It’s 1803, you’re living in Boston and the Ice King, Frederick Tudor, just delivered two giant blocks of crystal-clear ice from a nearby lake. Your servants fill your newly invented ‘refrigerated ice box’ with one and chop the other up to put in your favorite rum punch bowl before your party guests arrive…life is good.
This could have easily been a scene for a wealthy individual in the 1800’s. When Frederick Tudor began his quest to bring ice to the world people thought he was mad. “Wouldn’t it just melt before you reach your destination,” they all would say. At this time ice was only a luxury to be had by the wealthiest individuals. The cost of ice was extremely high due to the risks involved retrieving it and there was no way to practically store it until the refrigerated ice box was invented.
Although the description of ice—frozen water—may seem like a dull topic, its historic journey is quite interesting, especially when it starts landing in our cocktails. So, let’s start at the beginning: how is clear ice formed? When the ice trade began people were chopping giant blocks from lakes and rivers and delivering it around the globe. These large bodies of water naturally freeze layer by layer from the top down. As ice forms, via a process known as supercooling, it expands down and pushes impurities down into the water below. This natural method is very effective but hard to recreate in a freezer. Ice made in a freezer is surrounded by cold air, so the impurities (mostly air) get pushed to the center, creating cloudy ice many of us are used to seeing from our freezers at home.
Now that we have a basic understanding of how the ice gets (or really stays) clear, let’s talk about what it does to our drinks. A large piece of ice will melt relatively slower than a smaller piece of ice due to its lower surface-to-mass ratio. For your cocktail, this means the drink will remain chilled longer, while remaining at the delivered dilution for a longer period of time (the ice doesn't melt as fast). In addition to dilution, chill factor and mouth feel, clear ice just looks amazing—it's beautiful. There’s no denying the alure of a crystal-clear large block of ice holding your cocktail at bay to the edges of your glass.
Perhaps it’s not accidental that when ice was making its way into the world, the cocktail was born. The first definition found in 1806 states, “[A] cocktail is composed of water, with the addition of rum, gin, or brandy, as one chooses—a third of the spirit to two-thirds of the water add bitters, and enrich with sugar and nutmeg. If there is no nutmeg convenient, a scrape of two or the muddler (wooden sugar-breaker) will answer the purpose,” wrote Capt. J. E. Alexander in Transatlantic Sketches. This was well researched by David Wondrich himself, the world’s leading cocktail historian; a credible source if there ever was one. Note: there is no ice mentioned in this first description, but as the years passed, ice made its way behind bars.
The individual cocktail now has an incredible tool in ice and creative minds to aid its progression. By the 1860s we saw the birth of cocktails that are still celebrated today, the Julep, Cobbler, and the Sour to name a few. Although you can utilize beautifully clear ice in any cocktail you choose, perhaps the most iconic is the Old Fashioned, whose recipe matches the original cocktail definition: spirit, bitters, sugar, water. As they did when Capt. Alexander wrote about it, we choose rum.
Kuleana Rum Old Fashioned
1.5 oz Kuleana Nanea
.5 oz Kuleana Huihui
.25 oz brown sugar
2 dash aromatic bitters
2 dash chocolate bitters
Kiawe (Hawaiian mesquite) wood smoke *optional but awesome
*light wood on steel plate and cover with chilled old-fashioned glass.
Add all other ingredients into mixing glass and stir with ice. Remove old-fashioned glass from wood and immediately insert large clear ice block trapping the smoke in the glass. Pour your cocktail mix over ice and smoke, then garnish with an orange zest.