The olive is perhaps the most iconic cocktail garnish of all time. But for the entirety of its existence as a cocktail adornment, the olive has been largely confined to the coupe glass, plunked down into the bottom of a Martini, or skewered by a pick and left to dangle. That is, until now. In a seemingly simultaneous advancement across the bar world, olives are finding their way into a variety of rocks drinks—or more accurately, into the rock itself.
Of course, freezing edible items into ice is nothing new. In our age of specialty ice, everything from flowers to fruit has been frozen into cubes. Lately, however, crystal-clear ice has taken a turn for the dirtier.
At Hanky Panky in Mexico City, the bar’s particular brand of olive ice, in which the olive rests snugly in a carved-out niche atop the cube, was born out of practical necessity. “With the big ice cubes, there isn’t room in the glass we use to drop it into the drink or use a garnish pick, in which case you wouldn’t be able to take it out and eat it, either,” says general manager Gina Barbachano. To solve this issue for the bar’s Malaka cocktail—a mix of gin, cider and a white-wine cordial made with capers and shiso—Barbachano’s team developed a technique using a battery-powered drill equipped with a flathead bit to create a small cavity within the cube. It’s a quick, simple hack that can be replicated throughout a night of service. In its ice cave, the olive is not at risk of falling out when a sip is taken, nor does it need to be fished out from the bottom of the glass.
Elsewhere, olives are being frozen in their entirety within cubes of brine. Leslie Kirchhoff, founder of Disco Cubes, recalls a moment of inspiration seeing a wall of jarred pickled vegetables on a trip to Italy. “I had never seen olives aligned with such care, and I wanted to recreate the same beauty inside an ice cube,” she says. “I also loved the idea that the drink would get dirtier as the cube melts.” Kirchhoff featured olive ice in her book Disco Cube Cocktails, and she’s since gone on to highlight an example on her social channels, too. “For me, the appeal of the olive ice cubes is almost more about the beauty and the new take on something so classic,” she says. The idea has since been replicated and riffed on across TikTok and other social media platforms.
“I have frozen dozens of different objects into clear ice cubes, spheres, slabs, and other shapes, and a lot of those are in The Ice Book,” says Camper English, citing his forthcoming release, whose cover features a skewered olive frozen into an ice cube. “Freezing the garnish of a cocktail inside the ice cube that will go into the drink makes sense visually, and unlike plastic spiders and dice and whatnot, they’re definitely food-safe.”
In terms of practical tips for creating your own olive ice, Kirchhoff recommends using a dedicated ice tray to avoid contaminating your next batch of cubes with lingering aromas stuck in the silicone molds, and experimenting with different sizes, shapes and cuts of olives, as well as different amounts of brine. “Try freezing a few, and once you see—and try—your little works of art, see if there’s anything you want to change,” she says. “It’s all about the process, and the fun.”
English, for his part, is a proponent of incorporating a skewer into the design of the olive ice. He explains that with a cherry, for instance, the stem allows you to align it into proper place in the middle of a cube. “But olives either float or sink,” he says. “I experimented with wood skewers and bamboo cocktail picks to hold the olive in the middle of the tray, but they were hard to pull out of the ice afterward.” English settled on using a metal pick, and for the cover shot, left it in place. “I think the cube looks even better with the cocktail pick still stuck into it, like the sword in the stone” of legend, he says.
When in doubt, there’s nothing wrong with combining multiple techniques and formats into your very own super-saline creation. “My M.O. is that you can’t have too many olives, so the more the merrier,” says Kirchhoff. “I wouldn’t complain if there was an olive ice cube and olives on a pick or in a little side dish for an immediate snack, plus the little snack at the end as it emerges from the ice.”
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