San Antonio Cocktail Conference Sasha Petraske Ice Class
During the inaugural San Antonio Cocktail Conference, I had the privilege of taking one of the cocktail classes offered during the conference where Petraske spoke in great length on only one topic: ice. He spoke of working with Bohanan’s General Manager, Scott Becker, who reached out to recruit Petraske to train their bartenders and expand their bar operations. Petraske insisted that Bohanan’s acquire a specialty ice machine. Petraske spent many hours learning the fundamentals of bartending by pouring through out-of-print, classic cocktail books he found on eBay. He said, “There’s nothing new under the sun in bartending. What makes it different, what makes it special, is the quality of ice.”
So what’s the history of ice? In the early 1800s, the idea of chilled beverages started off as a joke between Frederic Tudor and his brother during a sweltering family picnic. With each freezing East Coast winter they endured, Tudor began to brainstorm how he could provide the locals in the Caribbean respite from the heat by shipping the ice from Tudor’s frozen lake until he was finally able to make it a reality. The Boston Gazette reported his maiden voyage shipping 80 tons of ice to Martinique. Unfortunately, when he got there, there was no demand for ice and little he could initially do to drum up desire for his product. While he lived in a boarding house in South Carolina, he traditionally brought a cooler of cold drinks to the table. Patrons initially dismissed them until taking a sip. He started to travel around the country, asking barkeeps to offer his chilled beverage at the same price as room temperature drinks to see what people preferred. Just like Steve Jobs with smart phones, Tudor showed people what they didn’t know they always wanted: a cold drink.
By 1821, the demand for ice was growing, especially in Savannah, Charleston, New Orleans, and Havana. He met an innovator, Nathaniel Wyeth, who helped create an assembly process to expedite the cultivation of ice. Ice was sawed apart in frozen lakes, floated down the canal, and directed to a conveyor belt. From there the 300lb blocks were hoisted from the assembly line and stacked 80 feet in the air. By 1847, 52,000 tons of ice were being ported to 28 cities in America.
It was during this time that American bartenders created chilled craft cocktails. The blocks of ice from lakes were firm and insulated, much colder than the warmer, small cubes that leave drinks watery today. Modern refrigerators churn out ice in crescent shapes that transform our drinks into insipid flavored water. Also, most modern ice have a lot of dissolved air and impurities from the water leading it to melt faster. Quality ice provides bartenders more control over the desired amount of dilution; they know the rate at which their ice will melt into the drink. Petraske always claims, “It is all about the water content. The trick is to get the drink as cold as possible without it becoming too watery.”
During the cocktail class Petraske offered a “DIY” solution. If you find yourself without a 300lb block of ice to carve from, you can pour purified water into a Tupperware, cover, and freeze. Once frozen, a bread knife can be used to score the block into squares that are fitted to your personal cocktail glass collection. However, those familiar with sites like Pinterest Fail know that things don’t always turn out like the picture.