Cus­tom­ized ice is mak­ing a splash in up­scale bars. Our ex­pert ex­plains.

Milwaukee Magazine - - Content - BY ROBERT SIMONSON

The ra­men fad and how we choose restau­rants to re­view

I OR­DERED the Man­hat­tan at Ho­tel Madrid’s Ver­mu­te­ria 600 bar, be­cause I like Man­hat­tans, and I sus­pected the chic, Span­ish-themed Walker’s Point bar had a spe­cial way with them. I was right, and then some. The drink was served on a slice of a birch-tree trunk. In­stead of a cherry, there was some cherry-fla­vored pop­corn scat­tered along the side of the glass. It was over the top, but I was amused by the in­ge­nu­ity.

But that wasn’t the most in­ter­est­ing thing about the cock­tail. It was served on the rocks. Or, rather, one rock – a per­fect sphere of ice.

Cus­tom ice has been a thing in cock­tail cir­cles for more than a decade. Large, clear cubes are cut to fit rocks glasses, and long ice spears pierce high­balls, while retro drinks like cob­blers get peb­bled ice. Some of this is for aes­thet­ics, but there are prac­ti­cal ad­van­tages as well; thicker ice means a more grad­ual di­lu­tion of your drink. Since the cock­tail re­vival dawned, I have been treated to many drinks made pret­tier and bet­ter by ar­ti­sanal ice.

The trend has been slow to reach Mil­wau­kee, where most bars make do with the thin chips that mixol­o­gists re­fer to as “cheater ice.” That’s chang­ing.

“I def­i­nitely think it makes the drinks taste bet­ter,” says Gen Lon­go­ria, head bar­tender at the Kimp­ton Jour­ney­man Ho­tel, which has two wells, a restau­rant bar and a rooftop bar called The Out­sider.

When I or­dered a tall drink called Eigh­teen

Hours of Noon – a sort of deep-fla­vored Pimm’s Cup, sprin­kled with mint black Hawai­ian salt – my high­ball came with a crooked spine of per­fect 1½-by-1½-inch cubes. An old fash­ioned re­ceived a sin­gle, even big­ger cube, so clear it dis­ap­peared in the glass. Th­ese beau­ties are hand-de­liv­ered weekly by a Chicago out­fit called Jus­tIce, which deals in, you guessed it, just ice.

Like a man in a white evening jacket, a cock­tail adorned with craft ice tends to get no­ticed. “Cus­tomers al­ways com­ment, ‘Oh my God, you have great ice!’” says Lon­go­ria.

The spheres at Ver­mu­te­ria 600 are made from molds. Bev­er­age di­rec­tor Daniel Beres uses them in a cou­ple spe­cial cock­tails and for spir­its served on the rocks.

“We wanted to el­e­vate the drinks,” he says. “If we’re go­ing to use a $400 bot­tle of spir­its in a cock­tail, ice is an­other in­gre­di­ent like any­thing else. If we give it to them with cheap ice, the cock­tail is for naught.”

But good ice does not re­quire good be­hav­ior.

“Our motto is drinking should be fun,” says Adam James Sarkis at the Phoenix Cock­tail Club, where they cut cubes from large blocks of ice they freeze them­selves. “Play­ing around with crys­tal clear ice cubes in your drink is fun.”

That fol­lows. We play with our food when we’re kids. As adults, why not play with our drinks?

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