How Should I Chill My Glassware?

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For most of us, chilling glasses and mugs should be easy: Throw them in the fridge for a few hours before the big party. But if you’ve ever left this task to the last minute, you know that it takes a while—even if they’re put in the freezer.

Chill Out

Cocktails reach their theoretical ideal temperature and dilution point when they’re poured out of the mixing vessel. Since they’re alcoholic, these drinks should be a bit colder than 32°F/0°C – the freezing point of water. Chilling the glass keeps the liquid inside cooler for longer. But don’t take it from me – Frederic Yarm has done extensive tests that demonstrated the difference.

Getting Cooler

The only real limit on methods to cool glassware is your imagination, but quite a few different approaches have been tried. Arguably the fastest (and most likely the priciest) is by using liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen is extremely cold, as it’s a liquid only between -346°F and -320°F. At these temperatures, it cools glass down really, really fast. However, it won’t shatter the glass because a layer of nitrogen gas forms around the liquid and acts as an insulator.

The two methods that Yarm compared for making cups colder were to put a glass in the freezer and to fill another with ice and water. Though freezing the glass took about a minute longer to get to 32°F, it will continue to get colder afterwards.

Another possibility is to hold the glass in front of the fan in the freezer. Like a convection oven, this fan creates a simliar effect by circulating air and keeping the temperature steady throughout the chamber. By keeping a glass in front of the fan, the cold air in that area is constantly replaced by fresh, colder air. If your freezer’s fan doesn’t automatically turn on when you open the door, you can place a battery-operated fan in the freezer directed towards your glass.

Yet another way is to wrap each glass with a damp paper towel before throwing it in the freezer. This tactic cools glasses down approximately twice as fast as ice water. Since freezers tend to be very dry environments, water evaporates quickly. Simply misting glasses with water results in the liquid pooling inside, which causes it to evaporate much more slowly. Using a wrung out paper towel distributes this effect to the whole glass.

A final way to cool a glass is to chill vodka (or, if you’re throwing a cocktail party, whatever spirit you’re using for the drinks) in the freezer and then pour it into the glass. Booze left in this environment will chill down below the freezing point of water. After its use as a coolant, the spirit can be poured out of the glass for later consumption. Since booze isn’t perfectly flavorless, it will still leave hints of its taste in the glass.

Hit The Lab

If you doubt Yarm’s conclusion, set up your own experiment, either with a method we outlined or one of your own. If you want to see the effect of a chilled glass on the cocktail’s temperature, make a full cocktail and divide it between a chilled glass and a room temperature one. Keep sipping, and note differences in tasting notes and temperature over time.

New York Cocktail

This whiskey sour variation pairs whiskey with lime juice, simple syrup, and a touch of grenadine. It’s a strange combination, but the result is a beautiful cocktail with candied apple and spice notes.

1 tsp grenadine (equal parts Pom and white sugar)
1/2 oz simple syrup (equal parts hot water and white sugar)
3/4 oz lime juice
2 oz bold rye whiskey

Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake vigorously for 15-20 seconds or until chilled through. Strain into a cold coupe glass.