Ice revolution in drinking culture
Updated: Mar 29
The world of cocktails is rapidly evolving. A constant array of new combinations of colours, flavours, aromas coupled with out of this world garnishes and serving rituals that pushes the boundaries of bartending into the real of art. Bartenders are frequently finding inspiration from other industries around us such as chocolatiers, perfumers, chefs and bakers. This shifts the paradigm of the bartending profession beyond its usual borders whilst still paying homage to the roots of the classics.
Clear ice and drinks are made with all care and tension for customer experience.
In recent times, a major influence on the bartending industry has come from the land of the rising Sun. In the Japanese bartending culture ice is of the major importance with advancing techniques of ice carving leading to some beautiful different types of shapes and sizes. The focus of the giant crystal clear ice block being chipped away at depending on the drink ordered either for the serve or for shaking creating the ultimate control in temperature, texture and level of dilution.
Ice techniques are coming more and more mainstream and not just classic cocktails such as the Negroni and Old Fashioned that are served over large cubes or over more complicated serves such as Ice Balls and Ice Diamonds. Nowadays even simple serves such as "on the rocks" have become 'on the ROCK" moving into a category of "Perfect Serve" respecting the finest of spirits with their presence elevating the consumer experience as the bartender lovingly carves the uniques piece of ice for every guest.
Recently popping up all over the world Ice Stamps have become the newest addition to this “ice-craze game” that help to turn cocktails to branded “products”, that represent particular bar, venue or a bartender.
Ice Stamps are becoming the standard bar tool not just for bars or alcohol brands since the trend of cocktails served with
branded ice blocks is expanding from bars but also to event companies. As ice continues to take over the world we'll soon see them at weddings, company parties and curiosities such ice stamps will be dominating the US Presidential Elections or be featured in the next hit rap song. Theres even an article somewhere that the Foo Fighters specifically mention ice blocks in their rider...
Clear ICE Spaniard Bernabeu "MASH PENTHOUSE" Copenhagen
To understand how ice works, we first need to acknowledge that ice plays an extremely important role in our drinks as it is another significant ingredient that will provide an aesthetic element to the mix. How we use our ice (cubed and crushed ice from machine, shaved ice, or shaped ice from blocks) will have a significant affect in the taste and temperature of the drink. Needless to say, the type of ice that we use is incredibly important, as the water dilution will give its balance and unique touch to the drink. Ideally, all bars should use ice blocks due to its purity, temperature and art behind the making of shaping but this can all be argued. For example in Japan, most (if not all cocktail bars) don't own an ice machine. Meaning they spend hours before opening just to get a one day's ice ready for service. As the bars tend to have not more than 10 seats, the amount of ice you need to prep can't be compared to a bar that executes over 200 plus cocktails per night.
Other bars around the world are beginning to order blocks of ice, although some order pre-cut pieces, which subsequently makes the buying more expensive. In our bar we use an ice machine and blocks of ice.
Even though we are a high paced bar, we manage to cut the ice block and shape on the go. We don't put this to practice at all times of course, as some nights can be so hectic that we could fall behind. Halfway through service (between seats), we have short spaces of "free time" where a bartender can prep a few cubes and leave in the freezer in case of emergency.
Chipping, cutting and shaping ice can be hard to master but as the old saying goes "practice makes perfect". I for one, really enjoy the whole art and skill behind the preparation of ice like this, call it 'sculpting' or 'cooking', but I believe that this process is a true art form within itself. The more I develop and improve my craft, the more I like to challenge myself with speed and precision.
When it comes to the cutting, picking and shaping, some people do it with their bare hands and others with gloves or cloths. Reasons why people use cloths is not always necessarily because of sanitary purposes. This can be for a number of reasons, such as not getting your hands as cold and having more control of the ice due to the friction between the two. Avoiding the cloth while ice chipping may seem harder to handle at first, due to its cold temperature and slippery surface, but with time and skill, like everything else, it gets pleasantly easier.
In regards to guests not liking the idea of us handling ice with our bare hands, it is vital to point out that professional bartenders wash their hands at all times and in some cases with sanitary products. I can’t say ignorantly that all bartenders do it but at our bar it happens every time. Another reason why others hate the idea of us not using a cloth, is in regards to the idea that we deal with money (a lot of bacteria) and all sorts of other things that may be dirty around your working area. However at MASH in Copenhagen bartenders barely handle cash since it’s our waiters that process the payments. Now, I’m not expecting every bar to have the same system as we do, but you’d just have to be cleaning your hands a fair bit more than us. In short, teach the importance of hygiene to your staff and explain to your guests (if they seem troubled) how you operate and handle your master hands.
Clear Ice Vainius Balcaitis "Apoteka" Vilnius
Vainius "clear ice cube"
I don't know how trendy it is worldwide but I find that in our times appearance and style have a huge role in our industry. For me, crystal clear ice blocks show an attention to detail, a care from what the guest is drinking and how whilst also showing that the venue is putting all that extra effort into the preparation in all they do. If craft spirits, techniques and hospitality is a trend then ice blocks are just another tool to show this.
Even though home bars haven't yet jumped onto this trend its only a matter of time until we'll be seeing ice blocks in every freezer!
Special Thanks to Vladimir Scotka "Cocktail Brandalism " , Vainius Balcaitis and Spaniard Bernabeu for spreading the love and making our industry more special.