Fun fact: Ancient Mesopotamians made frozen drinks and, according to beverage consultant and freelance spirit educator Philip Duff, “they were really into syrups, especially pomegranate.”
So, if the ancient Mesopotamian kings treasured the frozen beverage, and if Catherine de Medici brought her sorbet maker to England in the 1500’s and started a frozen treat trend there — and, yes, she did — then why are we often so quick to turn our noses up at the thought of a frozen drink?
Oh, that’s right … the blender. Conceived of in 1922 and made popular in 1938 by Waring, the blender paved the way for drinks like 7-11’s Slurpee and Brainfreeze, TGI Friday’s daiquiris and the frozen margarita.
Most bartenders dread the blender. But, if you’re able to plan ahead, you don’t need one.
“A spur-of-the-moment drink either means using a blender, or a bag and a hammer,” says Duff. “But, it you’re prepared to plan ahead, you don’t need much more equipment than the ancient Persians: a mixture of salt and water and then your drink, pre-diluted, and in a Ziploc bag or plastic tub.”
By putting the bagged or Tupperware-d cocktail into the freezer, you’ll get the cocktail to well below the freezing point. “But, it’ll still be liquid.”
“If you pay attention to the alcoholic strength, it won’t freeze solid. You must control dilution very very closely. That’s the bonus to this method. Most drinks coming out of a blender are imprecise.”
Frozen drinks coming out of blenders are often imprecise — alternative methods present the opportunity to get ratios exactly right.
The idea here is that if you shake a cocktail with ice and strain the liquid, your drink is diluted and the rest of the ice is thrown away. But in a blended drink, everything that goes into the blender comes out of the blender.
Take the classic margarita. A typical margarita is 2-1-1 proportions of tequila, Cointreau and lime, respectively. From shaking the drink, you typically get about one more ounce of water, which totals a drink of five ounces. By accounting for that ounce of water in the frozen drink-in-a-bag method, you’ve got a perfectly diluted drink.
“The water amount varies with each recipe because the goal is for the total alcoholic strength of the finished drink, including water, to be around 14.2%, but not more than 15%, alcohol by volume.”
Blended drinks must be stronger and sweeter in order to combat dilution. But with the plastic bag method, you skip that hassle. Also, for taste, Duff recommends a drop or two of saline solution per cocktail.
“Saline is just like cocktail bitters, which are needed in larger or smaller amounts, and is for flavor.”
This method for making frozen cocktails is perfect for camping out and outdoor music festivals, and Duff stresses you can do this to any cocktail. He mentioned a blood orange Negroni being served at Mother’s Ruin in New York, which I haven’t been able to stop thinking about since our interview.
The recipe uses fresh blood orange juice, gin, lemon juice, Dolin Rouge, Campari, white sugar, grapefruit juice and Besk. They top the mixture with water, taste and adjust from there. Mother’s Ruin uses the Frosty Factory Co. Slushy Machine to make the Negronis.
“Those machines and blenders were so déclassé for classic cocktail bars for so long, that in an ironic way they’ve made their way back,” says Duff. “Except, thank God, they’re doing it right this time.”
Duff also mentioned enjoying the frozen Irish coffee at the Erin Rose bar in New Orleans. “It’s legendary. And they use brandy,” he says with a chuckle. “It’s the perfect example of how to take a drink and create its polar frozen opposite: hot coffee transformed into a delicious frozen cocktail with integrity.”
He recommends the book “Liquid Intelligence,” written by Dave Arnold, one of the Daves behind Booker and Dax in New York, who also created the Culinary Technology department at the French Culinary Institute. Arnold knows his ice. “He’s got the science dialed in,” says Duff.
As a near-final word, Duff tells me that ten years or so ago the Smithsonian Museum of American History acquired the first-ever frozen margarita machine, created in Dallas by a restaurateur in 1971.
“So,” he says, “make America frozen again!”