Wine & Spirits: Gleaming the Cube

D.C. bartenders use infusions, frozen fruit to keep drinks cool in the last dog days of summer.

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The Corazon at Zaytinya combines Chinaco “Verde” Blanco Tequila with cilantro and toasted coriander, served over hibiscus ice. Photo courtesy of ThinkFoodGroup.

The Corazon at Oyamel combines Chinaco “Verde” Blanco Tequila with cilantro and toasted coriander, served over hibiscus ice. (Photo courtesy of ThinkFoodGroup)

Anyone who’s ever suffered through a watered-down cocktail because of inferior ice, (you know the kind I’m talking about — chips or those barely held together cubes with holes in the center), know how important those frozen little guys are to a drink. It’s pretty much accepted these days that in a well-made sip, ice is an ingredient in and of itself, rather than an afterthought. Even in shaken cocktails served up rather than on the rocks, good ice not only makes a drink icy cold, but its dilution (in the proper ratio) opens up the aroma of ingredients and flavors, making tipples taste better. Savvy bartenders recognize that adding flavor to ice means that the last sip will taste even better than the first. Take a chill pill, and sip one of these “cube-arrific” cocktails.

Corazon at Oyamel

I love a good Gimlet, and I also love anything that ThinkFoodGroup cocktail innovator sets on the bar in front of me. For this variation on the classic cocktail, Coronado combines Chinaco “Verde” Blanco Tequila with cilantro and toasted coriander, served over hibiscus ice. It’s complex, herby and floral, not to mention gorgeous.

Bloody Mary at Bourbon Steak

Love savory sips at brunch? Or anytime, for that matter? Bourbon Steak bartending duo and just rolled out their new take on the savory tomato-based libation. You can skip the stalk, and there is no need to add a spoonful of grated horseradish for heat, either. This new Bloody Mary riff is chilled (and flavored) by a 2-inch celery- and horseradish-infused cube, and a 2-inch beef Bouillon- and horseradish-infused cube.

Bourbon Steak's new take on the Bloody Mary has ice cubes infused with horseradish, celery and beef Bouillon. Photo courtesy of Bourbon Steak.

Bourbon Steak’s new take on the Bloody Mary has ice cubes infused with horseradish, celery and beef Bouillon. (Photo courtesy of Bourbon Steak)

Jacqueline Kennedy at Zentan

Armed with the knowledge that Jackie Kennedy smoked menthol cigarettes, Zentan head bartender set out to try to use the minty ingredient to make an infused syrup. When he discovered the crystals don’t dissolve in water, he moved on to Plan B. “I had the idea of boosting Fernet Branca’s naturally minty flavor with the cooling sensation associated with menthol, and it turned out awesome!” he says. The First Lady’s namesake cocktail mixes it with Hangar One Vodka and yuzu, served over watermelon ice. “What’s great about [the ice] is that when you’re done with the drink, you’ve got popsicles,” Berner notes. “And frozen watermelon actually tastes notably better than room temperature watermelon — at least in my opinion.”

Zentan's Jacqueline Kennedy hasmenthol-infused Fernet Branca, and watermelon ice cubes. Photo courtesy of Zentan.

Zentan’s Jacqueline Kennedy has menthol-infused Fernet Branca and watermelon ice cubes. (Photo courtesy of Zentan)

War Pig Rickey at TNT

In case you missed it, July saw Washington, D.C.’s Rickey competition, an annual contest to find the best example of the District’s native cocktail. TNT bartender ’s winning drink this year uses Bulleit Bourbon, house-made cantaloupe soda and lemon juice. Floating in the drink are chunks of melon frozen via dry ice. Ahhhh….

The War Pig Rickey at TNT is cool and refreshing with the addition of frozen melon ice cubes. Photo courtesy of EatGoodFood Group.

The War Pig Rickey at TNT is cool and refreshing with the addition of frozen melon ice cubes. (Photo courtesy of EatGoodFood Group)

Il Palio at Casa Luca

had been sitting on the idea of Campari-flavored ice for some time, but lack of a freezer behind the bar at Fiola kept him from adding it to the menu. At ’s new casual osteria Casa Luca, Faile adds ruby-tinged Campari to water, and then freezes the combination to make bitter, perfectly red cubes. The drink’s name refers to a horse race in Siena, Italy. “It’s a little bit of a tongue-in-cheek reference to people trying to finish the drink before the Campari flavor is imparted to the cocktail.” (That’s not a problem for me. I’m a huge fan of his Negroni menu at Fiola, and too much Campari is never enough.) Il Palio is a Manhattan built over the ice, with the addition of orange bitters instead of traditional Angostura. “As the ice melts, it transforms from a Manhattan to a Boulevardier,” he explains. “A simple concept, but so far it’s been well-received.”

Jeff Faile's Il Palio cocktail at Casa Luca uses Campari-infused ice.

Jeff Faile’s Il Palio cocktail at Casa Luca uses Campari-infused ice. (Photo courtesy of Jeff Faile)

Kelly Magyarics is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter @kmagyarics.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the “Corazon” is featured at Zaytinya. It is featured at Oyamel.

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