Compass

Cocktail ice: the new cold standard

Compass

Prizefighter's Jon Santer goes to work on a block of ice destined for cocktails. (Photo: Balthazer DIgital Med …


Even I find a $15 cocktail hard to swallow. I mean, I still swallow them all the time, but I reserve the right, like any good American, to gripe about it while imbibing.

The liquor in the glass is often the main culprit in the rising price of cocktails, but in the best places, frozen water plays a vital role too. Yes, I'm referring to the craft cocktail ice that's become a cold standard inside bars over the last several years.

The fact is, ice does make a difference in taste — and the type of ice is paramount.

"It's all about the dilution," explains Jon Santer, the owner of San Francisco's Prizefighter and a man who's devoted a lot of study to the subject of frozen water. "Simply put, more ice in your drink equals less water in your drink," he continues. "It's counterintuitive but obvious after about four seconds of thought."

Santer's bar tools include shakers, bar spoons and strainers — alongside a 14-inch electric chainsaw that's never cut a single thing but ice, as well as a Japanese bamboo saw, a 2-inch wood chisel and a small Japanese hammer. The result? At Prizefighter and other places like it, you can see straight through the gorgeous sphere of ice in your whiskey glass, and every cocktail is going to taste as perfectly balanced on the first sip as it does on the last.

"Ice is to a bartender what a stove is to a cook," offers Joaquín Simó, whose brand-new spot Pouring Ribbons in Manhattan offers four different types, including long, rectangular cylinders for tall Collins glasses.

"Ice is what allows us to meld wildly different ingredients and textures into one cohesive, quaffable result. Understanding ice means you can control the water content added to the drink and how cold you can get it."

We as drinkers don't need to necessarily fully understand ice, but we do need to say a quick '"thank you" to bartenders for the forethought. Jon Santer has never cut himself with that chainsaw, but he did once roll a 600-pound block of ice over his foot.

5 Bars with Kickin' Ice Options

Pouring Ribbons: Manhattan, NY

Prizefighter: Emeryville, CA

Rob Roy: Seattle, WA

Sanctuaria in The Grove: St. Louis, MO

The Lawrence: Atlanta, GA

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