• The Cold, Hard Truth About Ice

    How much does ice really matter?

    While the average person might say “not much,” the average cocktail bartender will – with eyes widened – exclaim: “SO MUCH.”

    So allow me, as a bartender, to nerd-out and give a full explanation as to why this is the case.

    Ice, for all intensive purposes, should be considered an ingredient in the creation of a mixed drink, and like any other ingredient should be of the highest quality. A drink is only as good as its lowest-quality ingredient, so yes – ice quality matters a lot.

    In the golden age of cocktails (the mid to late 19th century) ice was harder to come by as refrigeration technology was new to non-existent (depending where you lived). Only the best of establishments had the best of ice, usually delivered in large, very cold blocks from which the bartender would chip off clumps with an ice pick. This made well-crafted cocktails much more of a valued commodity than they are today. As ice became a taken-for-granted part of everyday life, and as the skill and art behind making cocktails disappeared, bars just began to use whatever was cheapest and easiest. This meant small, watery ice, and the drinks suffered (and still do) because of it.

    To understand exactly why, let’s consider the purpose of ice in mixing drinks:

    – it dilutes, softening the edge of the alcohol by lowering the proof, allowing flavours to combine with each other more easily

    – it chills, lowering the perception sweetness, bitterness, and viscosity, all contributing to a better-balance of flavour and a dry, rather than sweet drink

    and less importantly,

    – in the case of egg or cream, it emulsifies ingredients, creating texture that both mutes the flavour of alcohol and increases the perception of sweetness, allowing for less added sugar

    Given the above, ideally the ice should chill the drink as much as possible before over-diluting it. This means the optimal ice is as big, cold, and hard as possible to allow for the longest shaking or stirring time before the perfect amount of dilution is obtained. (Never trust a drink that only gets a few shakes or stirs before being served). Skimping on ice is the equivalent of skimping on ingredients – using the lowest quality of what’s available to save on costs means the drink quality will suffer. In fact, it’s even more important, because a Manhattan with a great whiskey, for example, can be ruined by adding too much water.

    So what can be done about this to ensure the best ice? Most of the best cocktail destinations, including Pourhouse, use a Kold Draft machine, which ensures large cubes that are colder, harder, and more pure than any other machine. The high-pressure water injection system freezes out impurities, the cube-shape and cold temperature help make drinks as cold as possible, and the density of the cubes allows for slower dilution – again helping with temperature and allowing us more control when mixing. This also means anything enjoyed on the rocks isn’t a watery mess.

    Nerdy, right?

    Yes, but attention to detail is what makes the best food and drink, and ice-quality is an extremely important but often overlooked detail.

    [photo: ice harvesters, circa 1912, New York State Archives]

  • Mexican Spitfire – The Actress, The Temptress, The Suicide… The Cocktail

    It’s that time again – a new cocktail list. We’ve got a few classics, a few old Pourhouse originals, and a few new Pourhouse originals. One of our newest additions is a tip of the glass to an exotic Hollywood star of old, Lupe Vélez.

    Vélez had the distinction of being the first (or at least one of the very first) Mexican actresses to break into Hollywood. She was feisty from a young age, a deviant child sent to a convent at thirteen – which only made matters worse. By her late teens she showed a passion for the theater and vaudeville, and left Mexico to make her Hollywood silent-film debut in 1927. She transitioned to talkies and starred opposite the likes of Jimmy Durante, Gary Cooper, Lon Chaney, and Edward G. Robinson. Many films and a Broadway-stint later, she became as well-known for her exotic image on the screen as for her strong and passionate personality off it.

    In the late 1930’s, she was making comedies, most notably as a fiery Mexican girl in the aptly named “The Girl From Mexico,” a role she reprised six more times in films named, “The Mexican Spitfire.” It was a fitting persona that revitalized her career and quickly became her nickname (though she apparently wasn’t happy about it).

    On the other side of the camera, her life was just as torrid, including affairs with numerous co-stars (such as Gary Cooper), a rocky marriage with “Tarzan” actor, Jonny Weissmuller, and an out-of-wedlock pregnancy with actor Harald Maresch. This was seemingly her reason for suicide. Vélez took her life and that of her unborn child on December 14th, 1944, and named Maresch as the father in her suicide note. She was 36 years old.

    It’s the circumstances of her death that are even more controversial. The photos and files on her crime scene mysteriously disappeared, leading to a wealth of founded and unfounded gossip. On the positive end, the first story had her dying in a peaceful sleep in an expensive gown on her silk-covered bed after overdosing on Seconal sleeping pills. Sadly, the most prominent story was the rumour that she was found drowned in her own toilet (and vomit) – hardly a glamorous end for a Hollywood star. It was only last year – seventy years later – that a crime scene photo of a deceased Vélez was discovered and validated, showing her lying peacefully on the floor in a beautiful floral dress.

    In remembrance of the lovely Miss Vélez – her talent, passion, and Hollywood suicide – we raise a glass with our drink, the “Mexican Spitfire.” It’s a tart, fiery strong, but fruity and refreshing mix of tequila blanco, fresh lime, pineapple juice, and Green Chartreuse.

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  • “Flip” Out Over Whole-Egg Cocktails

    Ever had a whole egg in your cocktail?

    You need to – these drinks are rich, delicious, and bring with them a long history.

    “The Flip” is one of the earliest recorded mixed drinks, dating back to at least the late 17th century in colonial American taverns. Sugar or molasses, spices, and rum were added to a large bowl of beer, a practice likely derived from masking or delaying spoilage similar to mulling wine (a process you can read about in our previous post). A red hot loggerhead or fire poker was inserted into the mixture, causing it to froth and the sugar to caramelize – a process called “flipping.”

    As far as is known the recipe remained unchanged until the mid-19th century where it can be found in Jerry Thomas’ seminal tome “How To Mix Drinks” (1862). Here warmed ale and a mixture of eggs, sugar, rum or brandy, and ground nutmeg, ginger, and lemon peel are tossed between pitchers until smooth (perhaps another origin of its name). Likely due to the streamlining of this time-intensive process, the Flip (like the Punch before it) evolved into a single-serving beverage and temperature became optional. In Thomas’ 1887 revision of his book he included seven cold and six hot Flips, each listed simply as a liquor with egg, sugar, and water (hot or ice), topped with freshly ground nutmeg. The modern accepted definition of a “Flip” is simply a mixed drink containing a whole egg (but not milk, as this makes it a Nog).

    As always at Pourhouse, we take our inspiration from this classic era and make our Flips to (basically) Thomas’ specifications. Our upcoming new menu features a Brandy Flip (brandy being the most popular spirit during the early ages of the cocktail), in which we use the bold and rich Torres 5 Solera Reserva Spanish brandy. It makes for a great nightcap, so come down to Gastown and share the history with us.

    [[Photograph from “Stagecoach and Tavern Days” by Alice Morse Earle, 1900]]