I had an epiphany recently when I stopped to order my favorite iced coffee from BLOC Coffee Company in Price Hill and their ice machine was on the fritz.
“Try it cold, without ice,” the barista suggested. “Some of our customers like it better that way.”
So I pouted but decided to give it a chance, and you know what? I liked it better that way. The flavor stayed true all the way through without getting watery at the end.
It made me think of a friend of mine who always orders fountain Coke without ice, drawing the ire of servers who forget and ice it anyway, then have to go get another the way he ordered it. I always thought he was a bit sadistic. Now, I get it. Maybe ice is just a habit.
For a while, there was a trend toward what I’ll call “big ice” — hefty square cubes that supposedly reduce melting and prevent dilution while keeping your drink extra cold. I found a de-bunking article by a blogger apparently dedicated to tech writing but who recently posted a thoughtful and (seemingly) accurate scientific explanation of ice melting. According to leancrew.com, the melting of ice is actually what cools the drink: “significant cooling comes from ice’s heat of fusion…[it] pulls heat out of your drink and lowers its temperature.”
The laws of thermodynamics state that big ice cubes “melt (and therefore dilute your drink) more slowly, but at the cost of cooling your drink more slowly.”
So no real advantage to big ice, but is there an advantage to starting out with a cool drink and no ice?
Some of the best cocktails I’ve ever had were served “up” — shaken or stirred with ice, and then strained into a chilled glass. Of course, “up” is different than “neat” — both mean no ice, but neat is a shot of booze, generally whiskey served as-is, simply, with no chilling involved. Cocktail writers, primarily blondes who have been known to have a wee sip of bourbon before bed — for research, you know — drink it neat. It’s usually from their very best bottle, the good stuff, which is appreciated for its soothing character and rich flavor.
So back to those cocktails served “up.” I spoke to Cincinnati’s star mixologist Molly Wellmann, and asked her for a few drinks that should only have a fleeting relationship with ice. She began by cautioning me that she tries never to judge — she assures me that when it comes to cocktails, everybody is their own best critic. But then she thinks about it.
“A Sidecar!” she says. “That would be horrible on the rocks. It’s so complex, with cognac, lemon and Cointreau. Anything with brandy or cognac should be served up.”
And a Sazerac? “Oh, definitely up! Stirred and then served in a simple rocks glass or a coupe. But it has too much complexity that would get lost in ice. It just needs to be stirred so you can bring out the best in the whiskey.”
Two more that she’d prefer never to serve on the rocks are beer cocktails and champagne cocktails. One of her specials, the Ginger Rogers, is topped with hefeweizen, a low-hop bitter beer. The delicate flavors of gin, ginger and lemon, and the high carbonation of the hefeweizen, would be spoiled by cubes. A classic champagne cocktail, like the Seelbach, looks right in a flute, not on ice.
Of course, there are plenty of drinks that love ice. Wellmann says that any drink made with soda water shines over ice — a Gin Fizz or a Gin Rickey and all the highballs. One of her favorites is the classic Cobbler, a drink that was invented to showcase ice back in the days when it was awfully hard to come by. According to cocktail lore, Cobblers were the first drinks to feature ice and straws. They got their name from the effect of the surface of the drink, where the packed chunks of ice resembled a cobblestone street. An easy Cobbler to try when summer fruit is in season is the Blackberry Cobbler.
Blackberry Cobbler Cocktail, adapted from Driscoll’s Berries
1/2 cup ripe blackberries, plus extra for garnish
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
1 oz. simple syrup
1 1⁄2 oz. gin
1⁄2 oz. crème de cassis
Splash of sparkling wine or club soda
In a glass, muddle blackberries, lemon juice and simple syrup. Add gin and Crème de Cassis. Top with ice and shake vigorously. Pour into a tall glass and top with the sparkling wine or club soda. Garnish with berries and a straw for sipping.
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