The tradition of ice has its roots in ancient times, because already in the 4th century B.C. the farsighted Persians built the yakh-chal which literally means “ice pit”, a dome shaped structure with an underground compartment protected by a thick heat-resistant wall used all year round to store ice and, of course, food.
Even in Italy this practice was already widespread with the Romans, although cold rooms had a completely different look. These storage warehouses of snow blocks were called Neviere and gave life to a flourishing market in Italy on the threshold of the modern age, around 1500.
Until the middle of the 19th century, to get ice you had to ride horses with a cart, climb mountains or walk bravely on frozen lakes and ponds, dig various layers of fresh snow to get to the ice, cut it by hand with a hatchet or saw, hoist it on the cart, place it inside thatch-covered quarries, basements or covered wells, and hope that summer temperatures did not increase so much.
Frederic Tudor in 1805 began to work out a plan and decided to invest all his savings in a brig, the Favorite.
Someone told him about a Thomas Moore, who two years earlier had invented a device with which the farmers of Maryland could transport butter without melting it to Washington D.C. It was a rudimentary refrigerator: a wooden tub covered with a sheet of metal and stuffed with rabbit fur to be filled with ice, in the middle of which the butter reserves were stored.
Tudor bought a diary in 1805 and wrote on the cover: Diary of the Glacier, with a sketch of an icehouse reminiscent of the Rockwood farm.
The first entry in the diary read: “Plan to transport ice in the Tropical Climate. Boston, August 1805. William and I have decided in these days to put our properties together and launch ourselves into the enterprise of transporting ice to the West Indies next winter”.
In Tudor it seemed a good idea and the Favorite set sail in 1806 from the port of Boston with 130 tons of ice stored in Moore’s equipment. A month later, when it reached Martinique, the first obstacle was immediately evident: on land there was no cold room in which to store the cargo. The ice was thus sold directly from the boat, and not fast enough. Tudor’s plans evaporated into thin air, literally, but Tudor was a tenacious guy, and he tried again and again, making little money and a lot of debts, and ending up in prison for some time. Around 1815 he managed to put together two thousand dollars, which he invested in a large cold room in Havana, capable of holding 150 tons of ice. Hunted down by creditors, Tudor decided to take refuge in Cuba and there he began his adventure as “King of Ice”. He did business in some southern cities, sultry and at risk of tropical diseases but rich in indigo and cotton: Charleston in South Carolina (1817), Savannah in Georgia (1818) and New Orleans in Louisiana (1821), with a commercial offer that included the regular delivery of ice to families with a subscription of $10 per month. He improved insulation systems on the ship and in the icehouse, built his own iceboxes in strategic locations for his business, and increased demand for fresh drinks in every port. Tudor’s business was booming and by 1825 he was shipping over 4,000 tons of ice per year. Things got even better when Tudor went into business with Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth, who thought of a practical way to cut ice by harnessing horses to a metal blade.
Tudor therefore managed to make it easily available throughout the United States, an asset within everyone’s reach, as Gavin Weightman recounted in his “The Frozen-Water Trade”:
“Visitors to Boston, New York, and other cities on the East Coast of the United States could not help but notice that in summer there was an enormous amount of ice everywhere, and that what was still a rarity and a great luxury on the other side of the Atlantic was considered an essential convenience in America. In the streets there were carts with ice that delivered it to hotels and homes, with the now typical figures of ice men carrying dripping crystal blocks up the stairs and into house entrances with their ice pliers. The water was always drunk cool, and there were many drinks that had crushed ice as an essential ingredient, such as sherry cobbler or mint juleps”.
The period of life of Jerry Thomas, was considered revolutionary in terms of bartending, with the introduction of ice in bars in 1830, for example, gave the opportunity to cool your drink to everyone and not only the rich.
The ice led to the introduction and change of equipment, fundamental for the development of new techniques.
In 1842 a pretender to the throne of the Ice King, Jacob Hittinger, secured the rights to the ice harvest at Cambridge’s Fesh Pond in Massachusetts. He had just founded the “Gage, Hittinger & Company” in Boston. But he was aiming to conquer London, not America or the Caribbean. Hittinger sent ice through the boat “Sharon”, accompanied by a couple of American barmen to explain how to prepare Cobblers, Juleps, Smash and Cocktails.
Ice became the most fashionable “hot” novelty in the world: it was used to make beverages, for medical uses for food preservation and for countless other practical and comfortable matters; man was able for the first time to artificially freeze a mass of water, and then to produce ice in the absence of low outside temperatures, well before the invention of the refrigerator (which took place in 1851 by John Gorrie), in 1775.
The rudimentary refrigerator of Gorrie led to the overcoming of traditional conservation techniques (for salting, drying, etc.) whose common characteristic was to alter the nutritional and organoleptic qualities of food. With the conquest of the cold, on the other hand, it was possible to transport and preserve the products for long periods of time, maintaining characteristics similar to the original ones.
The same happened for mixed drinks, originally made without the use of ice, as it happened for centuries for the mixing of punch or new families of drinks contemporary or previous to cocktails (Egg Nog, Flip, Skin, Toddy, etc.).
The barkeepers of the time began to experiment with new mixtures with the use of a new ingredient, ice, which was considered a luxury good until then. In this period the Juleps, Smash, Sour, Fizz and of course the Cocktails spread.
Ice also acquired a solemn function, which was soon used as a pretext by members of the Temperance Movement to stem the spread of alcohol consumption. It, in fact, was put in the coffins of the deceased to keep the temperatures of the corpses low during vigils and funerals. Since the vigils were often held at home, and were often an opportunity to consume drinks, these ante litteram prohibitionists told false stories of domestic servants taking ice from the coffins to make cocktails. They also told stories of unscrupulous tavern owners and ice merchants who went to retrieve the ice from underground behind the churches immediately after the funerals. These exaggerated stories appeared in numerous newspapers in the mid-19th century, but they failed to limit the consumption of alcohol or the passion for ice in drinks. The first and great bartenders of the time were therefore able to dispose of large quantities of ice, the ingredient that transformed the mixture and brought it to its absolute splendour. Jerry Thomas himself (author of the 1862 manual The Bon Vivant Companion / How To Mix Drinks) summarized the situation for the preparation of his cocktails as follows: “As a general rule, ice should be used crushed when the liqueur has a preponderant dose in the drink and no water is added. Instead, when eggs, milk, wine, vermouth, soda or sparkling water are present, it is preferable to use small cubes that will be removed from the glass a moment before serving the drink”.
In the early days of mixing, there were few tools, simple drinks, robust ingredients and raw, fast techniques. All you needed was a knife, a sieve for seeds, a nutmeg grater and a Punch set. The most important piece was the ‘Toddy Stick’: half pestle, half spoon. Of note, the ‘dasher bottles’ and the ‘flip dogs’ (loggerhead/pots).
With the development of the ice trade since 1830, there is the introduction of tools for ice processing and drink consumption.
The ice arrived to the bars in blocks had to be broken into smaller pieces and so ice picks, knives, pliers, spoons and bags for it were born; thanks to the dentistry in the nineteenth century made the use of straws become common use as it was recommended to keep the ice from the teeth. It did not take much then to understand that shaking a drink improved the use of ice for cooling a drink and so, in 1852, Charles Astor Bristed describes the preparation of a Sherry Cobbler ” With one of the reserve glasses cover’ the mouth of the tumbler that contained the compound and acted’ the cobbler for a dozen times”.
The mixers understood that shaking the drink was much more effective, fun, and scenic and so the first form of shaker was born (certainly not steel since this material was introduced on the market only before the years of Prohibition).
Not everyone liked the idea of drinking the drink from a straw leaving it in contact with the ice and as you can see from some recipes of Thomas’s Bartender’s Guide the drinks began to be served by filtering the ice; at the beginning to keep the ice contained in the mixing glass was used the other part of the shaker until it was discovered that a perforated cutlery called “sugar snifter” could replace the glass.
In 1860 so were patented the Julep strainer, so called because initially they were used in the service of the Julep to allow the customer to drink through it. In addition to the equipment also the techniques and the gaskets were updated with the introduction of fresh fruit and different products such as syrups and liqueurs The drinks became ‘fancy’, the gaskets in fact increased, the fruit embellished the mixtures, the glasses were adapted to the types of drinks, new liqueurs from France and Italy landed in America. This is considered the ‘baroque’ period of ‘mixology’, a term coined in those years.
Starting in 1870, numerous methods were developed to improve the Bartender’s tools. The ‘classic’ era goes from 1880 to the 1920s. The introduction of shakers as we know them today, strainers and more sober glassware lead to the essence that is then in the drink.
The first tools to establish themselves in 1884 was what we know today as the ”three-piece shaker”, followed by the strainer which in 1889 saw the addition of a spring that made sure that the strainer could be used with any type of glass known today as the Hawthorne strainer.
The Toddy stick used in the years before 1830 to mix hot and cold drinks became a muddler and was followed by squeezers, metal jiggers that replaced the sherry glasses; the first was a single cone supported by a rod and in 1892 was patented the double cone that we still use today in our bars; The drinks were created with very precise quantities that, reading the cookbooks of the time, are reported with different quantities from those that we know today, also the teaspoons, and the ”wineglass” had different sizes from those we see today;
1 Quarter (Imperial) = 40oz
1 Quarter (Wine) = 32oz
1 Bottle = 24oz (0.70l) while French Champagnes were imported in litre (quarters) and half litre (pints) bottles.
1 Pint (Imperial) = 20oz; ½ pint (Imperial) = 10oz
1 Pint (Wine) = 160oz; ½ pint (Wine) = 8oz
1 wineglass = 2oz
1 jigger = 1 wineglass, subsequently 1½ oz
1 pony = ½ wineglass or jigger, 1oz
1 tablespoon = ½ oz
1 teaspoon = ½ tablespoon
Together with the Jigger were born bottles for bitters with dosing caps.
This era is characterized by the evolution of tools, but especially of glasses that until then were counted to 4/5 types;
In 1884 the G. Winter Brewing & Co. of New York developed a guide of glasses needed for the saloons;
“Champagne, Claret, Port, Sherry, and Rhine Wine; Champagne and Whiskey Cocktail Glasses, Julep and Cobbler Glasses, Absinthe, Pony Brandy, Hot Water, John Collins”.
The change of tools followed those of distillates; brandy had its decline because of phylloxera and was replaced by American and Scottish whiskey; dry Gin replaced Dutch malt like Cuban rum with a lighter taste and replaced Jamaicans; Mezcal and Tequila were drunk in the South of the country and vermouth appeared in cocktail recipes and so at the beginning of 1920 all techniques, juices, syrups and main ingredients were born and had their evolution.
We will continue to talk about the topic at the beginning of the next article and we leave you below some useful points for a personal deepening of the topic discussed so far:
1783 – 1830 archaic age
1810/20 popularity of Punch, Mint Julep, Cocktail;
1830 beginning of baroque age (birth of Jerry Thomas); introduction of ice in drinks;
1848 George Foster mentions a kind of shaker in one of his reports;
1852 Bristed testifies in a text on the preparation of the Sherry Cobbler the use of shaker prototype;
1856 first testimony of the invention of the term mixology in a humor piece by Charles Leland;
1860 Julep strainer designs patent;
1862 Jerry Thomas describes the usefulness of the shaker;
1868 journalist George Augustus Sala describes for the first time a Cobbler shaker;
70’s actual spread of the term mixology;
1880 beginning of classical age (until the twenties);
1884 three-piece shaker introduction; G. Winter Brewing & Co publishes guide to saloon glasses;
1885 end of baroque age (death of Jerry Thomas);
1889 introduction Hawthorne strainer;
1892 double cone jigger patent;
Throughout the classic age toddy stick > muddler; sherry glasses > squeezer and jigger; bitter bottles with dispensing caps; replacement of distillates.