Chicago Bartenders Create Perfect Cocktails With Unique Ice

Chicago would never be mistaken for a dry town.

We’ve got a plethora of great cocktail bars here, with award-winning mixologists combining fanciful artisanal ingredients — sweet as well as savory — to great effect. But let’s discuss what really sets a bar apart in 2017: a bespoke ice program.

Serious cocktails call for serious ice — and a major investment on the restaurant’s part. No run-of-the-mill ice will do! We’re talking $5,500 Clinebell ice makers that produce 300-pound blocks of pristine, impeccably clear ice, or contracting with a company that will produce it for you. Whether that ice is then hand-chipped, oversized, infused or studded with fruit and spices, it makes the drink like clothes make the man.

These top Chicago mixologists know what’s what:

Belinda Chang, Maple & Ash/Eight Bar

“While most cocktalians, mixologists and craft bartenders are gaga about cube ice — whether it is Kold-Draft, Hoshizaki or from a silicon Tovolo mold — I go in the complete opposite direction. For my tastes, nothing is more festive than a cocktail poured over pebble ice aka nugget ice aka chewable ice aka the stuff they have at Sonic Drive-In (they even sell it by the 10-pound bag!). So I always make sure that every cocktail menu at my restaurants includes a delicious pebble ice cocktail.”

Cocktail: B-A-N-A-N-A ($13)

Made with Bacardi 8, fresh lime juice, Giffard banana liqueur and house-made pasilla chile-lime syrup, shaken and strained over pebble ice in a Collins glass, and garnished with Luxardo cherries.

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B-A-N-A-N-A, Eight Bar. Photo by Adam Sokolowski.

Michael Fawthrop, Beverage Director, Baptiste and Bottle

“We try to pick the perfect shape ice for the perfect drink. We want to make sure every bit of the beverage is cold, and with [big ice] you can control the dilution so much better. It adds a great texture to the drink. For the Medicine Ball, we start with The Botanist gin and our blood orange-tonic syrup, which we make in house. It’s a fun process! We juice blood oranges, and then add cinchona bark and sugar to make a syrup. We add our lemon verbena iced tea and seasonal herbs — mint, thyme — to the mix and carbonate the drink to order. We source the cube from JustIce in Chicago.” Garnish with the other fig and mint if desired.

Cocktail: Medicine Ball ($18)

Made with The Botanist gin, house-made blood orange-tonic syrup, and iced tea, carbonated and served over a 4.5-inch ice cube in a vintage high-ball glass.

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Medicine Ball, Baptiste & Bottle. Photo by Victoria Kent

Benjamin Schiller, Beverage Director, The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group

“Ice does a number of things. It will keep your cocktail cold, first and foremost. But then it will also change the viscosity of the cocktail depending on what type of ice you use. We treat ice as essentially another ingredient in a cocktail by adding flavor, aroma, or having it purposely change the flavor of the cocktail through dilution. If I had to pick [a favorite type of ice], it would be large, oversized pieces of hand-carved ice from big blocks. We take an ice pick to a crystal-clear block of ice and go at it. It has more personality and melts slower than your standard ice that you’d get from a machine. It’s universal and you can pretty much have any cocktail over it, plus it looks beautiful.”

Cocktail: Silly Rabbit ($12)

Ford’s gin, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and club soda is poured into a Collins glass over flavored ice cubes — Grapey Purple, Orangey Orange, Lemony Lemon and Raspberry Red — inspired by Trix cereal. The drink changes color as the ice melts.

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Silly Rabbit, The Sixth. Photo by Ethan Tally.

Cocktail: Tax Evasion ($12)

Eldorado rum, Wild Turkey rye whiskey, Bigallet China-China Amer liqueur, ruby port, and house-made “Wesley Snipes” bitters, stirred and served over an extra-large ice cube imprinted with The Sixth’s logo (done with a custom magnesium brand heated up under hot water).

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Tax Evasion, The Sixth. Photo by Ethan Tally.

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