We humans love to eat, and we love to drink. So it's no surprise that we're always trying to come up with solid forms of alcohol, to eat what we can drink. Alcoholic ice cream, dippin' dots, molecular mixology, and jello shots are all means to this end. So, when we heard about edible ice spheres, we knew it was our mission to boozify them.
It's Friday afternoon, you've made it through the long week, and it's time for Happy Hour, Gizmodo's weekly booze column. A cocktail shaker full of innovation, science, and alcohol. There's cool, and then there's super-cooled.
All credit where credit is due, this idea came to use from DIY master and one of our favorite YouTubers, NightHawkInLight, to whom you should all be subscribing. Watch the video above for the best, most-detailed walk-through of this process. We found a few differences when we tried it (which we'll cover below), but that video will give you almost everything you need to know.
Essentially, what we're doing here is dipping a balloon full of drank into a super-cooled cryo-fluid which will rapidly freeze said drank from the outside in, creating a tasty, icy, spherical shell with a liquid center. Sound fun? It is!
What You'll Need
- Dry ice
- 91-percent isopropyl rubbing alcohol (lots of it—like, a gallon-ish)
- Cooler: preferably a 2-gallon water cooler
- Party balloons
- Water bottle with a sport-top
- Tongs or a slotted spoon
- Marinate injector (about $4 from most grocery stores)
- Various boozes and mixers (detailed in the recipes below)
- Hammer and chisel (or screw driver)
- Razor blade or sharp knife
- Safety glasses and gloves
Dry ice, as we discussed recently in our Halloween episode, is way easier to find than most people realize. I went to the meat department of my local grocery store and got a seven-pound block for ten bucks. That's a lot of fun for not much money.
You need to be careful when handling dry ice, of course, because it's colder than -109.3 degrees F and it can give you frostbite within a matter of seconds. Use gloves when you handle it, and wear eye-protection when you chip away at it.
How To Do It
- Wearing your gloves and glasses, use a hammer and chisel (or standard screwdriver) to break the dry is down into smaller blocks that will fit into the cooler. Add the dry ice to the cooler first, while it's still empty.
- Open your windows so you have adequate ventilation. Slowly start pouring in the rubbing alcohol, one bottle at a time. It will create a great, thick, boozy fog. You don't want to breathe this, and you definitely want to make sure there are no flames nearby. This fog will subside as it gets colder and colder. Once it reaches a stable temperature it will boil more slowly, and then you'll be ready to go. If you cover it (but don't seal it!) you should get 12+ hours of use out of it.
- Rinse off the balloons a little in your sink. They've got talcum powder on them to keep them from sticking. It's not bad for you, but it doesn't taste good.
- Pour your cocktail (or some parts of it) into the water bottle with the sport-cap. (We'll go into more detail on the in the recipes below.) Then put the balloon over the water bottle, invert it, and squeeze to fill up the balloon. You don't want to make it too big. You're going for a sphere that will comfortably fit into your glass.
- Tie off the balloon and carefully lower it into your bucket o' cryo-fluid. We found a slotted spoon to be the best tool for this job. You want to make sure the balloon is completely submerged. If it tries to float to the top, keep gently pushing it down with the spoon. Again, do not try to do this bare-handed.
- How long you should leave it in will depend on how big it is, how thick you want its shell to be, and what the fluid is you're freezing (stuff with alcohol will freeze slower). The video said it only takes a minute, but we didn't find that to be long enough for any of the things we tried. We recommend checking it after a couple of minutes by pulling it out with your slotting spoon, and gently poking it with something to see how strong the walls are. If they crumble, then put it back in for more time. Some recipes took as much as ten minutes.
- Once the walls are thick enough, remove the balloon from the vat and quickly run it under some cold tap water. Isopropyl alcohol is not potable, which means you don't want to get any of it in your tasty dessert.
- Once rinsed, place the balloon into your glass or bowl, and use a razor or a sharp knife to cut open the balloon, it should peel away easily. You now have a lovely, fluid-filled sphere. For some recipes, you may be done here, but for most of the ones we tried, proceed to step nine.
- Using the marinade-injector, poke a hole into the sphere and suck out some of the fluid. Reserve that fluid for another drink. Then inject the spirit of your choice into the cryosphere. This is a surprisingly delicate operation. It's really easy to crack the ball, and/or you might find that the spirit simply leaks through and fills up the glass. That's okay; it's still delicious.
- Have at it with a spoon! But warning: take little nibbles at first. That frozen shell may be extremely cold.
What's Happening Here?
Pure alcohol has an extremely low freezing point—roughly -173 degrees F—so, even if it gets as cold as dry ice, it won't turn solid. However, by immersing enough dry ice in a pretty pure alcohol solution (91-percent isopropyl rubbing alcohol is about as high as it gets for consumers), you can bring the fluid's temperature to roughly that of the dry ice. We're talking a fluid that is colder than -100 degrees F (it killed my thermometer once it got past negative 60). That's cold enough to start freezing anything with moisture in it almost instantly. Including your fingers, which is why you should use tongs or a spoon for this operation.
Dry ice, for its part, doesn't melt, it sublimates. Dry ice is simply carbon dioxide (CO2) that's really, really cold. Sublimation means that it goes from a solid state to a gaseous state without a liquid state in the middle. When it's immersed in a liquid, it appears to boil, but that's really just the CO2 turning back into a gas, forming bubbles, and escaping to the surface.
Something else interesting happens with this experiment. We're used to alcohol being as thin and runny as water. But once it's super-cooled and it reaches a stable temperature (below -100 F) it becomes thick, and more viscous. The "boiling" slows down, and it moves like a thick, clear gravy. If you spoon some out and drip it onto a plate it'll instantly boil. You can also crack an egg into it and it'll instantly freeze into a weird sculpture. Which is awesome.
So, now that you know how it works, here are a few things to try.
Dark and Stormy
Ginger beer + dark rum. For this one we simply poured the ginger beer into the water bottle and filled the balloon with it. We froze it, and then injected the rum afterwards. Very straight-forward and very tasty. Considering there's no alcohol in the balloon we expected it to freeze quickly, but it still took a few minutes before it was solid enough to be removed. Also, because it's carbonated it will really try to float to the surface, so you have to be diligent about keeping it pushed down.
We started with a pretty standard margarita recipe for our model, but we doubled it to fill the balloon. Two ounces of fresh-squeezed lime juice, and one ounce of Cointreau went into the balloon before it was tied off and frozen. In a normal marg, that would be paired with ice and three ounces of tequila, which is what we attempted to add after the ball was frozen.
The result was incredibly sour. Why? Because we forgot to account for the lack of ice, which adds dilution, which is really important for the drink's flavor. For this reason, we'd recommend adding about an ounce of water to the balloon mix before freezing. It could also do with some simple syrup (or more Cointreau) because when it's that cold, you can't taste the sweetness as well.
This one was delicious. It's a wetter Manhattan than we'd normally drink, but for this recipe, it works. You want to use roughly one part sweet vermouth to one part bourbon and a dash of bitters (you can pour more bourbon on top afterwards, to make it more of a classic Manhattan). Pour the vermouth and the bitters into the balloon. Because of the vermouth's alcohol, it'll take a bit longer to freeze. We found that 8 to 10 minutes was about right. Once it's done, suck out as much of the vermouth as you can, and add the bourbon. It's super tasty.
Obviously, the sky is the limit here, and there are probably even tastier combinations out there (a White Russian sphere, perhaps?). If you come up with some, we definitely want to hear about it. Follow the safety precautions, but be creative and have fun. We'll see you next time for another Happy Hour.