Much as I might crave one during summer, I won’t order a frozen drink at a busy bar. It just feels a little sadistic toward the bartenders. Blenders crushing ice are noisy. The tops tend to fly off if you’re not paying attention. They use up a bar’s ice supply fast. They require more babysitting and more cleanup, and they get sticky, especially when they’re blending drinks that have a sugary, fatty component like a strawberry syrup or gooey Coco Lopez, the sine qua non of the piña colada. A busy bar is going to get even more in the weeds if its team is having to blend drinks. So I try not to make anyone’s life harder.
This is a rule I follow as a customer, but making drinks at home is another situation entirely, and while crafting a good blender drink requires a little finesse, there’s no reason you can’t nail it with some tips and tricks.
In fact, if you like piña coladas, and getting freeze in your brain, you can use a set ratio of spirit to sour to sweet to ice as a starting point to make a good frozen daiquiri, margarita or virtually any other slushy cocktail in the sour family — spirit, a sweetener (syrup, a liqueur or both) and a sour citrus like lemon or lime. Once you’ve got the basics down, you can complicate the situation as much as you choose, adjusting it as needed for new flavors.
2 ounces of sour (lemon, lime or other fruit juice with a similar sourness)
2 ounces of sweet — an intensely sweet syrup, liqueur or both.
For blender daiquiris: Here’s what that looks like for two basic blender daiquiris: 10 ounces of ice, 5 ounces of rum, 2 ounces of lime, 2 ounces of rich simple syrup.
If making syrup, I recommend a 2:1 sugar-to-water (a.k.a. “rich”) simple syrup rather than the 1:1 ratio that’s standard. This is for two reasons — to reduce the amount of water going into your drink, since you’re already getting a lot via the ice, and to compensate for the dulling effect that cold has on your taste buds’ ability to taste sweetness.
For margaritas: A slightly more complex one, which gets the orange note into margaritas: 10 ounces of ice, 3 1/2 ounces of tequila, 1 1/2 ounces triple sec, 2 ounces lime juice, 2 ounces of rich simple syrup.
Depending on how sweet your palate leans, you can count liqueurs as part of the spirit measure or part of the sweetness — your mileage may vary, but I recommend starting with a liqueur as part of the spirit measure, given the way cold depresses the perception of sweetness.
For a more complex variation on the formula: In a drink I’m calling Red Sky at Night, I counted 1 ounce of Aperol as part of the 5 ounces of spirit rather than part of the 2 ounces of sweet. Final formula: 10 ounces of ice, 2 ounces Coconut Cartel rum, 2 ounces Koloa Coconut Rum, 1 ounce of Aperol, 2 ounces of lime, 2 ounces of passion fruit syrup.
Other tips to help you achieve a slushy sublime:
Chill out: This is the season of frozen drinks! They’ve been waiting, like Olaf, to experience this golden moment. A frozen drink is basically a snowman in a glass; it will immediately start doing what frozen things do in summer. You can slow that melt: Put your glassware and spirits in the freezer a few hours before making the drinks. Chill the citrus and the syrups in the fridge as well. Don’t take the ice out of the freezer until you’re really ready to blend and serve.
Be kind to your blender: Your drinks will come out better and smoother (and your blender will spend less time plotting its revenge) if you crush your ice cubes before putting them in to blend. If your fridge doesn’t make crushed ice, you can go with an old school tool: Get a mallet and Lewis bag, or a kitchen towel in a pinch, and work off some stress with a little smashing.
Listen to the ice: It’s hard to associate a frozen drink with relaxation when making one sounds like running gravel through a thresher. Crushing the ice first will help, but if your drink still sounds “crunchy” in the blender, it needs a little more time. Use the blender pulse function and raise the speed gradually until the blend sounds smooth — then serve immediately. The line between a too-crunchy frozen drink and a too-liquidy one can be just a few seconds in the blender.
Save your leftovers: If you have a blender full of melted drink at the end, it doesn’t have to go to waste. Bottle it and stick it in the freezer. It may freeze solid, but because of alcohol’s lower freezing point, it’ll slush up again nicely with only a few minutes thawing. You can shake it up right there in the bottle.
How to fix the primary problems with most blender drinks
Uneven texture; big pebbles of ice remain in the drink.
Blend longer and at a higher speed. If you’re still hearing a crunchy sound in your blender, keep going until it sounds and looks smooth.
Drink is too liquid right out of the blender; already seems melted.
Too much liquid and not enough ice (refer the 10:5:2:2 formula), OR your non-ice components aren’t as cold as they should be.
Drink seems weak and lacking flavor.
Probably an issue of over-dilution. There’s a lot more ice in a blended drink and it’s going to melt quickly, so you’ll need to increase your non-ice (flavoring) components.
Drink is all over the walls and all over you.
Try putting the blender lid on next time, Einstein.
Brain freeze ow ow ow.
Stop drinking the slushy, drink or eat something warmer, and press your tongue against the roof of your mouth to warm it up.