Typically it’s the liquid that makes a drink intriguing and not the stuff keeping it cool. Micah Melton, the bartender at the Aviary in Chicago, thinks otherwise. He offers 38 varieties of ice, prepared daily by three people. It is no ordinary ice; each has its own flavour, cut, texture and melting properties.
“That means it changes the drink radically over time – you get several experiences out of the same glass,” says Melton. “The industry has considered ice in terms of clarity, purity and shape, but there’s not much progressiveness in that. There’s a huge opportunity in cocktails to think of ice as being more than frozen water.” His cocktails include cinnamon-flavoured pebbles in a rum-based Tiki, and ice marbles made with Peychaud bitters infused in rhubarb.
He’s not alone in thinking about ice. Drink at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Café and you’ll find ice listed on the menu as an ingredient. Special attention is paid to the size of the ice chunks used: the smaller the lump, the quicker it chills but the faster it melts, bringing dreaded dilution. Chivas, the whiskymaker, has worked with Pininfarina, the Italian design company, to develop an ice cube specifically for its Regal 18 tipple. The Drop was developed in a wind tunnel. “You can have innovation in anything, even an ice cube,” notes Paolo Pininfarina.
While some are experimenting by having no ice at all – the White Lyan in London’s Hoxton pre-chills all ingredients – others, like food inventor Charlie Francis, suggest that ice cubes will give way to flavoured, nitrogen-cooled ice mists. When it comes to cocktail hour, we’ve only begun to push at the boundaries of thermo-dynamics.