What is the single invention that has had the greatest effect on the modern cocktail?
I was recently asked this question by a friend of mine. Take a second and think about it. According to convention, cocktails have been around since that oft-cited newspaper article in The Balance and Columbian Repository which first defined the drink in 1806. Since that time, the one invention that has been the most revolutionary for the consumption of “stimulating liquor composed of spirits of any kind, sugar, water and bitters,” has been the advent and popularization of refrigeration.
Think about it, one of the most important aspects of any cocktail is ice and serving temperature. Though we now can hardly think of creating a cocktail without ice, this article from the early 19th century never mentions it. When we drink cocktails we rely a lot on refrigeration to deliver the refreshing experience that is characteristic of a well prepared cocktail. From the chilling of glasses, to the making of ice, it is hard to imagine what cocktails were like before refrigeration was widely available.
The lack of ice definitely affected the cocktails of old. Take for example, The Pink Gin, this concoction of gin and Angostura bitters that was developed by the British Royal Navy was made to be served at room temperature.
However, in America, the use of ice in drinks was popularized much earlier. Though the modern concept of Refrigeration only became a reality in 1842, and really didn’t become widely popularized for home use until the 20th century, ice was still made available to Americans since the 1830’s.
The industry of ice, was developed by one wealthy Bostonian, Frederick “The Ice King” Tudor. The hard-nosed prototype of American entrepreneurship, whose exploits are documented by Gavin Weightman in The Frozen Water Trade, brought a revolution to the domestic life of Americans. As a young man, Tudor, declined the opportunity to attend Harvard University, electing instead to enter into the world of business. While traveling, Tudor dreamt up the then ridiculed pipe dream of cutting up ice from the ponds of Boston and transporting it for trade across the country.
Though his first attempts were ill-informed (and indeed he would contend with various challenges throughout his life-long endeavor), with schemes such as trying to preserve the ice with salt, The Ice King eventually found a way to effectively insulate the ice for transportation. Frederick spearheaded a completely new industry, and his exploits were (ironically) taught in Harvard business classes as the quintessential example of entrepreneurship. Frederick brought in a revolution to domestic American life. Because of his endeavor, we saw the development of an American tradition of an ice man, who would come around every day, and put ice into the ice box so that people could preserve their food.
We also have Tudor to thank, in part, for the introduction of chilled beverages into the cocktail scene. As Weightman discusses in an interview with NPR, Tudor did some promotional work for iced drinks. At a time, when it was a bit of a novelty to drink something that was chilled, Tudor advocated for bartenders to begin to use ice in their drinks. As fans of non-room temperature cocktails, we here at The Portland Pour tip our hats to the cocktail contributions of “The Ice King.”