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Putting Aspen's Après Ski Cocktail Classic on Ice

For the past week, Curbed Ski has been dropping boozy hints online and via social media about the second annual Après Ski Cocktail Classic (aka Spring Break for grown-ups). Currently being held at the Westin Snowmass Resort through March 16, there are tickets still available for select seminars, demos, and tomorrow's Great Après Ski Cocktail Classic Pub Crawl. Today, we're here to talk about ice, based on mixologist/restaurateur Jimmy Yeager (of Jimmy's fame, and the closest thing to Food & Booze royalty Aspen has). Specifically, why the size and production method of an ice cube matters in a cocktail, and why freezing tap water in a tray, while not a crime, simply doesn't cut it for serious aficionados.

Yeager is single-handedly responsible for creating Aspen's trendy ice renaissance, which has trickled down I-70 to the Denver metro area. For the last five years, he's been making his own ice cubes (known in industry parlance as "BFIC's," aka Big Fucking Ice Cubes). And big they are, two-inch-square crystalline cubes or spheres that add a little somethin' somethin' to Jimmy's specialty cocktails (he also makes cubes for Justice Snow's, Woody Creek Distillers, the Sky Hotel, and custom-sized cuts for Chefs Club). Yeager starts out by making 300-pound blocks of ice, which are then broken down with a chainsaw and bandsaw (Curbed Ski assisted with this procedure and while no digits were lost in the process, suffice it to say it's a lot of work).

For his seminar, Yeager went the rustic route, taking down a massive block sporting a - event sponsor alert - Reyka Vodka bottle frozen within. Using a chainsaw (no vodka was harmed in the process), Yeager quickly broke the behemoth block down into slabs, which were then cut by hand into planks, and then cubes using a Japanese ice saw, chisel, and rubber mallet.

Attendees then moved inside to a conference room, where over "Classic James Bond" Vespers (trivia: 007 did not drink martinis) made with Reyka, Hendrick's Gin, and Lillet Blanc, Yeager explained the science behind ice, and how it works to the advantage or disadvantage of your cocktail.

In a nutshell, when ice melts, it cools the liquid the ice is in. Stirring is for boozy cocktails; shaking is for "juicy" cocktails. Dilution is an important part of making a good mixed drink, and choosing the right amount and kind of ice helps with that. By way of example, attendees were given Vespers' prepared both ways (Curbed Ski is with 007 on this one; we like ours shaken, not stirred, as the former yields a refreshing, barely perceptible icy layer on top). While the booze police won't haul you away if you don't prepare your drink properly, or (gasp!) purchase your ice by the bag at 7-11, the point is that if you're going to spend good money on booze- be it at home or at a bar- make it count.

When crappy ice is made with god-knows-what kind of water and filtration (or lack thereof) system, it's going to water down your beverage, and possibly, give it off flavors and aromas. Says Yeager, "The reason I started making my own ice is so that I could have complete control over the process. In bars that don't use quality ice, the result will often be a watered- down drink as the ice you get is already wet [i.e. starting to melt], which adds to the dissolution of the drink."

The seminar was a fascinating look into the geekology and science of bar ice. Using an insanely expensive contraption (a high-tech electronic hydrometer), which measures the specific gravity of liquids, Yeager showed how shaking, stirring, and the type of ice (i.e. bar ice, BFIC's, or spheres) affects the temperature and ABV-percentage of a cocktail. There was also a dry-erase board depicting formulas like "4 (PC) √3; 4 (3/4)º = 5'4"; BFIC 2"; 2 (12) 24 and words like cuboid but the sight of numbers and equations drove Curbed Ski to drink.

It's actually pretty easy to make your own bar ice at home (just follow Yeager's instructions from the recent Winter issue of Edible Aspen). Too much work? That's why people like Yeager and his amazingly knowledgeable and down-to-earth staff (who take turns with the ice production) exist. They make your drinks a little bit cooler, in every sense of the word.

· Après Ski Cocktail Classic [Official Site]
· All Eater Ski [Curbed Ski Archives]
· All Aspen Coverage [Curbed Ski Archives]