Why Ice May Be the Most Important Ingredient in Your Cocktail

Sarah King Photography
Sarah King Photography

Kristin Markley from THE RANCH explains how ice is affecting your cocktails.


Kristin Markley is no stranger behind the bar at THE RANCH restaurant in Anaheim, and she’s been perfecting all of your favorite classic cocktails for years (known especially for her martinis). So what’s her secret to amazing drinks? According to Markley, it’s all about the ice — aka the unsung hero of any beverage. “Your entire setup depends on it.” said Markley. “Ice can really make or break your cocktail.” So, what exactly makes ice so special?

When it comes to frozen water, there’s a number of ways it can be made and served. Bartenders use ice to open up the flavor of alcohol, and this process happens when a small amount of water saturates the spirit from a melting point. Whether it’s shaved, infused or crushed, we all know that ice is bound to melt once it leaves the freezer. When regular ice is used, melting occurs way too quickly, leading to an overly watered down version of what you really wanted. (This doesn’t happen at THE RANCH.) Did you know that ice typically adds at least an ounce of water to a cocktail? Markley explains, “… the incorporation totally depends on the ingredients. Some cocktails need to be watered down a bit while others barely need anything.”

Ice is Shaping Up

Cocktail ice is best when its clarity and density are controlled by slowing down the freezing time. The result of this process is crystal clear ice that takes longer to melt. “When it comes to the shape of the denser styles, it’s purely aesthetic,” said Markley. “Whether it be a sphere, cube or diamond, they all serve the same purpose. The difference comes in when you change the type of ice completely. With something as simple as a scotch you’d want to add a dense ice cube. With tropical tiki drinks you should use a shaved ice to soak up all of the syrups and sweetness.”  

It Starts With the Water

THE RANCH restaurant is known for their locally-sourced award-winning menu, incredible bar program and stellar service (not to mention the fun Saloon next door for nightcaps), but you may not know that their ice is pretty special too. THE RANCH is outfitted with a state of the art zero-waste osmosis system that makes their water basically better than bottled, and is perfect for crafting ice in-house. With a freezer behind the bar and fresh ingredients from the restaurant’s farm, making great cocktails couldn’t get any easier for Markley. “Thankfully we have the freezer right here, so there’s absolutely no melting until someone orders and the mixology begins.”

Some of those libations include her new Mother’s Day special, Mama’s Girl, that combines Right Gin, St Germain, yuzu juice and Champagne over a hibiscus syrup-infused sphere. As the ice sphere melts there’s a development of deeper, more floral flavors while staying light. For classic margarita imbibers, Tres Piñas offers a refreshing twist. A spicy mix of Don Julio Silver, Cointreau, lime juice and house-made sweet and sour. This margarita-style cocktail is served over crushed pineapple and a Three Amigos hot sauce (exclusive to THE RANCH) ice cube!

It’s their attention to detail and precise execution that lets you know there is a well crafted drink in your hands, and it could have to do with that unassuming ingredient — ice.

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