Serious whiskey drinkers might claim that the only way to drink good whiskey is to take it neat, with nothing more than ice at most.
The flavor and savors of a good whiskey can change greatly over time, even sip to sip. So, to disturb the liquor’s natural evolution as little as possible, cocktailians have gone to extraordinary lengths to decrease the surface area of the ice that goes into their drink, retarding and restricting the dilution of the liquor as much as possible.
It follows, then, that a perfect sphere is an ideal shape for the job.
While the 8 ball ice sphere is not new, what Sean Brock, a serious whiskey drinker, does with it is novel. During a five-hour cocktail session starting at midnight, when he locked us in Husk Bar, he showed us, among other potable wonders, the way he makes and drinks whiskey with an 8 ball ice sphere.
Eight ball ice spheres aren’t cheap to make. They can only be cast one at at time with a metal die that costs north of $1,200.
The die consists of two, heavy metal cylinders, each with one half of the sphere’s mold. The cylinders are stacked, one on top of each other, the top one fitting onto the bottom half, guided by two rail poles. The die is heated and a block of ice is set between the two halves. As the weight of the top half presses down on the the block of ice, heat from both ends melt the block until the ice is compressed into the spherical hollow in the middle. The result is a perfectly round globe of ice.
See for yourself:
1. A block of pristine ice made with reverse osmosis filtered water.
The clarity is incredible.
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2. The block of ice is set between the two heated halves of the die.
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3. The weight of the top die, coupled with heat from both ends, melts the block of ice, stamping out a perfect sphere in the center hollow. You can see run-off streaming down the sides of the die.
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4. The top half of the die is removed and the 8 ball is turned out before
it melts from the residual heat from the bottom half of the die.
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5. Due to the filtration of the water, the 8 ball ice sphere at Husk Bar has an amazing clarity – like a crystal ball. (You can see Brock upside down in the sphere.)
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At Husk Bar, whiskey is served in repurposed wine bottles, which have that unmistakable punt rising up from the bottom. The drink is never poured above the top of the punt, leaving it an island surrounded by a moat of liquor. The 8 ball ice sphere is then set on top of the punt, separated from the liquor. As the ice ball melts, it sweats into the drink slowly. And, because it’s not actually in contact with the liquor, it cools the liquor indirectly and slowly, allowing the flavor of the whiskey to mature in the glass.
Thanks, Sean, for indulging us with 8 ball Pappy Van Winkle bourbons.
6 replies on “drink: 8 ball bourbon…”
That’s some of the finest American craftsmanship ever on display there (the bourbon…not the ice mold, which is Japanese, by Taisin). Regardless of the awesome presentation, how did you like the whiskey?
Ice with bourbon (or any whiskey, really) is generally frowned upon because reducing temperature mutes flavor. The resulting dilution does “open up” whiskey & allow it to change over time. Anywhere from a few drops to even an ounce of water can change and improve many bourbons. George T. Stagg, for example, which has been bottled as high as 144 proof, is an entirely different experience consumed at 5, 10 & 25% dilution, magical stuff really. But, this can be accomplished by adding water. Using ice, while very attractive in a presentation such as this, creates an unnecessary impediment to experiencing the flavors of the whiskey, opening up some by dilution while simultaneously locking others away behind the cold.
N.B. The clarity of the ice is not really down to filtration. Even after the best filtration, dissolved oxygen in the water will turn it cloudy when it freezes. To accomplish crystal clear ice like this generally involves some sort of directional freezing, which works by concentrating the cloudy ice to one side of the mass, allowing it to be manually cut away from the clear ice.
Now that is a novel and beautiful way to allow a gradual trickle of ice-cold water into whiskey – what a great solution! Great snaps as well.
Great pictures. Chef Brock is a class act. Glad you got to do that!
Wow that’s a lot of work for one ice cube, one drink and I’m not certain it would make that much difference.
I was traveling around Scotland a couple of years ago sampling some scotches and I was told at a couple of distilleries
to put a small splash of water with your scotch to open up the flavors and that seems to work for me.
He’s wasting the latent heat of fusion there. This method will actually result in less cooling, more dilution (over time) and a more gradual change in the drink’s temperature.
in my city (seattle) there is a bar called rob roy, where the bartanders actually carve beautiful, intricately beveled ice balls to order. after witnessing such a feat it’s hard to be impressed by a contraption that only makes one and costs $1200.