Tales of the Cocktail 2011: More than Alcohol

Staff Writer
Industry experts give tips to improve beverage menus and help bars shine in a competitive market
Tales of the Cocktail 2011: More than Alcohol

From creating signature sodas to taking a chainsaw to ice, seminars at the 2011 Tales of the Cocktail conference in New Orleans touched on a variety of topics to give beverage programs an innovative upper hand. The professional series of seminars geared towards those who work in the foodservice industry provided insights for operators and beverage program managers who want to push their beverage program.

The following are highlights from some of the seminars:


How to build a cutting-edge ice program

Chad Solomon and Christy Solomon, Cuffs & Buttons Cocktail Catering & Consulting
Joseph Schwartz, Little Branch
Richard Boccato, Dutch Kills, Weather Up Tribeca, and Hundredweight

Moderated by Chad Solomon and Christy Pope, this seminar explained how to develop an ice program. Panelists Joseph Schwartz and Richard Boccato lent their expertise, while all four speakers drew on their experiences working with Sasha Petraske of Milk & Honey bar empire fame. They reveal what they learned about ice, and how they adapted and developed ice programs in their other ventures.

Why use 'good' ice? Ice does matter, especially when it comes to shaking, the panelists said. A solid piece of ice will remain whole for a longer time in a shaker. When Schwartz teaches his bartenders how to shake, he instructs them to “hit the top and bottom of the can” with the ice. A larger piece of ice can take such abuse without breaking apart. It also has a larger surface area, which means a slower melt rate. Since it won't break apart or melt as fast in a shaker, it allows the bartender to chill the ice for longer and aerate the drink without excessively diluting it. It also preserves the drink for a longer time in the glass before turning into what Schwartz called a “watery mess.”

While good ice is isn't so much about making a drink colder, Boccato added, “It really does maintain the optimal temperature.”

“Good ice can help create consistent quality, even if different bartenders are shaking,” Schwartz said. “Let's not forget, it looks sexy.”

Ice programs are adaptable. Mold your ice program around your resources, the panelists said. When Petraske of Milk & Honey wanted bigger ice cubes, staff used plastic hotel pans to freeze a block of ice that could be cracked and cut by hand.

When Boccato created an ice program for Dutch Kills, the neighborhood’s water quality gave his ice an undesirable yellow tinge. He tapped an outside source to get block ice. When the first supplier's ice didn't come up to snuff, he remembered a local ice sculpture studio, which requires high-quality ice. Boccato developed a relationship with the artists who worked with him on idea sketches and glassware for new ways to cut ice.

Think of it as an investment. Whether time or money, a cutting-edge ice program needs investment. For example, a block ice maker or a blast freezer are just some ways to create ice, but can set an operator back several thousand dollars.

But even the most expensive equipment won't carry an entire ice program on its shoulders unless the staff gets involved. At Little Branch, Schwartz regularly arrived two hours before shift to work on the ice.

“In terms of trying to figure out labor cost, at Little Branch, two hours is unmolding all cubes, cutting what you have to cut, refilling all molds... it's part of a full open of a bar,” Schwartz said.

Know when to spend less. For certain aspects of carving or cracking ice, Boccato used tools that mostly came down to old-fashioned elbow grease. Rather than use a specialty saw for carving ice, he chose a moderately priced chainsaw available at most big-box hardware stores. Chisels with sharpened edges can help score block ice and cut pieces. A cheap clothes iron can create smooth surfaces, shape ice or repair seams. And silicone ice molds can make cubes of varying shapes if you lack the resources to acquire large block ice to chisel. However, Schwartz cautioned that ice made in silicone molds should be removed immediately and placed in a different container, or the ice will take on a slight flavor if left in the mold too long.

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