Louisville, like the rest of the state, takes its bourbon seriously. Almost everyone has a favorite mint julep recipe for The Derby, and fall and winter are perfect times for mixing a cocktail for company or sipping on a glass of fine bourbon straight, maybe with your feet up in front of a crackling fire.
While some purists will only take their favored brand neat, other aficionados advise that ice can open up the aroma, taste, and other characteristics to create a more pleasing sip.
But it shouldn’t be just any ice — cubes can differ greatly, and it has to do with how they’re made. Experts say different cocktails require different forms of ice to execute them properly.
So if you’re serious about your mixology and your bourbon, there are a few pieces of equipment you should have for your home bar that will elevate your bourbon game to compete with the best craft cocktail bars.
Crushing It for Derby Days
Your julep has to be ice-cold, and the way to do that is by using crushed ice in your recipe. The crushed ice has more surface area to melt, which is what makes a mint julep more delicious and refreshing. You want the ice to melt and balance the drink.
To crush your ice properly, you can do it the old-fashioned way. Fill a clean canvas bag, a dishtowel, or even a pillowcase with ice, and pound it with a mallet. The fabric will absorb any melt so you only have ice, not water. You could also quickly crush the ice in a blender or food processor. There are also in-home ice makers that will produce nugget ice, which is a bit smaller and melts faster than crushed ice. It’s the kind of ice Sonic Drive Ins uses, and is also known as Sonic Ice. Scotsman makes the ice machines for Sonic.
Many bartenders and cocktail experts say you want crushed ice to make a manhattan — mix the bourbon (rye is also popular), vermouth, and bitters in a shaker with ice. Then stir, strain, and pour into a chilled glass. If you want to avoid those fluorescent red supermarket maraschino cherries, treat yourself to Luxardo cherries. They do make a difference.
Go Big at Home
You want big cubes or spheres of ice for your old fashioned or when you’re savoring your bourbon straight. The size and shape of ice made by a standard refrigerator ice maker won’t cut it — those cubes are too small and will melt too quickly. You want a slower melt, so the taste of your favorite bourbon won’t get diluted.
You can buy silicone molds for big cubes or spheres. If you want them as clear as the ones you get at a fancy cocktail place, boil water and fill the molds — the hotter water eliminates the tiny air bubbles that make ice cloudy.
If you’re equipping your home bar, and want to make that professional presentation, you want a gourmet ice maker. The gourmet ice maker makes large, clear cubes that are also harder than a conventional cube, because of the lack of air bubbles. These cubes can last much longer in a drink without melting too quickly.