New shapes from big blocks to spheres are shaking up cocktail service on Soho House bars. Here’s how to choose the right type for your drink
From sculptural spheres to cubes so clear that you could read a cocktail menu through them, ice is much more than a chiller for drinks. The right ice gives a drink just the right amount of dilution, and looks beautiful in the glass. Bars like Aviary in Chicago have even built their menus around ice, carving shapes to order. But how do we get it right in a busy Soho House across multiple bars?
Chris Hudnall has been trying to answer that question as part of the Food & Drink 2018 programme. “Personally, my favourite ice is crushed,” says our head of bars for North America, who is based at the Soho Beach House in Miami. “A swizzle down, crushed ice mojito or Mai Tai is just delicious.”
Tiki drinks and juleps will always be popular in sunny weather, as will gin and tonic, which tends
to be swirled with classic cubes. But for neat spirits and spirit-forward cocktails, larger cubes are the best way to take the edge off without washing out delicate flavours. “You pour spirits from room temperature, so the minute that liquid touches the ice, it’s diluting. With crushed ice, that could be within 45 seconds,” says Chris. Bigger, denser cubes keep their cool much longer, remaining intact until the very last sip.
Soho Beach House Miami introduced 2in cubes for “anything on the rocks” last year, says Chris, and the ice programme is being rolled out in New York, Chicago and West Hollywood. It’s about controlling the dilution and getting the right temperature. But looks matter too. “For the drinker, I think the best part is the aesthetic – when you get a scotch or tequila on the rocks and you can barely see the ice because the water is so pure and clear,” says Chris.
In the same vein, ice spheres add drama to drinks served in Collins glasses, like the Suze Highball, a drink developed by UK bars manager Erdem Kayalar for Kettner’s Townhouse. Made with Suze, Noilly Prat and ginger ale, and garnished with lemon balm, it seems to have a large sphere of ice floating in the top, but actually contains a second, invisible sphere underneath. “It’s literally a ‘high ball’ – a little joke,” Erdem explains.
With several freezers available behind the long piano bar, Kettner’s bartenders also serve large cubes of ice in neat spirits and classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned or Negroni, and freeze all their glasses, preserving drinks for even longer.
At Little House Mayfair ice adds an element of theatre to the service, as the team chip ice from huge blocks that are stored in the basement freezer. The different-sized pieces can be tailored to each drink, explains Raffaele Viccaro, head of bars in our smallest site. “The flavour is totally different because block ice is made at -20C, so there are no impurities at all,” he adds.
The blocks are removed from the freezer to bring them up to -4C, when the ice should be completely clear. Washing the cracked ice just before serving also helps minimise dilution in the glass.
For Raffaele, ice is to a bartender what spice is to a chef – choosing the right shape, or combination of shapes, takes a drink from good to great. That’s true even for a classic martini, served with no ice at all. “The martini is a very delicate drink. It needs to be made properly,” he says. “I put a block of ice in the bottom of the shaker for the temperature, and ice cubes on top to get just the right amount of dilution.”
Whatever shape and size you’re using, Chris Hudnall agrees that balance is the key. “It’s all part of the trend of more details going into cocktails,” he adds. “Just like different styles of glassware, every ice has its place.”
Words: Ella Buchan