The Only Type Of Ice You Should Use For An Old Fashioned

The Old Fashioned is an all-American drink that is almost two centuries old, and today every aspect of it — from the ice to the bourbon and the bitters, not forgetting the garnish — is defined by aesthetics. The Old Fashioned came about in the early 19th century when people would ask for an "old-fashioned cocktail," and the first time its recipe was published was in a bartender's guide called Modern American Drinks in 1895, nearly a century later. Back then, the Old Fashioned was served with sugar dissolved in water, a piece of lemon peel, a chunk of ice, some Angostura bitters, and a "jigger of whiskey," as the manual put it — with a spoon to stir the concoction, per Whiskey Rebellion Trail.

Ice, though available, was not as easily attained as it is today. Before 1930, ice suppliers harvested it from frozen lakes and ponds and had the burden of transporting it to clientele, per Mental Floss. So, as far as the ice was concerned, one could not be too fussy, irrespective of how classy the establishment or fancy the drink was.

Why does the Old Fashioned need a specific type of ice?

Thanks to technological advancement, the bar has been raised for the Old Fashioned. Being a spirit-heavy drink, it requires large pieces of ice, per MasterClass, so they melt slowly, cooling the bourbon with minimal dilution, per Nio Cocktails. The latter ensures that the spirit keeps its flavor for longer. How does this work?

The smaller the ice particles (as in the case of cubed ice), the faster it chills the drink. With this said, the chill rate is proportional to the melting speed of the ice and consequently the drink's dilution, per Serious Eats. In the case of an Old Fashioned with its ice ball or sphere, the ice will melt slower because of its surface-to-mass ratio or, in layman's terms, its size. For this reason, an ice ball or a large chunk of ice is an essential ingredient in the Old Fashioned — not only for aesthetics but also for practicality.