Ice, Ice, Crabby Baby

By Camper English

Cocktail Chatter

"May I see your ice?"

I heard myself asking the airport lounge bartender this, while realizing I sounded like a complete bar snob. (I am, of course, but I prefer silent condemnation over verbal abuse.) But I wasn't judging her or her ice; I merely wanted to make an informed decision about my drink, and to do that I would need to know what type of ice I'd have in it.

It's not so crazy. I know people who carry cocktail bitters in their bags in case bars don't have them when they want a Manhattan, much the way old ladies carry Sweet 'N Low in their purses in case they should find themselves with only real sugar for their decaf. That's just wacky- I would never bring an extra bag just to carry bitters in, unless of course it matched my outfit.

But the ice thing seemed crucial at the time. I felt it was too early in the day for a mixed drink like a Gin and Tonic, yet not too early for a stately glass of whisky. (My complicated system of proper cocktail timing is best left for another column.) But if I were to order a whisky, the bartender would ask me if I wanted it neat (room temperature, no ice) or on the rocks. This is a trick question if you haven't seen the rocks.

This bar had a limited selection of whisky- no good single-malts that I would take neat (eliminating the ice problem), thus forcing me to choose between a blended scotch and a bourbon made in the good old US of A. With both of these I like some ice.

If the ice were concave, Chiclet-shaped non-cubes you get in a lot of bars, then a glass full of them would melt very fast and soon I'd have more water than bourbon. This is exactly the kind of ice you want for a Mint Julep where diluted ice is actually an ingredient in the drink, but I actually want rocks in my scotch-on-the-rocks.

If the ice were regular -sized cubes then I could ask for just a few of them in the glass to achieve the proper dilution-cooling ratio. I knew better than to hope for the gorgeous, jumbo-sized ice spheres you only seem to get in very high-end bars, which make a glass of whisky last an hour without getting watery.

I realize that I sound like a crabby baby whining about ice cubes now, but really I'm a pleasant person. Case in point: At the airport lounge, I caught myself asking about the ice and stopped. "Actually, never mind," I said. "May I please have a bourbon, neat, and also a glass of ice water?"

Back at my table I fished out the appropriate number of cubes from the ice water to add to the whiskey, and then drank both glasses. After all, I was getting a plane and it's good to stay hydrated.

Camper English is a cocktails and spirits writer and publisher of
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