Hidetsugu Ueno on the Art (Not the Science!) of Ice

Hidetsugu Ueno is one cool dude.
Master bartender Hidetsugu Ueno traveled all the way from Tokyo to attend Eben Freeman's Cocktail All-Stars events this week. Known for his hard shake, artful ice-carving skills, and the pinpoint precision with which he mixes drinks at his Tokyo cocktail den, Bar High Five, Uneo is something of a mythical figure in the mixology world, both in his native Japan and in quaffing hubs around the world.

On Tuesday night, at Madame Geneva, which is hidden in the nether regions of Double Crown, he demonstrated for the bartenders in attendance how to carve the perfect chunk of ice for a rocks glass. Fork in the Road caught up with the Japanese cocktail wizard to ask just what is the big deal with frozen water anyway.

What is the secret to perfect ice?

Clarity is most important. And cut. Like a diamond. You want many faces. And all the [faces] should reflect light. That's it. It's just eye candy.

What the science behind it? American bartenders are always talking about the science of mixology.

Nothing! The ice that I use takes at least three days to be processed. I say what is more important is what it looks like.

Where is the best ice from? Harvested from a natural habitat or man-made?

We have a really huge ice factory near Tokyo and we get delivered a huge block of ice from the factory every single day. Then, we cut it into smaller pieces. The process is many different stages of filtering. You want pure water.

The majority of the land in Japan is mountains surrounded by lots of rivers, so clean water is pretty much everywhere. In addition to that, we have a long-standing [fishing] culture. So, making great ice was already there. Japanese bartenders are using this background.

What can Americans learn from the Japanese on the subject?

For us, it's really easy to get a block of ice. But it's difficult to get a big block of ice in this country. I also don't know about the quality of the water. So, I don't know what Americans can learn. It's a different situation; different techniques should be used.

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