Better than ice for 'on the rocks'?
November 25, 2005 6:26 PM   Subscribe

Is there a better thing to chill drinks down apart from ice?

If I was trying to serve an alcoholic drink and wanted to keep it cold is there something better than frozen water to use? I am thinking about some substance that retains cold better and will not taint a drink with other flavours...
posted by angusw to Science & Nature (24 answers total)
Well, you could use dry ice if you really wanted to. Then you'd have a bubbly, foggy drink.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:29 PM on November 25, 2005

actually I used to work in a forensic science lab, and for my leaving party we decided to play softball in the neighboring park and drink a load of beer. So we bought a load of beer, and then stuck it in a bunch of dry ice we took from the lab. What happened?

The beer in the portion of the bottles that were covered by the dry ice froze completely solid. So it's *too* cold for that.

Of course you'd have much better luck with vodka....
posted by forallmankind at 6:35 PM on November 25, 2005

Well, you could use dry ice if you really wanted to. Then you'd have a bubbly, foggy drink.

I would advise against this unless you want to serve your guests a drink that would burn them internally if any dry ice is swallowed.
posted by Rothko at 6:47 PM on November 25, 2005

b1tr0t's suggestion is good, especially if they have fake flies embedded in them, tee hee! Also, follow the lead of the higher end bars and chill the glassware for a pretty significant cooling effect that won't totally replace ice, but helps nonetheless.
posted by moift at 7:00 PM on November 25, 2005

Oh, and can I interest you in a comedy nerd option?
posted by moift at 7:04 PM on November 25, 2005

Of course you'd have much better luck with vodka....

If you wanted to go to the emergency room... In Russia this actually happens, people put their vodka outside to chill and forget how long it's actually been out there.
posted by atrazine at 7:23 PM on November 25, 2005

I was always under the impression that crushed ice cools faster bc of surface area...and I seem to remember "MythBusters'" quickly cooling down beers on crushed ice with salt.
posted by nevercalm at 7:23 PM on November 25, 2005

It depends on what kind of drink you're serving. If it's a mixed drink, you can try to freeze some of the mixer--orange juice, lemon juice, cranberry juice--in ice cube trays, so that the drink is only "diluted" by its own flavors.

If it's a fruity drink, you could also freeze berries to float in the drink--they won't add a lot of flavor (spread washed berries on a cookie sheet and stick in freezer; when frozen solid, you can pack them in a freezer bag to store).
posted by CiaoMela at 7:26 PM on November 25, 2005

Crushed ice with salt will definitely work -- the salt lowers the freezing point of the water, so you have water that is cooler than 32 Fahrenheit. It's how you make ice cream.

However, you will have salty water all over the container, so that may not work.

I think what you're really after is something as cold as water/ice, but denser, so it conducts heat away faster. You could freeze a steel mug.
posted by frogan at 7:29 PM on November 25, 2005

Well, some martini purists use chilled stainless steel ball bearings in lieu of ice cubes in the cocktail shaker. That way there's no melting to dilute your 80 proof olive (blech). Anyway, stainless steel has a pretty low specific heat compared to ice, so it'll chill your drink quickly, but it won't do so for long.

So far as the plastic cubes with the reusable freezy-goop in them...they're made of plastic. So with alcohol-based drinks there may be a certain amount of flavor retention (and release) from drink to drink.

One option: chill your glasses thoroughly, then serve them in a koozie or other insulating material.

Which brings me to this. Basically a double-walled glass. If you chilled that before using it, I would think that the heat from the user's hand wouldn't heat up the drink quite so quickly. They look okay and aren't too expensive, so you might order a pair and try them out.
posted by jedicus at 7:31 PM on November 25, 2005

Internally dry ice is dangerous, but it will give nice exterior frost burns before that. Unlike, say liquid nitrogen, dry ice sticks to skin on contact. Very nasty. There's an easy fix though: in most liquids, water ice qucikly forms a jacket over the dry ice making it safe to handle.

Note that solid CO2 carbonates what it's put in. Great for punch, not so great for milkshakes. Also, if in an alcoholic concotion, water preferentially freezes to the dry ice block, increasing the potency of the remaining liquid. For some, this is an example of better living through chemistry.

Liquid nitrogen, while good for making ice cream, is very poor at cooling drinks. Trust me on this, and don't try it at home.
posted by bonehead at 7:37 PM on November 25, 2005

You could put the glasses in the freezer so you serve your drinks in a frosty mug. You can keep alcohol in the freezer, too, it seems to freeze at a much lower temperature than other liquids.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:31 PM on November 25, 2005

In Russia this actually happens, people put their vodka outside to chill and forget how long it's actually been out there.

Is there a bit of that story missing? I don't see how they get to the emergency room.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 9:54 PM on November 25, 2005

ambrose - they drink it, wounding themselves internally
posted by matkline at 10:00 PM on November 25, 2005

The freezing point of alcohol is -117°F. Thus, if left to chill outside in below freezing weather, vodka, while still liquid, will be significantly colder than ice. If drunk, it can cause significant internal damage, as matkline says.
posted by SPrintF at 10:09 PM on November 25, 2005

Along with what everyone else says, dry ice has a very low heat capacity. Whilst it can chill a small amount of something a great deal it cannot significantly lower the temperature of a large amount of something. It's the equivalent of putting a very small but very cold ice cube in your drink. The effect on the drink is minimal.

I've drunk coffee which has had dry ice in it and it was still hot after the dry ice had all sublimed.

b1tr0t and moift have the solution.
posted by edd at 10:44 PM on November 25, 2005

Ice alone isn't nearly as effective as ice+water. When I worked as a waiter, we had to occasionally bring bottles of champagne down to cold temperatures for customers, and we didn't have the luxury of time (i.e., people ordering bottles of Krystal wanted to get their drink on now). The trick was to submerge the bottle in a bath of ice and water. I think the reason it works is because water will completely cover the bottle (more surface area) while shoving it into a pile of ice will leave small nooks and crannies of (warmer) air.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:28 AM on November 26, 2005

from a physics pov, ice works so well because there's a phase change - melting ice (going from ice at OC/32F to water at 0C/32F) sucks up a whole pile of heat. that's why it's much more effective than, say, steel ball bearings or cooling the glass.

i think the plastic blocks that you can use instead also have something inside that melts, so they're probably going to work quite well.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:38 AM on November 26, 2005

I'd say jedicus is on the right track, but your question is confusing. Are you asking how to chill something (as in your first part) or how to keep it cold (as in your second part)?

If the first, just stick it in the freezer. Take it out before it freezes, if it has a low alcohol content.

If the second, put the chilled drink in a (chilled) thermos mug.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 2:57 AM on November 26, 2005

Mythbusters did a comparison test for cooling beer a season or two ago. Winner? Salted ice water.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:43 AM on November 26, 2005

I've heard that actual rocks can work - I've never tried it but companies like this offer cubes of granite to cool your drink.
posted by soplerfo at 6:12 AM on November 26, 2005

melting ice (going from ice at OC/32F to water at 0C/32F) sucks up a whole pile of heat

Interesting, ac, I hadn't heard of the phase-change anglet.

Now, can you explain why scalding water freezes faster than water at room temperture? (For the non-believers, it's absolutely true, by the way.)
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:58 AM on November 26, 2005

Mpemba! (i'm still mildly sceptical, but that page seems quite reasonable).
posted by andrew cooke at 8:34 AM on November 26, 2005

Response by poster: thanks folks...

to clarify, I want to find a substance that I can put into drinks that are already cold to keep them cold but not dilute or taint the flavour.. imagine an Old Fashioned cocktail or similar.
I have used Dry Ice and its gives a distinct CO2 taste.
Liquid Nitrogen makes your cocktails come out like popcorn and is very cool.
I like the ball bearings angle... more what I was looking for... I have seen the stones angle too... and the Bodum glasses are wicked too...
So there is no solid substance that retains and releases cold better/slower than frozen water...
oh well... now I know.
posted by angusw at 6:25 PM on November 27, 2005

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