Saturday, October 31, 2009

:: ice geeking ::

Preparing drinks can be facilitated by owning the proper tools. While a lot of people have spoken about the shakers, jiggers, and the like, very little has been written about ice tools. Ice plays a critical part in the drink making and enjoying experience, and its shape and size can effect everything from the preparation to the presentation. Here, I will talk about some of my more recent purchases in regards to processing small format ice and I will point you in the right direction if large format ice is your thing.

The ice tapper is the most frequently used tool in my arsenal; it is used to crack ice cubes into smaller pieces. Smaller pieces of ice have a greater surface area and thus cool drinks down quicker (given the same amount of ice). This can be advantageous during stirring and shaking many drinks. An exception to this is egg drinks where you want more froth which is best generated with large cubes; however, I have seen bartenders use a mix of cubes and cracked ice to promote both cooling and frothing. Surprisingly, it does not take a lot of force to break ice (although for more fine crushing, it does). With square cubes (made in Tovolo Perfect Cube silicone ice cube trays), it takes about 3 taps. The trick is not to tap the same side multiple times in a row, but to turn the cube to a new side each time. Each tap sets up cleavage planes that lead to the cube ending up anywhere from 3-12 pieces depending on your force, the tool, and the ice. While harder taps do work well, it does end up scattering ice fragments across your kitchen. In the photo are three of our crackers. The bottom one is a new one we bought at the Boston Shaker and, despite seeming rather light, is rather effective. The middle one is a vintage one we found in an antiques store in Somerville, NJ. Besides the cool Bakelite handle, the heavy ball and spring combination can generate a good amount of ice cracking power with very little hand movement. The top one is another vintage piece, a simple barspoon. Yes, the back side of the barspoon you already own will crack ice quite well. It does not have the springiness in the shaft that the other crackers do, but it will work quite well.

Ice tappers can only do so much. For a glass full of chipped ice for Tiki drinks or Juleps, tappers would become tedious besides the pieces being often larger than desired. One of the more useful tools which spares you the horrible noise of the electric blender is the manual ice crusher. Pictured above is an older Art Deco Ice-O-Mat reproduction I bought on eBay. Metrokane makes a few styles of ice crushers (the Boston Shaker sells one) and there are often vintage (especially wall-mounted) ones in antiques stores. While ours is stylish, it has a low ice capacity (2-3 at a time) and only produces one size of ice. The newer ones can hold more cubes in the hopper and will do two sizes depending on which way you crank the handle (as well as often have a vacuum to attach it to the counter).

For even finer ice, a very satisfying tool is the Lewis bag. The Lewis bag is nothing but a tough canvas bag that you load the ice into, fold over the opening, and then smash the ice with a mallet or meat tenderizer. The bag pictured above is a hand-stitched one we bought at the Boston Shaker which is rather well made (besides coming in a variety of colors). We also have a canvas bank bag (seen below the ice tapper and Ice-O-Mat above) which works well but is not as thick, well-seamed, or attractive as the handmade ones, but was a lot cheaper and come in a variety of sizes. And for the DiYers out there, follow bartender Josie Packard's lead and sew your own! The one she did for Drink uses thick canvas that is triple-stitched via a sewing machine (according to the bartenders there, it is more likely to give out in the center than through the stitching when being used). For a striking implement, I got a pair of his and hers factory seconds mallets off of eBay. I was tempted by some of the vintage ones but got frustrated with the bidding wars and went with something off of the buy-it-now list. The end result is finely crushed ice (although larger sized pieces will be in the mix depending on how thoroughly you smash away) which was perfect in our Sherry Cobbler.

This list of ice processing tools is by no means complete; for example, I have seen ice crushed via wood muddler in a mixing glass. And there are plenty of ice geeks who want to go even more old school and render large format ice down into the proper size and shapes of their choosing. Drink in Boston, for example, purchases 50 pound ice and uses a variety of shavers (think wood planes for ice), cleavers, and ice picks. The shavers seem to work the best in terms of generating the finest ice without electricity albeit with a bit of time and effort. For some of the best ice picks I have ever seen, go visit Cocktail Kingdom and look at their Japanese ice picks. The rest can be found in various antiques stores (although I have no clue how long John Gertsen of Drink searched for his bar's tools).

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