the ice man cometh
Sourcing the ‘good ice’ for better cocktails
This bourbon punch will sparkle on your holiday table.
Photo & Styling by Eugenia Uhl
Those who know me well know I have an ice fetish especially when it comes to making cocktails. I often bring along a bag of “good ice” to just about any kind of gathering where I will be having my usual Dewars and soda. Some of the hosts (and hostesses) are offended and explain that the ice in the home freezer is made with filtered water, and thereby their ice is “good.” But usually what I get are those half-moon ice cubes (well, they cubes) that are white, not clear. The ice has a chemical odor and sometimes gives me a headache. No kidding. Allow me to tell you how this fetish came to be. Dr. J. L. “Putsie” Beyt, Sr., who was often the mixologist on duty at my parent’s gatherings in the 1950s and ‘60s, taught me the importance of good ice.
“Good ice is the basis of a good drink,” he said. “If it’s made with unacceptable ice, you just as soon pour it down the drain.”
Now, you’re lucky if you can find “good ice” in the bags of “crushed ice” at the supermarket. Trust me, I’ve tried them all. There are some better than others. The thing is to find good clear, crushed ice that doesn’t melt too quickly, thus diluting your drink.
Imagine my surprise when I found out about a St. Martinville High School alum in New Orleans who makes “custom cut craft ice.”
Chuck Avery of Melt New Orleans (meltneworleans.com, 504-208-0913) offers “melt options” — assorted sizes of cubes. Avery is a certified sommelier and guided the wine program at Lilette on Magazine Street. A visit, arranged by Lilette’s chef John Harris, to the Toronto Temperance Society pinged his creative juices. Avery was impressed with their massive selection of glassware in which their drinks are served.
“I was astounded at their hand-crafted, classic-inspired and cutting edge cocktails,” says Avery. “I couldn’t get the experience out of my head. If you don’t have good ice, then you don’t have a good basis for a really good drink,” says Avery. (See, Dr. Putsie knew what he was talking about.)
Avery uses a box freezer that freezes from the bottom up, using the process of reverse osmosis. The result is extremely over-filtered, pristine water. It takes three days to make two blocks (40-inch by 20-inch by 15-inch), about 40 gallons, each block weighing about 300 pounds. To cut the ice into various shapes and sizes, Avery uses a band saw, like those used primarily in woodworking, which allows better control in making precise cuts of ice. Avery says a 2-inch by 2-inch cube is ideal for most glasses.
“And with that in mind, you should also consider selecting the right kind of glassware to accommodate this size. A shot of 1 ½-ounces to 2 ounces looks very generous with the two-inch square ice cube,” he says.
I was in ice heaven while Avery cut about 50 cubes for me to bring home. They are now safely stored in my home freezer and I can’t wait to show them off during the holidays for brunch or during the cocktail hour.
This is a great holiday drink.
1 (6-ounce) can frozen orange juice concentrate, thawed and undiluted
1 (6-ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed and undiluted
½ cup fresh lemon juice
2 cups bourbon
1 (2-liter) bottle lemon-lime carbonated beverage, chilled
1 (10-ounce) bottle club soda, chilled
Combine the orange juice, lemonade, lemon juice and bourbon and mix well. Chill for several hours. When ready to serve, add the lemon-lime beverage and club soda and mix. Pour over good ice to serve.
Makes 3 quarts
BLOODY MARY, MY WAY
Where would we be without a spicy Bloody Mary to get us through the holidays?
4 cups good quality, thick tomato juice
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon celery salt
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
8-10 drops of Tabasco, or to taste
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
4-5 jiggers vodka lime wedges for garnish
In a large pitcher, combine all of the ingredients and chill for at least one hour. Stir again before serving. Pour into tall glasses over good ice and garnish with lime.
Makes about 4 drinks
I recall having this cocktail on the patio at Commander’s Palace in New Orleans and I believe it got its name because it was made by “slinging” the mixture (to mix it) from one glass to another.
2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice
1½ ounces gin
⅓ ounce simple syrup
½ ounce club soda
½ ounce cherry brandy
slice of orange
Fill a 12-ounce glass with good ice. Crushed, not cubes. Squeeze the juice over the ice, then pour the gin and simple syrup over the ice and mix well. Add the club soda to almost fill the glass. Float the cherry brandy on top and garnish with the orange and cherry.
Makes 1 drink
This drink was created by a good friend and great bartender, Jeff Markel, for holiday enjoyment.
1 oz. cranberry and orange infused vodka or gin
1½ ounces rosemary-orange syrup
½ ounce fresh lime juice
½ ounce fresh lemon juice
½ ounce good quality cranberry juice
2 ounces soda water
Combine the first five ingredients to a shaker cup with good ice and stir thoroughly. Pour soda water into a rocks glass and then slowly pour in stirred ingredients. Add more ice if needed and stir gently. Garnish with cranberries and a sprig of rosemary.
Makes 1 drink
Cranberry-orange infused gin or vodka
In a large glass container put 1½ cups dried cranberries and the zest of 1 large orange. (Use a vegetable peeler to zest the orange to make large pieces.) Add a bottle of your choice of vodka or gin. Reserve the bottle.
Seal tightly and let infuse in a dark place for about 4 to 5 days. Strain the mixture and pour into the reserved liquor bottle. Save cranberries for garnish when you make your cocktail.
Bring 2 cups of filtered water to a boil and stir in 2 cups sugar. Stir to dissolve and drop in 4 to 5 sprigs of fresh rosemary and the zest of 1 orange (large pieces). Return to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool then strain through a mesh strainer and bottle. Store in the fridge.