Since classes are starting, I won’t have as much time to devote to leisurely meditations (or, for that matter, to drinking), so I’m going to start aiming for short and sweet. And quoting liberally from people who are actually paid to spent their time writing.
So! The New York Times has a great article on ice. Ice, as we all know, is the new flat bar for the fixed-gear bike of the cocktail world (by the way, I am sure many of the hip young bartenders these days ride fixies): a pointless, contrived way of perpetuating the exclusivity of a subculture. You mean you still freeze your ice in trays? Quel horreur! Go to the back of the bar!
A coterie of young, ambitious mixologists are using enormous cubes custom made by ice sculpture suppliers for shakers, ice balls the size of oranges for drinks on the rocks, long ice tubes for highballs, pea-size ice in frosty swizzles and pieces muddler-crushed in muslin for juleps.
Along with this new compulsion over form, there’s a new take on the ice’s function. Traditionally as you chilled a drink, you wanted to dilute it, using the melted ice to blend the juices and syrups, to open the aromatics in the liquors and bring it all together harmoniously at a more palatable strength.
The new thinking is that drinks should be kept as strong as possible. Dilution has become a dirty word. This means in a few of the world’s more epicurean watering holes you may witness young bartenders shaking drinks without ice or loading in large hand-hewn chunks, with less surface area to melt, then shaking furiously but briefly and “double straining” through fine mesh to remove any rogue ice particles.
The article goes on to show some preliminary scientific (well, not peer-reviewed, unfortunately (fortunately?)) results that show this is all crap. Actually, that seems to be the case for many cocktail myths, including the strange idea that one can “bruise” gin and the one that my research is based on: rye, bourbon, and the purported difference between them.
While reading Something from the Oven (an account of how the food industry stole dinner) on my recent vacation, I was especially impressed with Julia Child’s attitude, not towards the food industry, but towards the (mostly) male chefs and food writers who attempted to obfuscate the methodology behind good food so as to maintain their exclusive club. For example, when asked by her editor why her recipe made no mention of of tying a paper collar around the dish to help the soufflé rise high, Child responded
“This is a lot of balderdash, this paper collar stuff, I think, and a damned nuisance, and it is not done in France. Dione Lucas & those people use the paper collar, and to hell with them – why complicate things [emphasis added].“
Drinking is fun, and, I promise, a lot easier than cooking. All you need to make delicious (mind-blowing, for those used to Appletinis) drinks is a little money, some fresh fruit, and the ability to read (may I suggest this blog?). Craftsmanship in drink-making is one thing, but purposefully creating stumbling blocks in the path of the amateur is despicable. Specialty ice is no more necessary for good drinksmanship than are muttonchops, arm-gaiters, tattoos, or concealed entrances.
Do you know what all this enthusiasm for period detail and obscurity makes cocktail enthusiasts seem like? These guys. Seriously, the guy on the left here looks like he’s about to go on shift. This all actually makes me glad I live in the middle of nowhere; I already spend enough time hating undergrads, so I don’t have any bile free for snotty bartenders. A club this focused on its own rules (shouldn’t the first rule of this club be that we don’t spend all our time talking about it?) isn’t fun anymore. Fuck “mixology”; I make drinks. If you want me, I’ll be over here, with a good drink and something to talk about besides it.