“Strawberry purée is kind of garbage,” says food and cocktail scientist Dave Arnold. His distaste for the fruit’s seeds and sludgy pulp led him to experiment with clarifying juices, from Concord grape to pineapple. Eventually, he began freezing those juices into slushy cubes that, when shaken, dissolve quickly and completely, rendering cocktails more boldly flavored—and colder, too.
Arnold calls this technique the “juice shake.” It was a mainstay at his now-closed New York City cocktail bar Existing Conditions. There, he and his team froze clarified fruit juice mixed with simple syrup and spirit into cubes. When ordered, the cubes would be added to a shaker along with citrus, and agitated into slushy submission, emerging super-chilled and wholly integrated. Nonclarified juices like apple and pear also received similar treatment.
“The whole idea of the juice shake is, there are all of these juices you’d like to use but [they become] too diluted,” says Arnold. Shaking a drink with four or five regular cubes can contribute an additional two ounces of water to a drink, he estimates. “I said, what if we used the juice as the dilution and froze it?” By removing the extra water, the juice shake amps up flavor and controls dilution.
Because juice contains sugar, the cubes don’t freeze completely solid. “They slush out,” Arnold says. That’s a good thing, he insists: When shaken, they break apart quickly, creating a “hyper-cold” drink as the whole cube is incorporated. For the home bartender, Arnold recommends freezing individual one-ounce cubes of juice into standard plastic trays, rather than the larger square trays. He advises shaking a cocktail with one or two, depending on the recipe, and then testing for dilution. If the flavor is too strong, you can add one or two “hard ice” cubes (frozen water only) to even things out.
“It’s very, very effective at chilling,” Arnold explains. In fact, he suggests wrapping the shaker in a towel if you’re planning to perform multiple juice shakes, to avoid frostbitten hands.
At Existing Conditions, juice shakes were part of a limited menu, often showcasing “extremely fancy juices and nonstandard spirits,” Arnold recalls. In the Grape Stomp, clarified Concord grape juice was mixed with blanche Armagnac, a clear spirit also made from grapes. For speed, the team would crack juice cubes into eight-ounce containers and keep them individually in a freezer behind the bar. When ordered, the cubes were added to mixing tins, along with citrus, and quickly shaken into cocktails.
Nonclarified juices like pear or apple can be frozen for juice shakes too, though Arnold cautions against juices with “soupy” or “gloppy” textures, such as thick mango purée. Unsweetened cranberry juice, which Arnold lauds as “a hero ingredient” for those who don’t have access to a centrifuge, works well in drinks like the Cape Cod Margarita. Meanwhile, pineapple juice can be frozen with other ingredients into a Piña Colada base or combined into the Electric Avenue, an extra-fruity Daiquiri variation spiked with pomegranate. The recipe ratios for juice-shaken drinks remain similar to those of standard cocktails, though Arnold notes that a traditional spec could be riffed on with some tinkering.
Of course, the juice shake has its limitations. Arnold suggests sticking to white spirits for the technique, and skipping barrel-aged brown spirits like whiskey, since the intense chill can accentuate oaky flavors in an unpleasant way. “In general, woody things, when they get super cold, taste like you’re sucking on wood,” he says. But the beauty of the frozen cubes is their ability to sub in for quick-frozen berries or seed-laden purées. “Some people will make blender drinks with frozen strawberries,” Arnold says. “But it’s never as nice as using a juice.”