Most of us take the ice in our drinks for granted. But for Ervin Machado, that kind of thinking about cocktail essentials is like James Bond saying, “Just pour the house vodka, mate.”
Machado, the beverage director for Big Time Restaurant Group, says, “Ice is a building block. It needs to be viewed as a key ingredient in cocktails... every bit as important as the alcoholic ingredients.”
The West Palm Beach-based company is planning to open a 10,000-square-foot Italian restaurant on the waterfront in the new Flagler Banyan Square and will make crafting high-end cocktails a signature feature for the as-yet-unnamed eatery.
Big Time Restaurant Group, founded by Todd Herbst, Bill Watson, and Lisabet Summa, opened Elisabetta's in Delray Beach in late July. The new restaurant will be the company's fourth in downtown West Palm Beach and is slated to open in summer 2020. Also among its portfolio of 16 restaurants are Louie Bossi's, Rocco's Tacos, Big City Tavern, and City Oyster.
Big Time’s evolution on ice started with the opening of the original Louie Bossi’s in Fort Lauderdale. Negronis were a must for the menu. After sampling the drink in Italy, New York City, and other places, owners Bossi and Summa and their staff found that despite each cocktail containing the same portions of gin, vermouth, and Campari, every Negroni tasted different. Why? It all depended on what ice was used and how long it could resist turning into water.
“That was the first time we started thinking of ice as a key ingredient," Machado says. "It’s the only ingredient that every cocktail needed to have, so it’s the most important.”
Both Louie Bossi’s locations — a second outpost is Boca Raton — use two different kinds of ice for their drinks, while Elisabetta’s features four varieties. The new Italian restaurant, which will be located at the corner of Flagler Drive and Banyan and will include 2,000 square feet of outdoor dining, will use five different ices for its menu of cocktails.
For most of the drink-pouring world, ice for cocktails comes from the trays in our freezers or from industrial ice machines. But with ever-more technologically advanced equipment, ice can be formed to any number of sizes and specifications, and without impurities. Cube size is paramount; it controls the oxygen content, with larger cubes having a lower center of temperature, thereby lasting longer.
“When making an old-fashioned," Machado says, "you want ice that has a higher resistance to melting, so it cools the old-fashioned, but doesn’t water it down.
“Crushed ice, by itself, will melt if you pour alcohol over it. But if you use a different ice as a base and put the crushed ice over it, the ice will last longer and keep the drink cool longer.”
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To make the ices that will showcase their adult beverages, the Big Time Restaurant Group has spent big money to purchase specialty machines for their restaurants.
But would the ordinary drinker know the difference? Machado said maybe not — unless trying the same drink side by side with one featuring the perfect ice.
Sort of on the same level as having a Honda and never knowing what a Ferrari drives like unless you try them both. After that, your Honda will never drive the same. You may not ever drive a Ferrari again, but you will know and appreciate the difference.