Bring those frozen drinks in from the cold, writes Cara Devine

Cara is our Melbourne-based drinks writer. She is the manager of Bomba in Melbourne and the face and talent behind the cocktailing YouTube channel Behind the Bar. You can follow her on insta @withcaradevine or email her at behindthebarchannel@gmail.com

Summer is here in Australia (at least ostensibly, with La Niña having other plans for the east and north of the country, but this Melbourne based writer will try not to be bitter). So bartenders, it’s time to get our blenders whizzing and our slushy machines swirling. In a summer where we face unprecedented staff shortages and thirsty punters with a taste for freedom, large format, easily served crowd pleasers are a no brainer.

Once upon a time, the sight of luminous liquid of questionable texture churning lazily in the corner would be a red flag upon entering a venue. Usually a blend of synthetic flavourings and bottom shelf booze, frozen cocktails were only to be consumed on holiday (ironically, of course), and few self respecting bars served them. Really, though, these drinks just had to wait patiently for us modern bartenders to stop obsessing over reproducing pre-prohibition cocktail bitters and whether an Algonquin is actually a good drink, and bring the tenets of contemporary bartending (fresh, quality ingredients and a rigorous scientific approach) to bear on them.

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“Frozen Daiquiris were being served at La Floridita in the early 1900s, and when the electric blender was popularised by Fred Waring in 1938 he took it to famed ‘home economist’ Mabel Stegner who then included a Strawberry Daiquiri recipe in her 1952 book ‘Electric Blender Recipes’…”

In fact, frozen drinks have quite a venerable history. Frozen Daiquiris were being served at La Floridita in the early 1900s, and when the electric blender was popularised by Fred Waring in 1938 he took it to famed ‘home economist’ Mabel Stegner who then included a Strawberry Daiquiri recipe in her 1952 book ‘Electric Blender Recipes’ – the original influencer? Guests embraced the brain freeze, developing a taste for whizzed up tropical tipples, and bars embraced the efficiency of the serve. It was to get even easier, though. Mariano Martinez had a Margarita problem – they were so popular at his restaurant that his bartender was struggling to maintain consistent quality. Martinez had the bright idea of repurposing a soft serve machine to keep the frozen Margs flowing freely and soon his invention was popping up on counter tops world wide. Sadly, ubiquity often breeds mediocrity and a general nosedive in quality aided by the rise of commercial ready mixes saw frozen drinks left out in the cold by ‘serious’ bars.

The thing is though… has anyone ever had frozen drinks somewhere actually tropical? A blended Piña Colada made with fresh pineapple and coconut cream that hasn’t been in a can for two years is a revelation. The fact that frozen drinks are not inherently bad has been accepted by the industry over the last few years, with some of the finest bartending brains tackling the science behind the perfect texture and flavour balance. And at the end of the day, they’re fun – if the twin aims of cocktails are escapism and refreshment then surely frozen drinks are the pinnacle!

So, what to consider when adding a freeze-y delight to your drinks offering? I asked Chris Hysted-Adams (respected Black Pearl alumni who now oversees multiple slushy machines at the grown up amusement park that is Moon Dog World). He replied: ‘it’s all about the brix.’ He sent me an article from one of the first people to actually start thinking about the science of bartending, Jeffrey Morganthaler.

What is a brix you ask? Yeah, me too. Apparently, it’s the ratio of sugar in a water solution.
Basically, if you’re talking about freezing, you’re talking about the sugar level of your drink. Trial and error can work, but 13-15 brix will guarantee you a good slushy. You can measure this with a refractometer which comes with most slushy machines these days and guarantee perfectly slushed drinks every time.

“With all frozen drinks (blended or slushed) you also need to think about your ratios – the cold temperature numbs receptors in your mouth, plus there is extra dilution, and this means that sweetness is much harder to perceive. You have to add more sugar to make up for this, usually at least half as much again as you usually would.”

With all frozen drinks (blended or slushed) you also need to think about your ratios – the cold temperature numbs receptors in your mouth, plus there is extra dilution, and this means that sweetness is much harder to perceive. You have to add more sugar to make up for this, usually at least half as much again as you usually would. Hence why fresh fruit is your friend… added natural sweetness. The ABV is also something to consider – too high and it won’t freeze, too low and it will freeze entirely.

So, basically, just chucking your standard Margy or Negroni recipe in a blunder or slushy machine isn’t going to cut it, but some simple science-ing and forethought will help you perfect your frozen offering and add a bit of playfulness to your menu. Just remember though, Frosé is dead… it’s all about the Friesling now folks.

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