Jim Meehan Talks Ice (Esquire)

Jim Meehan interviewed by Esquire (full article here)

A cocktail is comprised of up to four primary elements: liquid, glassware, garnish, and ice. As soon as a bartender masters liquid, arguably the most important element, their focus naturally shifts toward the other elements.

What makes for “good” ice? What you’re looking for is size, clarity, and how it’s cut. So it’s very similar to diamonds.

We get our ice from an ice-sculptor who cuts it using chainsaws. Initially, I was skeptical, but the more I drank cocktails or sipped spirits with really good ice, the more I was taken with it.

A lot of it comes down to aesthetics. Cloudiness in ice comes from water impurities and air bubbles. Your average home-refrigerator icemaker freezes ice really fast, which also leads to cloudier, imperfect ice. Crystal-clear ice is created when you freeze very pure water very slowly.

Large cubes are both beautiful and functional.

The main types of ice being used in top cocktail bars are…

• Big cubes for shaking and stirring: 1-1/4 x 1-1/4-inch blocks made by a Kold-Draft ice machine.

• Blocks to be broken down into smaller pieces: up to 300-lb slabs, harvested from a Clinebell machine. Cutting ice is an art.

• Large cubes to serve in drinks, mostly those prepared in old-fashioned glasses. Made from molds or cut or chipped from larger blocks.

• Rods to serve in drinks, mostly those prepared in Collins glasses. Made from molds or cut or chipped from larger blocks.

• Spheres to serve in high-end spirits or fancy cocktails, usually in old-fashioned glasses. Made from molds or carved or picked from large cubes.

• Pebbles to serve in cobblers and swizzles. Made by a Scotsman ice machine.

• Crushed to serve in juleps. Pounded with a wooden hammer in Lewis ice bags.

How you build a drink is important, too, in terms of controlling dilution. A mojito is a great example. We muddle the mint, mix it with the lime juice, simple syrup, and rum, shake it with ice, then pour the liquid over fresh ice in a Collins glass. That way you’re pouring something cold over something cold, and the whole drink stays cooler, with less dilution.

If you want to upgrade the ice you make at home, you can buy silicone molds for large cubes and spheres. Clean your freezer out to remove odors, seal any remaining items in airtight containers, and fill your molds with warm, filtered water. Impurity-free water, a vibration-free environment, and the warmest possible freezer setting will provide more clarity.

Oh, and I don’t really understand whisky stones. If you want to drink cold whisky and don’t want any dilution from ice, store the bottle in the fridge or plunge it into an ice bucket before service. I worry about the stones chipping my teeth!

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