Giving icy drinks the cold shoulder

He arrived from the dining room like bull from Pamplona, wide-eyed and frantic, his breath coming out in hot audible gasps. For a second I thought it might be a life-or-death emergency.

“Are you the one making my martini?” he asked.

I looked around to see if there were any other bartenders. Seeing that there weren’t, I answered him.

“I guess so.”

Sometimes it’s best not to answer questions too forthright, at least until you know exactly what it is you are answering or to whom you are answering.

“I want it ice, ice, cold,” he said. “In fact I want to feel the shaker before you pour it, just to make sure.”

There are some people who just have way too much time on their hands.

Shake, shake, shake went the shaker.

“OK, let me check.”

I wondered briefly what the people he left in the dining room thought of his little trip to the bar. I suspect they really didn’t miss him that much.

“You see,” he said as if I had asked, “if the shaker is super cold then you know that the drink inside is also super cold.”


“It’s a scientific fact,” he said authoritatively.

One thing is for certain — that is not a scientific fact. In fact, it’s not scientific at all. But sometimes people confuse what they think with what is true, and then use a lot of jargon to cover up that fact.
His point might be true if the shaker were chilled first. Since it’s not (no bar I’ve ever been to chills its shakers) the fact is that in order to chill the metal, the already-cold drink inside the cup actually gets warmer, not colder. Call it thermal transfer or conduction, but that is the fact, Jack. However the shaker feels colder to the touch and looks colder because of the condensation, which creates the illusion in the mind of some people — perhaps someone sitting in a dining room somewhere— that the drink itself is colder.

Perception is reality, right?

Recently the Moscow Mule has charged back into popularity. Everywhere you go you see the drink’s copper mugs. Any vodka with any possible claim to Eastern Europe has jumped on the bandwagon with branded copper mugs. You can buy them at Crate and Barrel and Bed, Bath and Beyond. Copper, copper everywhere.

“You see, the copper keeps the drink colder,” people tell me all the time.

Now, copper is an even better conductor of heat than stainless steel, one of the reasons that copper is used in making the best cookware. This means that if you put a cold drink in a copper mug, it feels colder quicker on the outside, quicker than, say, glass, which is a particularly poor conductor of heat. This exterior cold is interpreted by the holder of the cup as the drink itself being colder. Coupled with the fact that many people drink right from the cup with their lips, or hold the cup in their hands, the feeling gets reinforced by the touch of the cold cup.
Another consideration is that a copper mug (or a stainless steel shaker, for that matter) will actually work the other way. Meaning that a heat source, (i.e. your hand, 98.6 degrees right?) will transfer that heat more readily to the liquid inside, making it warmer not colder.

Here are some other things to think about cold:

• Cold has a numbing effect; the colder something is the less likely you can taste it. Meaning that if you just paid big bucks for super-premium vodka, and are having it super chilled, congratulations, because you now can’t taste the tiny subtleties you just paid for.
• Most wine experts believe that white wine is not supposed to be served ice cold. White wine is best between 49 and 55 degrees (slightly below optimum cellar temperature) and red wine is best between 62 and 68 degrees (slightly above). For those drinking their super-pricey chardonnay from an ice bucket see above.

• In my experience, glass cocktail shakers actually make colder drinks than stainless ones, and glass serving vessels keep drinks colder than metal ones. But then, what do I know?

• In the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” the cold is just an excuse for bad behavior. Just saying.