Ice Picks

Mixologists break out liquid nitrogen, chisels and presses to create perfectly chilled drinks

August 30, 2012

At A Bar, liquid nitrogen transforms cocktails into chilly powder.

Just as an art collector would never slap an Ikea frame on a priceless Vermeer, a devoted practitioner of cocktail craft is loath to throw a handful of pedestrian ice cubes into his creation.

Thus, on the cocktail lists of some of the best bars in Washington, ice isn’t an afterthought. It’s an ingredient that’s treated as carefully as the locally sourced herbs and exotic spirits that share the glass.

“It’s the difference between a really serious beverage program and one that doesn’t matter,” says Gina Chersevani, the mixologist who recently opened the Eddy, a bar inside the new Capitol Hill outpost of Hank’s Oyster Bar. Put more succinctly: “There’s no point in wasting time with [crappy] ice.”

Science Class


A Bar’s Dippin’ Dots-inspired cocktails are served by the shot glassful.

Everyone knows that alcohol doesn’t freeze. But Brennan Adams, the beverage manager at Foggy Bottom’s A Bar, begs to differ. He’s defying the laws of physics by dropping cocktails into liquid nitrogen (don’t try this at home), a process that takes ice out of the equation by turning the entire drink into a solid treat. “My idea was, instead of letting drinks dilute over ice, to bring them to their ideal level of dilution and then freeze the whole thing,” he says.

The result is that whatever concoction he pours into the ultracold container (say, the Aviator, a refreshing blend of gin, chili-lime syrup and lemon juice, $10) emerges after less than a minute as a pile of chilly, cocktail-flavored powder. And unlike a traditional drink that melts in the summer heat, A Bar’s “cryo-cocktails” remain frosty for far longer than it takes to leisurely scoop up the goods with a spoon. (If you’re doing this, by the way, avoid letting the metal utensil sit on the “cocktail” for too long, or you’ll wind up with a tongue-on-the-flagpole moment.)

For even more subzero fun, Adams invented an alcoholic version of Dippin’ Dots. It’s a cream-based mixture that gets dribbled into liquid nitrogen to form tiny frozen beads ($2.50 for a shot glassful). Just like the “ice cream of the future” — albeit with sophisticated flavor combinations you’d never see at the mall. Acai-pomegranate or dark chocolate-tequila, anyone?

2500 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-464-5610, Abardc.com. (Foggy Bottom)

Having a Ball


Ted’s Bulletin serves Macallan scotch complete with a large ball of ice.

It’s not hip to be square at the retro-styled Ted’s Bulletin. Instead, cocktails are served chilled by a single, large ball of ice.

“It gives you the most volume to surface area,” says mixologist George Menold. Translation: It melts more slowly than your average rocks and therefore doesn’t dilute the lovely drinks he whips up.

Menold shapes his ice using a contraption made by the Macallan whiskey company. A square of ice is placed underneath the device’s heavy brass plate. The plate’s weight presses the cube into a perfect sphere, bigger than a golf ball but smaller than a tennis ball. It cools a drink like the Big Junior, a rum cocktail with cayenne-thyme syrup ($10), without watering it down.

At the location of the new Ted’s set to open this year on the corner of 14th and Swan streets NW, he’s planning more ice capades, which could include smoked ice or slushy granitas.

505 8th St. SE; 202-544-8337, Tedsbulletin.com. (Eastern Market)

Shape-Shifting


At the Eddy, ice is carved into various shapes and consistencies for cocktails such as the Landlubber.

One of the eye-catching design features at the Eddy is a glass-encased ice station. There, bartenders use an array of tools that would look equally at home in a high school shop class — including a saw, a pick and a mallet — to shape enormous blocks of ice into pieces of just the right size and shape.

What constitutes “just right” depends on the cocktail, mixologist Gina Chersevani says. Ice is cracked (creating large shards), chipped (for small, flat pieces), cubed using a saw or a mallet and chisel (producing squares), and shaved (yielding a snowy texture). Chips and smaller pieces are used in drinks that may be diluted as they’re sipped (such as juleps, which Chersevani makes with Old Overholt rye, $10). Meanwhile, larger shapes chill drinks that are meant to stay stiff until the last sip (such as the whiskey-based Shine and Circumstance, $11).

Chersevani is as obsessed about the quality of the ice as she is about its shape. Her bar buys it in 150-pound blocks from Talbert’s Ice and Beverage in Bethesda, where it’s frozen quickly to create glacier-like blocks that are so clear you could read a book through them.

633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-733-1971, Hanksoysterbar.com. (Eastern Market)

Emily Heil is the co-author of the Reliable Source and previously helped pen the In the Loop column with Al Kamen.
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