The Real Ice Blog

On that last post, I apologize; I was most interested in making fun of the sad man from .  And they all deserve it.  They are trying to lower the standards I’m trying to raise.  The entire point of that post was to show, in the same time that it took to make the worst daiquiri in the world, that you could do something far more interesting and subtle, that elevates the craft.  I hope that you did catch the video too.  It shows real bartending, an empty bar at 5pm on a Tuesday, a regular drones on about various illegal acts as you either a. get drunks yourself and crawl in the bottle too or b. do the two most important things a bartender can do, listen and practice.  Anyway, here is some stuff about ice, its quite important.

When the ice machines (I call them icies, like “icy is being a bastard today”) at the ToST lounge started breaking all the time, I noticed that the ice that I bought in the store was better than the machine ice.  Mostly because it came from huge industrial freezer set at and below 0 degrees f.

I also noticed that the Mexican place around the corner uses the same ice that they mix the margarita with, they dump into your drink.  This creates roughly 3 minutes of good margarita before you have a chartreuse colored glass of water.  They used the same crappy ice that ToST did.
Ice has every opportunity to go wrong.

I can’t really fault either of them, (except, never retain the ice you used to make a drink) because frankly, even if the ice machine was any good, the cold plate under the ice has to work; if it is cold enough, ice will constantly freeze to it.  The ice on top has to stay fresh and “non melty.”  The more it melts, the more “not freezing stuff,” is around other ice.  Will the exception of water with solutes (salt water for example) water can’t be less than 32 degrees, therefore if the ice on top on the well is melting, it accelerating the melting of the ice under it.  For this same reason, always use the most ice you can possibly fit into a cocktail shaker or a cocktail that will be built over ice.

I then began to research ice.  I looked up old wives tales, tested things that I thought I learned in school, and most importantly studied the Mpemba  Effect.  The Mpemba Effect is much like centrifugal force, it is a phenomenon, not an actual force.  It describes the phenomenon by which warm water (sometimes) freezes faster than cold water.  Though this does seem counter intuitive to thermodynamics it was recorded as early as Aristotle and not named until 1963 for a high school student performing an ice cream cookery class.  Although there are several factors to explain the Mpemba effect, the most simple is convection.  Warm water creates movement that prevents the outside of the water from cooling first.  Were that to happen, the water inside would be trapped at a warmer temperature.  Because ice is a good insulator, ask any Eskimo, the idea for the fastest freezing and clearest ice is to use warm water that will freeze from the bottom up.    Why is this important to a bartender?  The idea behind the best ice is that the more solid, clear, that is to say free of air, therefore the center temperature can be incredibly cold.  This clear ice will melt slower and hold a form better.

Hidetsugo Ueno, carving "Diamond Ice"

Hidetsugo Ueno, carving "Diamond Ice"

But what really got me interested in ice was having the great fortune to meet Hidetsugo Ueno, owner and lead bartender of Bar High Five in Tokyo. The short list of what I learned from him is as follows:

-He showed me the hard shake (which I can not do)

-Many Japanese bars don’t have ice machines, block ice is delivered daily because of the internal temperature being colder.

-Many Japanese bartenders hand cut ice to suit different drinks, and will cut spheres to serve straight spirits over, the purpose of which is to maximize the surface area of the spirit touching the ice.

-In Japan, the ice ball is not special, they are found everywhere, and are sometimes sold to bars in sphere form

-What Ueno does is a technique he calls “Diamond Ice,” by which he cuts
ice to perfectly fit the negative space of the cut crystal glasses he uses.

And finally the most important thing that Ueno taught me was that even this “Diamond Ice,” was not special.  Nothing that a bartender does is really “special,” nor is it “insignificant,” is just “is.”  It just is because it’s your job, I think this is where Zen and existentialism overlap. The importance of ice Uneo understands that ice is as important as whisky, I know I need both.

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