That Giant Ice Cube In Your Cocktail Doesn't Work The Way You Think

That Giant Ice Cube in Your Cocktail Doesn't Work the Way You Think

It always starts the same way -- you're at a nice bar with your special lady friend, and you order a drink. How wonderful that first drink will be after a long day! But then your drink arrives, and it's more sculpture than libation -- a rocks glass with a millimetre of spirits beneath a giant, specially crafted ice sphere. You ordered a drink, but you got a bowling ball in a cup.

Picture: Christophe Richard

The idea being that the larger piece of ice will melt slower, and dilute the spirit less. And that's true. That also means it will cool the drink less. As Kevin Liu says on Serious Eats:

Whenever we talk about ice and chilling, it's important to remember that there is no chilling without dilution. The vast majority of the chilling power of ice comes from the heat of fusion -- that is, the heat ice sucks up from its surroundings when it turns into water. And since it takes 80 times as much energy to melt a gram of ice as it does to raise a gram of solid ice one degree in temperature, any significant change in the temperature of a drink correlates directly with the amount of ice melted.

Moreover, a splash of water is said to make the flavour of the whisky or scotch "bloom", if you're particularly interested in exploring the reaches of your palate. Of course, serious scotch aficionados probably aren't dunking cubes from plastic freezer trays in their rare spirits, but they do sometimes add a splash of water.

Plus, if a large piece of ice sits exposed to air as you drink it, the exposed area will melt without cooling the drink (instead cooling the surrounding air). Personally I enjoy the melting ice as the drink progresses. When the liquor is gone, the ice water gives you something to sip on, if it's not appropriate or too soon to order another drink. Hit the link for more myths about cocktail ice.

Cocktail Science: 5 Myths about Ice, Debunked [Serious Eats]


Comments

    Or you could just drink it straight. If you're in a swanky place ordering bowling ball spirits, you don't need to cool down.

    "...there is no chilling without dilution. The vast majority of the chilling power of ice comes from the heat of fusion — that is, the heat ice sucks up from its surroundings when it turns into water. And since it takes 80 times as much energy to melt a gram of ice as it does to raise a gram of solid ice one degree in temperature, any significant change in the temperature of a drink correlates directly with the amount of ice melted."

    Sorry, but what an absolute load of bollocks.

    First of all, if "there is no chilling without dilution" was true, then (for example) those whisky rocks you can buy wouldn't work. Which, of course, they do, despite the fact that the rocks do not "melt" in your drink. Also, your fridge wouldn't work. The 'use' of heat energy to melt something is not the only (or only significant) way that heat is transferred.

    Second, the "it takes 80 times the energy" part is an attempt to explain this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enthalpy_of_fusion

    It's a false comparison anyway because ice is not necessarily at 0 degrees C when it's frozen, so in principle it could contribute significantly more cooling than just the amount resulting from a 1C change.

    Third, it completely ignores the amount of ice and drink you have. A giant lump of ice cooling a tiny amount of drink might only need to absorb a tiny amount of heat to reduce the temperature of the (already cool) drink right down towards zero. Have you ever seen one of those ice-slide things - a groove in a huge lump of ice which a drink gets poured down? The drink is only in contact with the ice for a small period of time, but it still gets chilled, and not by any melting/"fusion" process.

    Basically, this person believes that the only form of heat transfer is convection, which is wrong.

      Have you ever actually used whisky rocks? They DON'T work. But don't just take my word for it, you only have to read the hundreds of disgruntled product reviews online to see that they're useless.

        Whisk(e)y rocks work EXACTLY as intended. That is to cool the drink sufficiently to take away the alcohol burn, but not to make it so cold as to lose the subtle flavours and aromatics of the whisk(e)y. If you are looking for something to make your drinks ice-cold, then use ice.

          Completely agree. And they stay "cold" twice as long for this purpose.

        They work if you use a freshly chilled batch for every drink. I have 12 in my freezer, use 4 at a time. Keep them on a rotation. Very rarely use them though, like the article states with the water in the whiskey, so I prefer the ice blocks. I also have the giant ice ball molds. They work a treat.

        They might not work "as well" as ice, but they would work.

        Basic physics here, haha:
        Everything will eventually become the same temperature. So if you had something 100 degrees, and something 50 degrees, they will eventually become the same temperature (I would assume, somewhere between 50 and 100 degrees).

        So if you had rocks that were cooler than the drink, it would make the drink cooler.

        I am guessing here, but I think the reason ice works better is because when the outer layer melts into water, it exposes more cooler ice underneath, which cools the liquid even more.

        With rocks, it's always the outer layer touching the liquid, which might have to wait for the cooler inner part of the rock to transfer its coolness to the outer layer. This could just make the process so slow that the air warms the liquid/rocks before the rock's coolness fully releases.

      How laughable your reply is.

      The author is basically saying the drink will not chill significantly without the melting of the ice in the drink. This is true. He backed it up by saying the changing of ice to water takes in 80 times the energy of a simple change in degree in temperature. While I couldn't be bothered looking up the maths, I know that whether 80 or 40 or whatever, the amount is very significant. The drink will give up MUCH more energy through the melting of ice rather than the ice raising its temperature by a single degree.

      The funny thing is, I think you're saying the same thing, except you like throwing around technical jargon (which the author I would say deliberately left out as it doesn't really add anything to what he's saying, and would only confuse people with no knowledge of thermodynamics).

      You then go on to say that it's a false comparison because the ice isn't necessarily 0 degrees C. How is that a false comparison? If you bothered to look up the article you referred, you would know that, as stated earlier, ice raising its temperature is relatively insignificant when compared to the changing of state from ice to water.

      Thirdly, your last point goes on about the amount of ice and the amount of drink. The large ball of ice is the most efficient surface area possible (assuming a perfect sphere). That is what the author is saying. If you put the same amount of drink in a cup with crushed ice, more melting, lower temperature faster.

      The ice slide thing you talk about - how do you know the ice is not melting into the drink as it slides down? As it travels the long distance, it also would experience large surface contact with the ice, therefore akin to stirring a drink with ice in it - moving the particles to coincide with more of the ice, cooling the drink quicker. It may only be in contact with the ice for a short period, but it's not like having a drink and dunking in a block of ice for a short period. Your assumption that there is NOT any melting/fusion process is complete bollocks.

      Also, he never said convection was the only form of heat transfer. He never said only. He was stating why it is better to have one form of ice than another. You jumped to that conclusion for some silly reason, citing theory to back up both of your 'arguments'.

      By the way, you were only referring to convection in what you said as well, at no point have you mentioned conduction or radiation... so what's your point again?

        Pretty sure his point was to attempt to win +internets, and you thoroughly slapped him down like he deserved.

          Pretty sure neither of you have actually read what is claimed in the article.

        "he never said convection was the only form of heat transfer. He never said only. He was stating why it is better to have one form of ice than another. You jumped to that conclusion for some silly reason, citing theory to back up both of your 'arguments'"

        Wow, why would you write your entire life story but ignore the very first LINE of my post:

        "there is no chilling without dilution"

        Direct quote from the article. This necessarily implies that it is only when the hotter and colder substances actually mix that cooling is possible, which implies that convection is the only method of heat transfer.

        But thanks for taking ages to write a completely pointless post defending something that you have apparently neither read nor understood. Kudos to you.

      This was already covered in the comments on the recent article on whiskey rocks: http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2014/01/make-your-own-whisky-stones-from-raw-soapstone/

      1. Whiskey rocks are much less efficient than ice at cooling a liquid when immersed in it.

      2. The phase change from ice to water requires a significant amount of energy - much more than either above or below the melting point - which is extracted from the surrounding liquid in the form of a temperature drop. It is not "an attempt to explain" anything. It is a fact.

      3. The ice slide mechanism is not magic. It uses the same mechanism which is to raise the temperature of the ice in order to reduce the temperature of the liquid. If the ice approaches the melting point, it will remain at 0 degrees until it accumulates enough energy to change phases. But this melting will still happen, unless external cooling is applied to remove some of that energy. If you continue to perform the process over and over without cooling the slide, it will eventually melt away.

        1. The article directly asserts that "there is no chilling without dilution". Melting ice may be more efficient, but it is not the only way to cool/chill a drink, as the article claims.

        2. I don't dispute that, and didn't in my post above. But contributing (all of) the energy needed for a phase change is not the ONLY way of cooling a drink, as the article implies.

        3. I didn't say it was magic. You are basically making my point again. And again, the article claimed that "there is no chilling without dilution". Which is wrong.

          The author is clearly referencing the use of ice for chilling: "Whenever we talk about ice and chilling". He then qualifies it with the ratio of 80 to 1 that the chilling is caused by the phase change from ice to water. This phase change produces water which dilutes the drink.

          If you're arguing that the author thinks the only way to cool a drink is with ice, then you probably need to re-read the article.

            Chilling:

            http://www.thefreedictionary.com/chilling

            1. To affect with or as if with cold.
            2. To lower in temperature; cool.

            In English, which you appear to speak, "chilling" just means "cooling" in this context. The article clearly asserts that there is NO chilling without dilution, which is quite simply wrong.

            "He then qualifies it with the ratio of 80 to 1 that the chilling is caused by the phase change from ice to water."

            No, he says that the phase change uses 80 times more energy than it takes to raise the same amount of ice ONE degree, which is another misleading part of the article and ignores the fact that ice is likely to be well below zero (e.g. if it's -20 when you start, you get 20/80 of the "phase change cooling" before you get to the phase change, which might be all you need.

            Last edited 12/02/14 10:13 am

              If you want to argue about a small phrase taken out of context, go right ahead. The science has already been discussed and proven elsewhere, but don't let that get in the way of your opinion.

                Seriously, what is taken out of context? It's a direct assertion in the article, and it's wrong.

                The point of my original post was that this is supposed to be an article explaining the physics behind how drinks get cooled by ice, and as such it should really be accurate and avoid generalisations, misleading statements and flat out incorrect statements. Otherwise, what is the point of it?

                Last edited 12/02/14 12:46 pm

      what a bunch of bollocks, while it's not precise it's absolutely true that the more cooling the ice is doing the more water it's producing.

    hmmmm.

    I'd like to see some experimental data that corroborates this.

    Either way though I like the big ice balls, they look classy and they last for ages - enough for several top ups of whiskey.

    You could use frozen grapes, they don't dilute the alcohol, plus you get to eat grapes at the end ^-^

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