It’s early on a Saturday afternoon at The Broken Shaker bar on Miami Beach and Michael Parish decides it’s time for some therapy. He carries a few 75-pound blocks of ice from the basement to the courtyard for his weekly session. Using a chainsaw, Parish spends an hour cutting the crystal clear slabs into 2 x 2 cubes without any gauges.
This art project, especially in the Miami heat, may seem gratuitous to the amateur bar fly, but the best in the industry affectionately refer to this as their “ice game.” Parish says it’s how a cocktail bar distances itself from a regular bar.
“You simply can’t have a good bar without it,” said Parish, who receives 300-pound pieces from a company in Fort Lauderdale about twice a month. He’s arguably one of the only bartenders in Miami to tackle ice with this level of skill, breaking down 150 pounds with remarkable precision in as a little as a half hour.
The harder the ice, the better.
Premium ice comes in many shapes and sizes and is instrumental to the integrity of the cocktail it is made to enhance. The reasons are twofold: to cool and to dilute properly. Some drinks require a near freeze and others open up with the help of a slow-paced melt.
Parish crops most of The Broken Shaker’s ice stash during his therapy sessions, storing them in containers in freezers behind the bar and in the small prep kitchen, while the rest of the bar team makes a point to chip additional pieces for mixing, punch bowls, and cocktails during their shifts.
Gui Jaroschy, Parish’s colleague at The Broken Shaker, adds that presentation comes into play: “There’s a feeling you may want to convey when serving guests, like the classic vibe that a big rock drink gives off.”
2 x 2 Cube
Featured in the Old Fashioned
The 2 x 2 cube, or the “rock,” is the quintessential ice for the spirit-forward Old Fashioned, a cocktail that’s meant to be sipped and savored. It’s crucial for the ice to hold up its end of the deal from start to finish. These are made by hand at The Broken Shaker, but can also be produced with molds or by a KoldDraft machine in a slightly smaller size (often used for routine mixing in a shaker).
Fresh Cubes: Yellow Bell Pepper, Cucumber Kale, Beet
The Broken Shaker’s creative cubes are used to slowly impart new flavors from cold-pressed juices into a simple cocktail like the Tommy’s Margarita (agave nectar in lieu of triple sec).
Featured in a Sour-Style Cocktail
This rectangular slice of ice is used in a tall Collins glass (think Tom Collins or Gin Fizz) to maintain a cold and refreshing experience without over-diluting the cocktail.
Featured with Base Spirit
“Of all the ways to hurt myself, this is the way to do it,” said Parish, as he used the Japanese technique of hand-carving a sphere from a 3 x 3 cube with a super sharp knife. With just a week of practice, he perfected what is most certainly a must-see performance for your next glass of aged rum (pictured), whisky, or solo spirit of choice. The elegant sphere offers less surface tension, making it slower to melt than a bunch of dainty cubes. Spheres can also be made with a mold (not recommended) or with an ice ball maker (expensive).
Featured in a Mint Julep
This summer favorite is predominantly booze (bourbon) and sugar, which requires the traditional silver cup to be filled -- and even overflowing -- with ice in order to pack a powerful cooling effect on a hot day or night. Other short sippers with added effervescence, like the Bramble and the Dark ‘n’ Stormy, also benefit from the pellet ice, which is made by a Scotsman machine to replicate hand-crushed ice without the extra work in a fast-paced environment.
Featured in a Mai Tai
Jaroschy employs the raucous mallet technique to crush ice in a waterproof canvas bag (aka a Lewis Bag) for Tiki-style cocktails, drawing attention to the process and his joy. Sheer volume at the bar prevents him and other passionate bartenders from hand-crushing ice on the regular, so appreciate the show when you get the chance to see it.
Galena Mosovich is the lead writer for cocktail culture for Miami.com and The Miami Herald.
Photo: Elizabeth Renfrow