, I agree. The small size is nice because you can fill up the shaker, restricting ice movement and slushification, without going through tons of ice for a few shaken drinks.

This is, I believe, a big part of the Japanese shaking technique. They're not just shoveling a scoop of Kold-Draft cubes into one of those small cobbler shakers and going to town. The ice they're using, generally speaking, is ice that has been cut from large block ice. As a result there is a variety of shapes and sizes, and it's not purely cubic in shape. This offers the ability to really pack the shaker with a lot of ice, and in the afterparty to the Uyeda seminar (where he made cocktails for everyone) this is something Don Lee and I both noticed -- that the shaker was really packed. They also typically place the ice into the shaker one cube at a time, which allows them to select certain sized cubes and place them into the shaker so as to have the maximum amount of ice in there. When I am using my 520ml Japanese cobbler shaker, I usually use an ice pick to split and shape my Kold-Draft-sized home ice cubes so that I can fit as much ice in there as possible. And it's astounding how much ice you can fit in what looks like a small shaker if you use different shapes and sizes and place each piece individually -- usually around 10 cubes!

Having more ice in the shaker, of course, has certain thermal benefits. It also encourages less breakage in the ice and the production of fine ice crystals rather than larger ones since the ice can only make small movements and rub together rather than crashing around. It is also possible in a cobbler shaker, by changing the angle at which the drink is decanted from the shaker, to control the amount of ice chips that come through into the glass. I have not found that this level of control is as easily achieved with a Boston shaker and Hawthorne strainer.

The more headspace there is in the shape of the shaker, of course, the less you can pack the shaker. Even though the bottom piece my WMF Parisian shaker has the same volume as the bottom piece of my Japanese cobbler shaker, the Parisian has much more head space and therefore much more movement of the ice when shaking. Boston shakers (especially the glass-and-metal types, but it is also an issue with the all-metal sets) also have this issue. And, of course, there are various ways of dealing with this. At Pegu Club, for example, when there are certain drinks that they feel are particularly dilution-sensitive, they put the booze into the small tin of the all-metal Boston set and fill that to the top with ice, but then put several extra cubes into the large tin and clamp it down over the small tin. This allows them to pack the all-metal Boston set more fully than usual. Other methods, of course, are to embrace the headspace and movement of ice, and simply use much larger pieces of ice. It's interesting to see the variety of paths that can lead to one result (which is a way of considering the difference between the Eastern and Western philosophies of bartending, but that's for another topic).

One interesting tidbit I got from the Kazuo Uyeda book, was the idea that ice had a grain which must be respected when chipping blocks.

I do find that the big, clear blocks of sculpture grade ice are much more apt to break in straight lines. Much easier to carve into diamonds.

Absolutely. The "Ih" form of ice has a hexagonal crystalline structure. That means that there are going to be certain directions where it is easy to make a clean break and other directions where it will not be so easy. The clear sculpture-grade ice, because of the way it is frozen and the fact that it contains far fewer impurities, air, etc. is of course going to have a much more well defined and consistent internal crystalline structure, which will lead to cleaner cleavage.

Chipping the imperfect large ice cubes I freeze in my home freezer, I find they are much more apt to go astray or shatter. Not a big deal, as I am usually using them for stirred cocktails, but interesting all the same.

Another issue is temperature. I play around with sculpture-grade ice every so often. One piece of advice I was given was that I needed to let the ice sit out at room temperature until it stopped forming white frost on the outside before I started to chip away at it, or it would not make clean breaks. This proved to be 100% correct, in my experience. Ice straight out of the freezer, regardless of quality or type of ice, is very likely to shatter or break in unexpected/unwanted ways.

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I must say, as someone who hand-chips lots of ice almost daily, this is not consistent with my experience. Generally, the colder the ice, the more controllable I find it to be. Ice that has been sitting out for even a relatively short time has a layer on the surface that I can only describe as slightly "mushy". It takes more strokes to cleave (the pick has to get through to the hard core of the ice) and it just doesn't behave quite the same way.

A caveat to the above is that I am using homemade ice (see the block ice thread) and it is nowhere near the quality of the sculpture ice that you're using, Sam. That might cause some difference. But even in Tokyo I found that (extremely high quality) ice which had just come out of the freezer was much easier to work with than ice that had been sitting in the bin.


Edited by Kohai (log)

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For those still in the market (like me), these look to be the tovolo trays mentioned upthread.

A problem I have with silicone ice trays over the regular rigid plastic kind is that they don't have a channel that allows water to flow from one cube slot to another. With a regular ice tray, you can just pour your water into one slot and the overflow goes over the channel to the other slots. With silicone trays, you have to pour each slot individually. Is that indeed the case with the Tovolo?

BTW, Aviary, the cocktail bar by Grant Achatz of Alinea posted a

using the Tovolo tray.

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There is no slot; the dividers go right to the top of the tray.

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I wonder why all silicone ice trays are like this. Could I cut a little bit out of each divider to create a channel? Would that compromise its structural integrity? I don't want to trash a $12 ice tray.

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Fully recognizing that insignificant details to one can be a herculean ordeal to another, I have to ask: is it all that bad to have to fill up each cell? A whole tray takes maybe 20 seconds tops.

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I have four of these, so I'll try cutting in v slots to see what happens. It's something that I'd like to try also bc I often spill a ton of water getting the overfull trays into the freezer.

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I bought some cheapo silicone ice trays in Shanghai and am having a hell of a time with them. Being in China, I have to use bottled water, so I can't just turn on the tap, fill willy-nilly, splishy-splashing. But you're right, it is indeed only a bit harder and annoying. I might just get the maid to do it instead (the upside of living in China).

Also, the silicone trays I have are real floppy so it's hard move them into the freezer without spilling. Do you put these on a metal tray and transport them that way?

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I underfill the trays a bit. The water expands enough to fill the mold once its frozen. I haven't used any other silicone trays so can't compare, but I don't have problems with twisting once they're filled with water.

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I just got one of the Tovolo King Cube silicone trays to try out from Sur La Table (around $7-8), and I like it. Six big cube-shaped cubes to a tray.

I remember my grandparents had these light green rubber or maybe some other kind of flexible plastic spherical novelty ice molds called "Ice Cubos" that must have dated from the 1960s. There were six spheres to a group, and each one had a small hole in the top to fill them up, and you could stretch the plastic to pop them out through the holes when they were frozen.

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Have you considered switching to whisky stones for most of your chilled liquid needs? They're basically small cubes of soapstone that are too soft to scratch glass and retain a decent amount of thermal energy. I've never given them a try, but I've long been curious.

The Japanese chain Muji also sells a silicone mold for making spherical ice. At $11.75 each they're pretty expensive, but I'd imagine you'd only need one sphere per glass: http://www.muji.us/store/silicon-ice-ball-maker.html No clue if this would require less dexterity but it might be worth a shot since you don't have to break the ice up to get it out. Moma's spherical trays look somewhat easy too: http://www.momastore.org/museum/moma/ProductDisplay_Spherical%20Ice%20Tray%20Set_10451_10001_57253_-1_26669_26669_57254


Edited by WJConrad (log)

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I remember my grandparents had these light green rubber or maybe some other kind of flexible plastic spherical novelty ice molds called "Ice Cubos" that must have dated from the 1960s. There were six spheres to a group, and each one had a small hole in the top to fill them up, and you could stretch the plastic to pop them out through the holes when they were frozen.

Like this one?:

IMG_6003.jpg

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My son bought some rocks made of ceramic that he keeps in the freezer and uses that to keep drinks cool.  There is no dilution that way. 

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My son bought some rocks made of ceramic that he keeps in the freezer and uses that to keep drinks cool.  There is no dilution that way.

That might work if you enjoy your spirits neat and chilled, but for the vast majority of cocktails, dilution is actually desired.

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My son bought some rocks made of ceramic that he keeps in the freezer and uses that to keep drinks cool.  There is no dilution that way. 

 

This actually works pretty terribly, because most of the cooling power of ice is comes from melting because of the heat of fusion.

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OK, hi everyone, it's been a while - the Green Zone has been running more or less continuously as a pop up since May 2014 and I'm now under contract to get a brick and mortar spot.  Lately, I've been on my own ice capade, if you will. 

 

The bar hosting me for the longest period (on and off from August 2015 until now) has absolutely god awful ice, some of the worst I've seen. It's disgraceful in a glass served on the rocks (and shaking with more than half the shaker full or for more than 10 seconds yields a watery drink), so first I was freezing my own ice in 2x2 molds, but a trip in March to Attaboy changed my life, and I've become obsessed with clear ice. Having experimented a bit, I now do Camper English's igloo cooler with the top off trick, and lo and behold, it produces big blocks of crystal clear ice! I then carve those up and use them for rocks drinks, to the delight of me, and more importantly my guests.

 

I've also done some experiments with shaking with a single big clear cube, as Attaboy and Sasha Petraske's former bars do, and as one particular bar in DC does. Sure enough it creates tons of aeration and lovely foam, but I can't seem to get the drinks cold enough, even after a pretty long, hard shake. Obviously more research is required, but does anyone know what's going on? I know chilling = dilution, and the drinks don't seem underdiluted, and I'd also assume that a lot of aeration means sufficient shaking has happened.

 

I'm also becoming more and more obsessed with Japanese bar techniques, and have now watched all of Hidetsugu Ueno's videos I can find, and just received Kazuo Uyeda's Cocktail Techniques book. Obviously the Japanese shaking style is quite different both in terms of movements and the ice - I don't have a cobbler shaker so can't really try it out, but can anyone chime in on how it compares in the end result to the "single big chunk" style?

 

I also noticed Japanese bartenders pack their mixing glasses full of ice, which I don't see often here - is there a reason?

 

On another note, I succumbed to gentle peer pressure from @bostonapothecary (winner no. 23 of the Green Zone Challenge) and got an Alaska Ice Crusher. True to his pitch, holy shit this thing rocks. Best crushed ice I've seen, and to quote Stephen, "it eats ice". It's completely put me off Scotsman-style pebble ice, which I used to adore.

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Welcome back @Hassouni

 

I stuff as much ice in my cobbler shakers as possibly will fit.  I have no formal training, it's just what works best for me.  I also shake 45 seconds, timed by a NIST traceable timer, for what it's worth.  But then I am a little obsessive compulsive.

 

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