In a quest to create exciting new cocktail variations, professional mixologists have turned to a wide range of surprising ingredients. One of the most interesting ingredients found in modern bars is dry ice.
Dry ice cocktails offer visual appeal – imagine a bubbly cocktail served in a tall glass with “smoke” pouring from the top! Dry ice cocktails are especially popular around the Halloween season; Halloween cocktail favorites with the addition of dry ice certainly do create an impact.
In this guide, we will explore everything you need to know about using dry ice in cocktails, including safety tips and why many bartenders prefer to skip this ingredient entirely.
What is Dry Ice?
Dry ice is the solid form of carbon dioxide gas, meaning it is solid carbon dioxide. In practice, dry ice does not melt but instead goes through a process called sublimation (where it turns from a solid to a gas without passing through a liquid state). Dry ice sublimates at a temperature of -109.2 degrees Fahrenheit.
When even a small amount of dry ice is added to liquids, it produces “dry ice smoke”, or a thick vapor. In cocktail preparations, the dry form of ice does not impart a smoky flavor that may ruin your drink.
One of the neatest tricks attributed to dry ice is that the smoke from dry ice sinks, as it is lower than air. Theater and movie productions often use dry ice to produce fog.
Commercially, dry ice is used to package foods and medicines for transport when conventional refrigeration is not available. Food-grade dry ice is consumed at a rate of thousands of tons each year.
How is Dry Ice Made?
Dry ice begins as a gas with a high concentration of carbon dioxide. As it is refrigerated in a cylinder, this gas begins to liquefy. The pressure in the cylinder is lowered, causing the temperature to drop. Eventually, the liquified carbon dioxide gas turns into a snow-like substance, where it is collected and compressed into chunks or blocks.
Dry Ice Safety 101
Although dry ice is relatively nontoxic, prolonged exposure to the fog can lead to a condition called hypercapnia, or elevated levels of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream.
A more important safety consideration is that of handling. Special handling is essential to ensure safety when using dry ice in bars or food service establishments. Never handle dry ice with bare hands; handling dry ice can lead to frostbite! It is critical to handle dry ice with tongs or protective gloves to prevent skin damage from occurring.
When using the substance to prepare a dry ice cocktail, be sure to only purchase food-grade dry ice. Some commercial supplies may contain contaminants and are not to be used in cocktails or food preparation.
Dry Ice Chunks
Dry ice in chunks is the most common commercially-available form of this cocktail ingredient. These chunks range in size from largish blocks to smaller slabs. The large chunks are useful in larger Halloween cocktails preparations. Add the chunks to a punch bowl filled with spirits, cranberry juice, ginger ale, and simple syrup and enjoy the sights as drinks smoke when served.
Break larger chunks with an ice pick as needed. Remember to never touch dry ice (or allow guests to touch dry ice) with bare skin or you might suffer frostbite, and never allow it to go into a serving glass (where it can be consumed by a guest, as they can suffer frostbite).
Dry Ice Cubes
If chunks or slabs are too large for your needs, dry ice can be found in cube form. The cubes are about the size of normal ice cubes and can be used in spooky cocktail preparation, such as in a cocktail shaker. You can typically buy dry ice in many grocery stores or icehouses.
Just like the larger pieces, small chunks must be handled carefully to avoid injury. The cubes are extremely cold and may cause frostbite if you’re not careful!
Storing and Using Dry Ice
Dry ice sounds pretty incredible as a way to add visual interest to your next party or gathering. You may wonder, though, how to store dry ice safely until it is needed.
Dry ice can be stored in the refrigerator, preferably wrapped in thick paper. Never store the dry ice in a plastic bag; the expanding gases can lead to a surprising “explosion” that may startle your guests.
To prepare dry ice, break it into chunks or cubes with a pick or hammer until it is the size you need. For a smoking cocktail in a martini glass, you will only need a few small pieces. Larger drink mixes may require larger chunks. Store the unused dry ice in the fridge or freezer until needed. Also, note that we don’t recommend actually handing the smoking cocktails to guests (but rather use it as a display), as they can burn themselves.
Is it Safe to Serve Dry Ice Cocktails?
While the substance itself is relatively safe, many bartenders prefer to steer clear of this ingredient.
Why should you substitute regular ice for the dry stuff? One of the concerns is that a patron may drink dry ice, leading to a mouth or throat injury. Remember, dry ice is a decoration for visual appeal, not a consumable ingredient. Accidents can and do happen, and dry ice drinks have led to several serious injuries.
As a decoration for Halloween cocktail favorites, it is a perfectly safe and camera ready effect that can dazzle your party guests. Just remember to use safety precautions when handling it and enjoy the incredible smoking effect!