It’s hard to deny the party-starting potential of the frozen cocktail. In recent years, slushy machines hacked for adult serves have become a common sight in bars around the world. And in turn, the canon of frozen drinks has expanded far beyond the Piña Colada.
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Although frozen drinks weren’t part of White Lyan’s repertoire (and, sadly, there’s no space to fit a slushy machine in Dandelyan’s crowded backbar), from Death by Burrito to the launch of Method and Madness, we’ve used them to inject a playful tone into the drinks programs and events we’ve executed around London and further afield.
While most bars lean on commercial slushy machines to chill the mixture and prevent the cocktail from freezing into a block, most frozen formulas can be executed with a blender—whether you’re blending with ice or freezing the mixture ahead and whirring it before serving. (If the recipe calls for the former, note that the average blender won’t take well to cubed ice, so lean on crushed.)
Regardless of the method, the main factors you’ll want to control are alcohol, dilution and sugar content. All three will have a significant effect on the freezing point and balance of your drink.
The perfect balance of the drink is in the consistency of the slush, and getting it just right is often dependent on ABV: too high an alcoholic strength will push the freezing point below the realms of a domestic freezer, but too low will leave you with a flavored block of ice. A drink that falls around a total ABV of 10 percent (think a weaker highball—1 ounce 80-proof spirit to 3 ounces mixer—or a spritz), is ideal for frozen drinks. The perfect serving temp for a frozen drink is around -2.2°C/28°F, and a 10-percent-ABV serve will freeze at -4°C/25°F, so this is a good mark to aim for if you’re freezing the mixture ahead and flash blending. A boozy drink like a Negroni, for example, will not freeze unless you take it to very low temperatures; it will also suppress the perception of alcohol (i.e. cold numbs the taste receptors and trigeminal nerve, which can lead to over-consumption). If you want to make a frozen Negroni, it’s wise to dial back the ABV through the addition of a mixer like blood orange juice.
While acidity tends to remain constant in a frozen cocktail, bitterness and sweetness are both suppressed by temperature. The colder temperature requires a higher positive charge in the receptors in your palate (which the “sweet-tasting” molecules bind to) to activate, which in turn releases neurotransmitters signaling “sweet” to the brain. In other words, cold drinks needs more sweetness to achieve the correct balance. The best drinks combat this extra sweetness with acidity, hence the adaptability of the Daiquiri or the Margarita to a frozen format. A good rule of thumb when adapting something like the Daiquiri is to increase sugar content by 50 percent (e.g. add 3/4 ounce of simple syrup as opposed to a 1/2 ounce). If you’re using the freeze-ahead method and you happen to have a refractometer (or want to buy one), the ideal balance for a frozen drink is 13 grams of sugar per 100 grams of liquid—or 13 Brix. Just bear in mind that refractometers don’t like particulates, so creamy or pulpy drinks might throw off readings.
You will need extra dilution in your drink to get it to slushy texture, which can be achieved in two ways. Although it might seem simplest to blend with crushed ice, this requires you to move fast; if your ingredients aren’t cold enough when combined with ice in the blender, and whirred quickly, you’ll risk the drink hitting the table with the wrong consistency. So, start with very cold ingredients: place your spirits (above 70 proof) in the freezer and other ingredients in the fridge, use a measured amount of crushed ice (like we call for in our Piña Colada and Boozeless Margarita) and blend quickly. Alternatively, you can achieve greater control by pre-diluting your mix and freezing it like a granita. The drink will freeze into a pliable mass in your freezer, but it can be quickly agitated—either by whipping by hand or in a blender—for service.