This experiment was inspired by a guest we had at the bar a few years ago, it was one of those experiences that sticks with you. We had a relatively new bartender – new to us, and new to bartending that we were so happy to have. I was working with her one night when I overheard this guy just harassing her about the ice cubes she used in his whiskey.
At Clyde Common we have always had a pretty awesome whiskey list. The upside of that is there’s lots of delicious whiskey for everyone to enjoy. The downside is that it sometimes draws in these dreadful Whiskey Alpha guys who love being horrible to bartenders. They especially enjoy preying on A) young bartenders, and B) female bartenders.
We’ve never been one of those places with an aggressive “ice program”. We have the Tovolo 1.25″ molds that we refill from the tap and freeze overnight for serving whiskey on the rocks and Old Fashioneds. It’s my favorite cube to enjoy a drink on, so that’s what we use. But this guy was nearly incensed that she had the audacity to serve him a drink on what this “expert” deemed to be inferior ice, even going to far as to quote her a bunch of “facts” about impurities and ice shapes, melting times, etc. He made her feel really awful and nothing makes me as angry as when people pick on my bartenders.
The average armchair mixologist will happily inform you that drinks served on large-format ice, clear ice, or spherical ice will stay colder and remain less diluted than drinks served on, well, normal ice.
The Bar Book and Drinking Distilled are both full of drinking myths that I loved disproving. I think my favorite was the lemon juice myth found on pages 24-25 of The Bar Book, where I set up an experiment to disprove this idea that room temperature citrus that had been rolled on the countertop just before juicing somehow magically contained more juice.
The ice thing has always bothered me, but I never really had the time to devote to this blog post. Because it’s the sort of thing we hear all the time, right? Well, why don’t we just set up a really simple experiment and see if it’s actually true?
This one is super easy. I took four shots of whiskey, all the same volume, and all the same temperature, and put them on the rocks. The volume of whiskey across all glasses was 2 oz/60 ml, and the temperature of each glass of whiskey was room temperature to start. I also made certain that all of my ice was roughly the same temperature (within ±4ºC of each other), a feat I was able to achieve by storing them all in the same freezer. You can see me measuring the temperature of my ice with my laser-guided infrared thermometer.
Then, one by one, I poured the 60ml of whiskey over the ice and let it sit out at room temperature for twenty minutes. I felt like 20 minutes was a good amount of time, about the amount of time it takes the average person to drink a glass of whiskey. At the end of the 20 minutes I dumped the now watered-down whiskey back into the graduated cylinder (without the ice) to measure how much water had been imparted by the ice melting.
Glass A contained (3) 1.25″ Tovolo ice mold cubes (again, my favorite cubes), two of those cubes were on the bottom of the glass, and one was kinda sitting on those two. You can see in the photo below.
Glass B contained (1) cloudy “BFC” (you can guess what that stands for), which was made in the Tovolo King Cube mold. It’s 2″ cubed. This is a big cube that you’ll find at a lot of cocktail bars, and I really like this one as well.
Glasses C and D contained ice that I made with this contraption I found on the internet. I’m not going to name them or link to them, because I don’t want to disrespect anyone’s company. But basically this is a huge, idiotic contraption that takes up half your freezer in order to produce clear ice via directional freezing. It comes with molds to make both clear cubes and clear spheres. It takes roughly two days to complete, and it costs nearly $200 dollars. You can make exactly four ice cubes every two days. Needless to say, I hate it.
Anyway, here are the results of the ice experiment in graphic form:
Okay, so there’s kind of our baseline. Two ounces of whiskey in, nearly three ounces of whiskey+water out. Now let’s see how this other, “fancier” ice performs:
The big cube resulted in about half a teaspoon less water. Is it less? Yes. Is it much less? No.
So, a 1ml difference between clear ice and cloudy ice, huh? That might even have to do with the fact that the clear cube was simply colder than the cloudy cube. And why would it be colder? Because freezers operate on cycles, and it happened to be running when I pulled the clear one out (please stop believing that cloudy ice is full of impurities, it’s just a little air)
This was supposed to be the best one, right? Less surface area supposedly means less water in your drink, right? Identical results as the clear cube, and very similar results as the three cubes.
The results were not that surprising to me. Yes, there was a slight difference between the large-format clear ice and the 1.25″ cubes. A difference of 4ml of water, which is less than a teaspoon. In fact, I would go so far as to call 4ml of water in 60ml of whiskey…. negligible. What is far more likely probably makes the most difference in your ice, more so than the size or shape, is the temperature of your freezer.
Conclusion? Big ice and clear ice are super cool (no pun intended). They look cool, they kinda feel cool, and clear ice is super pretty. But being a dick about it, or insisting on pseudoscience is not cool. So the next time someone wants to feed you a bunch of nonsense about you using the “wrong” ice, feel free to show them this post. Thanks for reading.