Top Bartender Kevin Beary’s Current Obsession: Shaved Ice
The Chicago bartender who runs the Bamboo Room’s cocktail program is using a Japanese shaved ice machine to create exciting new takes on classic drinks.
Craft cocktail bartenders think a lot about ice. From giant balls and long spears to crystal clear cubes, ice has been essential to the rebirth of the cocktail.
That is, except, shaved ice. But Chicago bartender Kevin Beary is trying to change that.
Just take a look at his unique twist on the classic Daiquiri that he serves at the Bamboo Room, a 22-seat oasis that opened last February, which is tucked inside acclaimed tiki bar Three Dots and Dash. You’ll get a coupe filled with a heaping mound of pineapple-flavored shaved ice as fluffy as it is frosty. Next to it, you’ll find an oversized clam shell with a rum-filled carafe nestled in a bed of ice. Pour the concoction into the glass and watch snow-like ice dissipate to perfectly fill the glass.
“It’s a bit of an interactive service,” says Beary. “It’s almost looks like the way when you pour liquid on cotton candy—the whole thing just like implodes into itself and you’re left with this super light, almost slushy consistency in the cocktail.”
To achieve this unusual and ultra-refreshing drink, Beary uses a hand-cranked, Japanese-designed Fujimarca MC 7-11 shaved ice machine. He first pulls a block of ice straight from the freezer, puts it in the machine and catches the shavings with a glass.
“It has definitely been my jam as of late,” says Beary, adding that he sourced the machine from Hawaii, where alcoholic and non-alcoholic shaved ice drinks are popular.
But his shaved ice doesn’t just chill a drink, it’s also an essential flavor element.
“To make the [pineapple] snow we take cold-pressed pineapple juice, some filtered water and just a touch of cane syrup and then freeze that into the block,” says Beary. He adds that as the ice incorporates into the drink, its flavor evolves. “As [the Daiquiri] sits, more and more of that pineapple flavor comes out into the cocktail.”
Beary first learned about the Japanese shaved ice machine and this technique from Dave Arnold, co-owner of New York’s Existing Conditions, and author of seminal book Liquid Intelligence.
Achieving the perfect consistency of ice is no simple chore. Beary says that he has to find the ideal ratio of sugar and juice to water so that it will freeze hard. Then, it’s all about timing it right so that the ice can temper to the perfect temperature for shaving.
The bar’s Daiquiri program has been very popular and one of the most successful drinks is a Manzanilla Sherry Daiquiri poured over a bed of pineapple snow. Another best seller is a Martinique rhum agricole based-Daiquiri served with cold-pressed watermelon ice.
Moving into autumn and winter, Beary also hopes to incorporate richer ingredients into his cocktails using the shaved ice machine.
“We have many other experimental blocks in the freezer right now,” says Beary. “We’re kind or trying to see how this works with a broader spectrum of flavors.”
These trial blocks include things like amari and vermouth, but are a real test of his skills, since alcohol doesn’t freeze well.
“You have a limit of how much [liquor] you can put in the ice for it to freeze correctly,” says Beary. “Even though you can get something to freeze, it doesn’t mean it’s going to make good snow. The more challenging you make the liquid with more suspended solids, the lesser quality of snow you wind up getting.”
But, he says, it’s worth pursuing, since he’d like to figure out how to incorporate as many ingredients and flavors as possible into his shaved ice.
“It’s just sort of ruined us to do any other style of frozen cocktails without [the machine],” says Beary. “It just works the best.”