The 3 Essential kinds of Cocktail Ice

Much ado is made of ice these days in cocktail bars. Nice bars no longer have ice—they have ice programs, and staff members dedicated to the work of breaking down large chunks of perfectly clear ice into beautiful hand-hewn cubes and spheres. And I think this is great!

One-inch cubes are just the right size for shaking.

One-inch cubes are just the right size for shaking.

Though we often don’t think of it in these terms, ice is one of the main ingredients in every cocktail, and if we care about the quality and format of our spirits and juices and so on, we ought to care about the quality of ice. In fact, one of the main reasons cocktails at fancy bars taste better than those you make at home may be the ice. While it doesn’t actually matter whether your ice is perfectly clear (though it’s awfully sleek and sexy when it is), the density, purity of flavor, and proper size of your ice does make a difference.

However, as esoteric as ice has come to seem, it all actually boils down—er, freezes down—to three principal types that are the most important. Here they are, plus an example cocktail in which to use each.

Cube Ice

Cube ice is, well, your prototypical ice cube. The workhorse of ice. The top-of-the-line ice cube maker for bars is called a Kold-Draft. It’s a spiffy machine that slowly makes approximately 1-inch cubes, freezing the water in one direction, making for very solid, nicely clear cubes. (Fun fact: The only certain way to prevent cloudy ice is to make sure the ice freezes in just one direction so the air bubbles are all forced out as the water freezes, instead of forced to the center.)

Having really solid, fairly large cubes of ice is important because when you shake a cocktail, you can shake the hell out of it for a good 15 to 20 seconds and the cocktail will get gorgeously aerated (what you want with a shaken cocktail) without over-diluting. They also work beautifully for stirring your stirred cocktails (stirring aims to properly dilute and chill while maintaining a silky texture).

Obviously you’re not going to get a Kold-Draft for your home, but you can make good cube ice using 1-inch cube silicone molds. Be sure to use clean tasting water and keep them covered or use them quickly so they don’t develop off-flavors in your freezer. Making sure your ice is free of weird flavors is even more important than making sure it’s a particular size.

If you only have small ice cubes, use more of them for shaking or stirring, but shake or stir for less time. Serve your drink up, or perhaps add an occasional ice cube as you drink it. Don’t fill your glass with tiny ice cubes that will melt in seconds. And, of course, for a long drink, something served on ice in a highball or Collins glass, good old cube ice is the simplest go-to. It feels silly even to give a suggestion for what to make with cube ice because it could be almost anything, but here’s a fun Middle Eastern-inspired cocktail—The Lady in the Bottle—we’ve been making that showcases the texture from shaking with good cubes.

Large Cube Ice

Large ice cubes (approximately 2-inch cubes) are generally more for the serving part of your cocktail experience, rather than the building part. They come into play when you’re serving a strong drink that you want to be on ice so it stays chilled, but you don’t want further dilutionbecause you’ve already stirred it.

The lowball drinks, like an Old FashionedVieux CarréNegroni,Boulevardier, etc., are great served with a large ice cube, as is any spirit on the rocks. Or try this boozy martini-blonde Negroni mash-up, The Marilyn.

"Crushed ice" is code for "adult slushie."

"Crushed ice" is code for "adult slushie."

Crushed Ice

Crushed ice is a necessity only if you’re serving the types of vaguely slushie-like drinks that are designed to be served on crushed ice. I rarely make any of these drinks, but if I do, there’s no substitute for crushed ice.

Julepsswizzlescobblers, and brambles, as well as some other tiki drinks, demand crushed ice. Without it, the frosty experience of those drinks simply isn’t the same. If you’re a fancy bar, you might invest in a machine that creates pellet ice. But for home, you can buy electric ice crushers that work pretty well. Otherwise, a canvas bag and a heavy mallet (or a towel and a rolling pin and a bit of unprocessed anger) can do the job of crushing ice just as well. Whack the ice inside the sack or towel until broken into irregular small-sized pieces, but err on the size of pea-sized or a little bigger when you’re crushing by hand so that the ice doesn’t get too melty.

If you want to try a crushed ice drink that’s not a julep or a swizzle, try this one we serve in our bar. We call it the Swedish Snö Cöne.

-Emily Vikre

Originally published on

Simple Syrup

Oftentimes when I’m at home making a cocktail it goes like this: Ice, Spirit, maple syrup, lemon or lime.


Do I use maple syrup because I am the archetypal Northwoods woman who maybe buys it in bulk and maybe has gone full on Elf at one point and poured it on noodles? (To be fair, there was also tahini and miso involved, I’m not completely mad.)


Sure. But I also do it because I’m lazy and sometimes I don’t want to make simple syrup after spending my workday making things that two short years ago I had never even heard of: Oleo Saccharum. Orgeat. Onmoraki.


But you, my dear reader, you are not lazy! (Or even if you are, you probably didn’t spend your workday making Oleo Saccharum, and therefore hopefully still have some energy that you can direct towards combining sugar and water.)  Which is why I think you’ll be glad to take a few minutes to put together some simple syrup for your home bar, your iced teas and coffee. Simple syrup is a bonafide summer staple and a perfect building block for so many great cocktails. And once you commit the “recipe” to memory, it is infinitely and entertainingly customizable.


Hey, remember that list of vaguely unpronounceable cocktail ingredients two paragraphs back? Well that last one is actually a Folkloric Japanese bird demon that I threw in to make this point: It’s totally OK to be a little baffled by cocktail ingredients these days. We get a lot of folks in the cocktail room that sheepishly ask what bitters are (to quote Emily Vikre “salt and pepper for cocktails”) or where to buy simple syrup (Do NOT buy simple syrup. Hence this article.) Great cocktails can be had at home with an exceptional base spirit (ahem, Vikre, ahem) and just a few basic ingredients. Here’s one to get you started and some ideas for gilding the lily.


Simple Syrup

·      1 part water

·      1 part sugar (white or brown depending on what flavor you’re aiming for)

Heat and stir till sugar dissolves then cool and store in fridge. (One cup water and one cup sugar will yield about 1 ½ cup simple syrup and generally speaking should keep for a month refrigerated.)

That’s it! It IS simple.


To this you can add any number or combinations of flavorings by adding them to the hot syrup and letting them steep until cool (or overnight if you want a stronger flavor) then straining or plucking them out.


Some ideas for things you can steep in your simple syrup:

  • Citrus Peels
  • Ginger
  • Cinnamon Stick
  • Vanilla Bean
  • Peppercorns
  • Cardamom
  • Chamomile
  • Rose
  • Jasmine tea
  • Earl grey tea
  • Basil
  • Thyme
  • Lemongrass
  • Rosemary
  • Mint
  • Celery
  • Chilies

Now make that drink! May I suggest…

For one serving

·      ¾ oz Simple syrup (infused or plain)

·      ¾ oz Fresh lemon or lime juice

·      2 oz Spirit of choice

You can build this in a glass over ice and either give it a good stir to dilute it a bit or top it up with soda water. You could also shake it (a mason jar works for this if you haven't been to our cocktail room to buy a fancy yet indestructible weighted shaking tin and a Hawthorne strainer.) and then strain into a coupe or martini glass.


Let us see what you get up to on Instagram using the #vikredistillery



A Midsommar Aquavit Party

The summer solstice (the longest day of the year, usually June 20 or 21), is quite a big deal in Scandinavia.  It makes sense, given that half the year is incredibly dark and rather cold (Scandinavia is up around the same latitude as Alaska), that the return of the sun would be celebrated in a major way.  In Sweden, Midsommar, as it’s called, is celebrated with huge festivals, dancing around flower-covered Maypoles, and lots of aquavit.  In Norway they call the solstice Sankthans Aften, and it is celebrated with huge bonfires along all the country’s many beaches, and of course with some beer and aquavit.       

Last year, we had a fantastic aquavit party to celebrate Midsommar and the introduction of our cognac-cask aged Voyageur Aquavit.  The one minor problem was that we are kind of disorganized and we didn’t manage to actually throw the party until, well, until September.  A mere three months late.  But, what we lack in timeliness and organizational skills, we try to make up for in enthusiasm and artistry.  So, when we finally had our party, we went all out. 

We enlisted a good friend of ours, Sue Watt, who is quite possibly the world’s most amazing event coordinator, and she also has an old barn and gorgeous property called Hemlock Preserve just a bit south of Duluth where she hosts events.  Sue filled her barn with magical Norwegian antiques, evergreen boughs, and pewter.  Entering the barn felt like walking into a fairyland.  Northern Waters Smokehaus provided a Scandinavian-inspired feast, Zenith Bread Project made us fresh-baked cookies for dessert, and of course, we were in charge of the cocktails!  There was a welcome song – sung by Joel and me – to the tune of a Disney Song, there were Norwegian drinking songs, and some aquavit descended from the ceiling across the barn, spilling dry ice smoke, to the epic reverberations of Also Sprach Zaratustra (you know, the theme from 2001 A Space Odyssey).    

So you may not be up for renting a whole barn to celebrate Midsommar (although, if you work on a similar schedule to us, you do have all the way until September to plan, so maybe you should give Sue a call!), but if you feel the urge to mark the official start of summer and the longest days of the year (which you should), we’ve outlined a menu below that you can execute at home.  You can make everything, if you want to go all out, or just choose a few of the elements, fill some jars with wildflowers, and invite over a few friends.  Just make sure you have aquavit.


Welcome drink:  Sommerland Punsj

For 8 people

·      2 ripe peaches cut into slices

·      12 oz. Voyageur Aquavit

·      8 oz. Dolin Blanc Vermouth (not to be confused with Dolin Dry)

·      6 oz. lemon juice

·      4 oz. simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water mixed until the sugar dissolves)

·      16 oz. soda water

In a large container or pitcher, mash the peaches to release their juices.  Stir in the aquavit, mixing it well with the peaches to pick up their flavor.  Strain through a fine mesh strainer.  In a pitcher or punch bowl, combine the peach-infused aquavit, Dolin Blanc, lemon juice, and simple syrup and stir together well.  Add ice in large cubes and stir.  Top with soda water and serve.

A Fizzy Drink Option:  78 Degrees North  

For one drink

·      1 oz. Øvrevann Aquavit

·      ¾ oz. rhubarb syrup*

·      ½ oz. lime juice

·      Dry sparkling wine

Shake the aquavit, rhubarb syrup, and lime juice with ice to chill.  Strain into a champagne flute or coupe and top with sparkling wine.

*To make rhubarb syrup, combine 8 oz. of fresh rhubarb, chopped into pieces, and 1 cup sugar in a blender.  Pour 1 cup boiling water into the blender, cover and blend until pureed.  Strain through a fine mesh straining, pressing on the pulp to get all the syrup out.  Syrup keeps for at least a week in the refrigerator.

 A Boozy Drink Option:  The Kaupang (a Scanhattan)

For one drink

·      2 ½ oz. Voyageur Aquavit

·      1 oz. Sweet Vermouth

·      3-4 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Stir all the ingredients with ice until well chilled.  Strain into a double rocks glass over a large cube of ice.  Garnish with a cocktail cherry.

The Traditional Drink Option:  Sip ice cold aquavit straight, accompanied by a beer (preferably a pilsner).


To begin, a chilled pea soup bright with herbs and swirled with tangy but rich crème fraiche.

And, of course, you can, and should, put together a Nordic-punctuated cheese plate with some Jarlsberg, Havarti, goat cheese, and rye crackers.

Next up, the über Scandinavian gravlax (cured salmon).  Serve this alongside some roasted fingerling potatoes and the traditional mustard sauce

For a main course, rub lamb chops with sea salt and crushed caraway and grill them (2-3 minutes per side) until medium-rare.  Serve accompanied with sauerkraut and roasted beets. 

Finally, set up a buffet of a few different kinds of cookies, some good vanilla ice cream and toppings for an easy dessert.  



Fall Cocktail Ideas! an illustrated primer

Summer is over, and with it go the light, airy evenings of sitting on the porch swatting at mosquitos and sipping on gin and tonics.  But that absolutely does NOT mean that it is time to put away your bottle of gin in favor of only whiskey and red wine.  No no no no no.  Don’t be so silly! Yeees, we make gin so maybe we’re coming at this with a little self-interest.  A lot of self-interest.  BUT, we’re also here in your self-interest because your fall cocktails are going to be so much more, well, interesting if you keep the complex herbal, floral, piney notes of gin in your cold weather drink line up (also pine = very fall-y and wintery, don’t you think?).  Plus, contrary to popular belief that aquavit is only for the winter holidays, we think aquavit is great in a lot of drinks all year round.  AND for the winter holidays (who’s looking forward to the 12 days of aquavit?!  We are!).

We have (well, Emily has) been playing around with all the seasonal ingredients fall has to offer -the fruits and spices and squashes that make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside like you just put a cozy sweater on your tummy  - plus richly flavored liqueurs and aperitifs, and have come up with a bunch of autumnal gin and aquavit cocktails for you to try.   And Emily has taken pictures of them and used her photo shop skillz to put words on them, like the hip food blogga lady she is. Behold:

cedar + cider w words

Cedar + Cider has become our new go-to fall drink.  Boreal Cedar Gin stirred (to taste) into sweet-tangy fresh pressed cider (hot or cold) basically tastes the way you’d feel jumping into a pile of crunchy golden leaves on a glorious fall day and then getting handed a mulled cider and a cider donut.  Dreamy.

oslo mule_1

When it comes to drinks with ginger beer, we’re not letting Moscow have all the fun.  So, meet the Oslo Mule (sometimes also known as the Swedish Mule, but we were bothered by the lack of parallel structure in the naming (ie Moscow is a city, Swedish is a nationality) because that’s the fantastic kind of people we are).  Or The Dark and Snowy and Stormy.  Or maybe we should just call it Winter is Coming.  Whatever you call it, the combination of Øvrevann Aquavit with ginger beer and lime is nice and spicy and so simple to put together.

balsamic fig g&t_1

If you’re not quite ready to let go of your g&t’s (we know we’re not!) and you also happen to love the tangy-sweet flavor of drinks like kombucha and shrubs (fruit infused drinking vinegar), try adding a spoonful of fig or cherry-infused balsamic vinegar (you can get infused balsamic vinegars from snazzy grocery stores or olive oil places) to a gin and tonic.  Bitter, sweet, tangy, poignant, complex.  This might be what nostalgia tastes like.

Or, you can try a whole line up of cocktails that highlight yummy fall flavors like cranberries, apples, maple, and pumpkin.  Ta-da:

Vikre Fall Cocktails

If you’re looking to try some drinks that are just a little more complex to make (muddling! vermouth! interesting bitters!), these ones are 150% worth the effort.

schmancy fall cocktails_1

And lastly, but not leastly, and no matter how you feel about the ridiculous profusion of pumpkin spice lattes on every corner at this time of year, you should obviously give the Pumpkin Spice Cocktail a try.  Obviously.  (This cocktail is surprisingly good.  Like, I made it with apprehension, and then we were surprised by how much we liked it and then we drank a bunch more of them.)

pumpkin spice cocktail

SKÅL friends!