The trend pendulum swings — first toward one extreme, and then toward the other. At least that’s true when it comes to what’s cool in cocktails.
One minute bar culture is all about fancy ice cubes — “premium ice,” they call it. “As with diamonds, cocktail ice is judged by its clarity, density, size and cut, all of which add to the quality and aesthetics of the experience,” Christopher Jones wrote a few months ago in a Wired.com piece looking at the “obsessive world of artisanal cocktail ice.”
The next minute, discriminating drinkers are chucking the ice in their cocktails altogether and sipping them at room temperature. “Drinks served without ice are quietly reappearing at some cocktail bars,” Eater recently noted. Those who are hot on the tepid beverages say the middling temps highlight the flavor and aroma of spirits such as whiskey, which are often sipped sans ice (or other ingredients) when they are enjoyed solo.
The lukewarm-drink trend harks back to the mid-19th century, an era before refrigerators and freezers were ubiquitous, when ice was harvested from naturally occurring bodies of water and delivered in big square blocks.
Many bartenders experimenting with room-temperature cocktails have found inspiration in a drink called the Scaffa, which the blog Drinking in America defines as “a mixed drink, often a liquor and a liqueur or two, stirred in the absence of ice to cool and dilute it.”
The Scaffa (which may derive its name from an old English word for “cupboard” or from the surname of the person who came up with it, depending on whom you ask) is an “intriguing” drink, Colin Shearn, a bartender based in Philadelphia who has tinkered with room-temperature cocktails, told Eater. “Not using any dilution or chill to alter the ingredients really makes you focus on the ingredients and the ratios,” he added. “There’s nothing else to hide behind.”
Shearn said a Scaffa is to a chilled cocktail, like an old fashioned, as sashimi is to a sushi roll — an analogy that may make you hungry, in addition to thirsty for a nice tepid drink.