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Ever Wondered Why Cocktails Contain Ice? Here’s All You Need To Know

rose petals and ice cubes

A mixology enthusiast is almost always interested in knowing more about the histories and origins of what goes into crafting classic drinks. This goes for what would appear to be some of the most seemingly simple but essential ingredients in mixing drinks, something as basic as… ice. The use of ice in crafting cocktails has a rich history that spans continents. Today, certain cocktails make use of crushed ice, while others contain ice cubes and still other, more modern contraptions contain something like liquid nitrogen to chill a deconstructed mix.

Evidently, studying cocktail history also means taking a closer look at the history of ice itself, which during the Roman ages was brought down from the glaciers in the mountains and stored in insulated cellars, to be added to drinks. If that’s not enough, sometime in the 19th century, ice was also extracted from the frozen lakes in Norway and shipped in enormous caverns across vast distances, all the way to London. 

As ice travelled to different parts of the world, so too it began to be incorporated into drinks, to chill them but to also play around with their overall flavour profile. Interestingly, during the Prohibition Era in America, alcohol was produced in secret and this home brewing technique did not always produce the best results. During this time, ice was added to cocktail concoctions to mask the taste of a particularly low-quality booze as the ice would help to dilute its flavour.

Ice In Cocktails

Ice was used often by Roman and French royalty through the 18th century and it largely remained a luxury available only to the rich and to the aristocracy. It was only during the mid-19th century that ice became affordable enough for the general public to consume, leading to the advent of cocktails in ice, rather than a simplistic understanding of ice added to a drink to chill it.

Eventually, Americans who developed the art of mixing spirits and blends to craft cocktails began to use ice extensively in mixology as a garnish to show off how chilled a drink could be. This meant that there was a large mountain of shaved ice atop a julep topped with a seasonal fruit. Ice also became a way to reduce the amount of water a cocktail required because melted ice would become the hydrating elixir in any concoction.

frozen margarita

And even as ice threatened how much sugar could be added to a drink because of its temperature, mixologists began coming up with newer recipes like making simple syrup to adjust the sweet notes in a cocktail mix.

Modern Uses Of Ice

Today, ice performs a higher function than being a garnish to become part of a whole cocktail experience. As bars are offering a range of drinks made from house-made syrups and bitters, ice plays a role in accenting these drinks aesthetically and balancing their taste.

According to an essay on VinePair, the modern introduction of ice into cocktails can also be traced to Japan where cocktail cultures pay a special reverence to this coolant. In fact, famous mixologists like Hidetsugu Ueno have been known to carve ice with a blade for use in cocktail concoctions as a ‘jewel.’ This practice of using ice in cocktail recipes has travelled across the globe inspiring many bartenders to consider an ice’s shape and clarity while crafting a drink.

From spherical ice cubes to ice balls, collin spears and crushed and dry ice, the varieties of frozen water used to make a drink are all part of the technique of making a delicious cocktail. Next time you order a cocktail take a close look at the kind of ice used in the recipe to decipher what effect it has on the drink and how it adds into a greater appreciation of its myriad ingredients.