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The Science Behind Large Format Cocktail Ice

Despite the fact ice is used in one way or another in more than 90 percent of all cocktails, the importance of cocktail ice has only grown over the last several years. One of the driving forces behind this trend is large format ice, and behind that trend you can find — science.

Simply put, large format cocktail ice enhances the quality of cocktails by perpetuating aromas and holding up the structure of the spirits without watering the beverage down. And those benefits all stem from dilution rates.

“A controlled and decreased dilution rate ‘opens up’ a spirit’s ‘nose’ ideally. Regular ice just waters it down and kills flavor, mouthfeel, and aroma,” says Tobin Ellis, co-creator of Perlick’s Tobin Ellis Signature Cocktail Station.

So how do you control dilution rate? You start with large format ice. Ice with larger cube dimensions (in effect a cube with a larger volume) has a lower surface area relative to its volume than, say, ice pellets. By lowering this ratio, you get more ice to chill the drink with less surface area to water it down.

“If you put a shot of whiskey over any kind of regular sized cubes — and the same whiskey over one large cube — two, five, ten minutes later, the one over large cubes will have less dilution. Now, perhaps eventually, 45 minutes later, the dilution rates will match when the thermal equilibrium occurs, but what matters in the field is that in the normal drinking time for the guest, the large cube has less ‘practical’ dilution,” Ellis says.

This happens because of the thermodynamics involved in the process. When ice chills a warmer liquid, heat leaves the liquid and must be transferred somewhere, in this case, the ice itself. When you raise the temperature of a gram of ice by a single Celsius degree, about two joules of energy are pulled from the surrounding cocktail. Now, when you melt that same gram of ice, it will pull more than 300 joules of energy.

Basically, melting ice is a very efficient way at cooling a beverage, but if it melts too fast, it will dilute the desired properties of the spirit and the cocktail itself. This in turn, will lead to inconsistency.

The challenge lies in the ability to balance the two critical components that ice provides. Cooling the drink is desired, while adding water to it at a high rate is not. And the only way to prevent a high melt rate is to reduce the surface area of your ice, which is precisely what large format cocktail ice does.

Don’t forget about the aesthetics of clear ice.

Large format ice is often made to be crystal clear on purpose. Not only will the science of this ice help with dilution rates, and thus the quality of the cocktail, but the real value in so many large format cubes are the aesthetics.

Clear ice is an eye catcher. Once customers get used to using clear cubes or spheres, it’s often quite difficult to go back to cloudy ice. For operators, this means opportunity. With so much care and consideration given to the ice, the translation is premium pricing on the menu. It’s not abnormal for a carefully considered ice program to result in 10 to even 20 percent higher profits per drink.

Large format ice is often served in high-volume bars.

With so many unique and specialized ingredients in today’s cocktail world, bartenders need them all at their fingertips in order to be efficient and to maximize profitability. Perlick worked with world-renown bartender, Tobin Ellis, with this idea in mind. The result was the Tobin Ellis Signature Cocktail Station.

The Tobin Ellis Signature Cocktail Station is kind of like the “bartender’s cockpit.” Imagine an underbar unit you can literally step up into with everything at arm’s length. This is the first real step toward zero-step bartending.

See what other’s are saying about the Tobin Ellis Signature Cocktail Station in this short video.

 

tobin ellis cocktail station