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Why do Bartenders use so much ice?

At some point in all of our lives we’ve either asked, or heard someone ask, why do bartenders use so much ice in cocktails, spirit mixers or just in general. There seems to be a generally accepted myth amongst society that it’s purely so a customer gets less liquid and has to buy more drinks. This myth is up there with the myth that servers only ask you if your food’s ok when you’ve got a full mouth so you can’t say no.
One of the real questions here is: Do bartenders use a lot of ice to rip off their customers?

We’re going to be completely honest with you and tell you: No. No they don’t.

Simply put: Ice makes things cold. In fact, there’s not a lot of things in this world that are better at making things cold than melting ice - even blocks of steel stored in liquid nitrogen cannot chill a drink quicker than ice can. Hurray for ice.

The direct cause and byproduct of chilling is dilution

Technically, chilling is a byproduct of dilution: When ice melts, it transfers its chilling energy to its surroundings as it absorbs heat thus making its surroundings colder

This is where the quality of ice comes into question. If your bartender uses a lot of “wet” ice to chill your drink (ice that has already started melting), the surface area of water on the ice is larger, therefore your drink will dilute a lot faster than if your bartender had used “dry” ice. Science fact: colder ice chills a lot slower than warmer ice does, this is because the energy that the ice is absorbing is used to heat it up to a point where it can start melting; there is no dilution and no transferring of energy to the liquid around it therefore it cannot chill the liquid.

That was very technical so take a minute to enjoy this cute penguin.

Bartender job application in a bar

Why does any of this matter?

There have been studies performed into why we enjoy cold drinks so much and it’s to do with how our oral receptors react more positively to colder stimuli than our external receptors do: Internal = positive response, External = negative response. It revolves around the factor that colder drinks quench our thirst more than warm drinks (or at least they are perceived to), which results in a pleasureful reaction.

People have evolved to enjoy colder drinks. We derive more pleasure from a cold drink than we do a warm one. This doesn’t mean that as a species we don’t enjoy warm drinks (because coffee is amazing), it means we enjoy cold drinks more. Ice helps us create those cold drinks.

So why do bartenders use SO MUCH ice?

This probably has more to do with the perception that customers feel they are being shortchanged in some way more than it reflects the amount of ice a bartender actually uses e.g more ice means less mixer (and for some reason people seem to think less spirit).

The more ice you have, the quicker you chill your drink, the quicker you chill your drink, the slower the dilution will be. This should not be confused as “more ice means less dilution” because if you leave your drink for half an hour, you’ll have a big old glass of water. More ice means faster chilling followed by slower dilution. - You get a cold drink at its “peak” dilution and temperature quicker than if half the ice had been put into your glass.

Larger ice cubes melt slower than smaller ice cubes because they have less surface to area ratio , which is why you won’t see your vodka and soda served over a glass of crushed ice (if you do see this, we don’t know why that’s happened).

Bartenders use “so much” ice in your drink, because it’s better for your drink and better for you (in terms of enjoyment and taste). If you don’t want ice in your drink then you can always ask for no ice. Please remember, however, that less ice will always mean more mixer, not more liquor. You’re not being scammed. Ice is important. Sorry.

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Updated by Sofia - February 2018

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