Expert cocktail maker Rush Limbu defrosts the secrets of the perfect ice cube.
Text by Hilary Wu, illustrations by Tim Cheng
What is the difference between shaking and stirring a drink?
The way you mix a drink causes a change in the character of the ingredients and the overall flavour profile. Shaking is used to mix mainly juice-based and other more flavourful drinks. It allows the mixture to chill instantly as the dynamic action breaks down more ice than stirring, and it ensures the ingredients are well blended. Stirring gently mixes spirits and liqueurs without mass disturbance to the taste from dilution.
What causes ice to cloud?
Regular tap water leaves minerals and air bubbles trapped inside the ice cube when frozen rapidly. Tap water contains impurities and, as the temperature decreases, the once- dissolved particles become visible. Twice boiling should clear the ice by removing air bubbles from the liquid, allowing the water molecules to fuse more closely in the freezer. However, even this will not guarantee crystal-clear ice as household refrigerators freeze the water quickly. The clearest ice comes from slow freezing, when water gradually freezes from the bottom up, allowing gases to escape and forcing impurities to the surface instead of trapping them. We buy ice from a company to meet the hotel’s hygiene requirements.
Is it possible to prevent ice cubes cracking when put into drinks?
When you place ice into a drink, the temperature difference between the liquid and the core of the ice may cause it to crack. To avoid this, remove the block ice from the freezer and allow it to warm up for a while before serving.
Will ice dilute the liquor and cause a loss of aroma?
Melted ice dilutes the liquor instantly and causes a loss of taste and aroma. Achieving the proper degree of dilution is the key to creating a perfect cocktail. Some liquors benefit from a little dilution as it can bring out certain aromatic compounds and avoid the strong taste that will otherwise nuke your taste buds. But the main reason we use ice is to chill the drinks for a pleasurable fresh finish.
How does ice in different sizes and shapes affect the liquor?
Crushed ice improves summer-style cocktails with a frozen, slushy texture, while normal ice cubes are suitable for mixing soda-based drinks such as rum and coke, vodka and tonic or gin and tonic. Block ice or ice balls go well with spirits on the rocks as, owing to their larger surface area, they melt more slowly than smaller cubes and don’t water down the spirits too much. These are especially suitable for high-end whiskies.
What spirits are suitable for adding ice?
Most spirits are suitable for drinking with ice. Exceptions are high-end whisky, brandy or eau de vie (a clear distilled brandy made with any fruits other than grapes).
Why bother making the “right” ice?
Apart from the aesthetics, quality ice means less dilution and keeps the drink at a desirable temperature for longer. Matching different drinks with the right type of ice helps to balance the flavour.
Rush Limbu’s passion for cocktails dates back to 1999 when he noticed similarities between cocktails and art. With no academic background in wines and spirits, he mastered the art of cocktails through his working experience in well-known bars such as Ping Pong 129 Gintonería, Il Milione, and 81⁄2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana.