Tuesday, July 12th, 2016
The newly rediscovered interest in slushy cocktails has resulted in me being inundated with questions about how to properly operate a slushie machine. And so, as has always been my mission with this website, I’m here to try to help. You see, for the longest time operating a slushy machine was a lengthy experiment every time I attempted it. My process typically looked like this:
- Make a big batch of cocktails.
- Adjust the recipe to taste.
- Pour it into a slushy machine.
- Wait many, many, many hours for it to get cold enough and hope the texture was right, fingers crossed.
- The texture isn’t right. Shit.
- Try adding some more water. Now we need to get it back down to the right temperature. Wait an hour.
- That made it too watery. Try adding some simple syrup. Wait another hour.
- That seems better. But it’s still kinda chunky-looking.
- Add some alcohol. Wait another hour.
- Okay, now it tastes too strong. Maybe if I add a little more simple syrup, a splash of water, and a little juice. Wait an hour.
- That kind of seems to be working, but now I’m a little drunk from tasting this thing ten times.
- Oh, the event is starting in ten minutes.
- Good enough, I guess.
Obviously that’s a lot of steps, and way too much trial and error to make it a feasible thing to do regularly. But there has to be some sort of formula, right? Well, I did some research, and it gets really confusing, really quickly. There are formulas, there are opinions, there are arguments online, and there is a whole lot of puzzling contradictory info.
I talked to bartenders, and they’re even confusing. There are some who claim to be experts, but after some gentle prodding you discover they’re using the trial and error method I was trying to avoid. And finally I found someone who knows what he’s talking about, my good friend Cameron Bogue. You see, Cameron oversees a shit-ton of slushy machines at the massive restaurant group in Canada he works for. And he told me exactly what you need in order make your slushy drink work. Ready?
It needs to be between 13 and 15 Brix.
And that’s pretty much it. Brix is the unit of measurement of sugar in a water solution. One brix is equal to a gram of sucrose per 100 grams of solution. And, of course, there’s a whole lot of other complicated shit that you can read about that goes along with the topic, but as someone who’s going to put a Daiquiri in a slushy machine, all you need to know is that your Daiquiri needs to be between 13 and 15 Brix.
And how do you figure that part out? Easy. First off, go get yourself a portable refractometer. They’re cheap, and they’re actually kind of fun to use. Once you’ve received your one piece of specialty equipment in the mail (uh, yeah, other than the slushy machine, I guess) then you’re ready to whip up a batch of frozen cocktails with no trial-and-error required.
First, figure out your recipe. You can do this by using the methods I outline in Chapter 9 in my book (shameless plug), or you can throw caution to the wind and just do it to taste. I’ve done it both ways for use in slushy machines and it does not matter. The only two things that matter are that the drink taste good, and that the sugar content is between 13 and 15 Brix.
Next, you need to dilute the drink a little. Drinks are pretty rough at full strength, and you’re likely going to have to do it anyway once you start checking the brix, so go ahead and throw some water in there. I like to start with 20%. Want an easy way to do that? Figure out the volume of your cocktail (real easy to do if you’ve got it in a big measuring container) and multiply by .2 – That’s the amount of water you’re gonna want to add.
Okay, now the fun part. Take the pipette that came with your refractometer and grab a few drops of that cocktail of yours. Put it on the glass and close the slide cover.Hold the refractometer under a light and look through the lens. Read the total brix.
Now this is where you’ll make adjustments. Honestly, if the drink tastes balanced, it’s probably pretty damn close. If it’s not, well, maybe making balanced drinks isn’t your strong suit. That’s okay, we’ll fix that now.
Brix number too high? Just add a little water to the mix, a bit at a time, until you come in between 13 and 15 Brix. (Don’t forget to stir.) Brix number too low? Add some simple syrup, a little at a time, until you come in between 13 and 15 Brix. This is what you’ll see when you look through that refractometer, by the way:
I like to chill the mixture overnight, if I can. Getting it as cold as possible means it will take less time to come to temperature once you pour it in the machine, but if you can’t do that, it won’t negatively affect the taste or texture of the drink, it’ll just take longer to coldify. Once you’re ready, pour it in the machine and turn the machine on. This takes a couple of hours, at least. But once it’s nice and cold, you will have a perfectly slushy cocktail, provided you got it between 13 and 15 Brix. Your drink will look like this and you will be something of a hero.
And that’s pretty much it! A few notes, just off the top of my head:
- Yes, I’m aware that straight vodka does come in between 13 and 15 Brix. Alcohol does register as sugar on the portable refractometer. Bear in mind that I’ve never tried dumping straight vodka into a slushie machine to see if it would slush. Someone please report back and let me know if it works.
- Sours are the best drinks to experiment with at first. So, Margaritas, Daiquiris, Sidecars, etc. They’re basically built to come in at the right Brix number already. Once you’ve gotten a feel for making slushy sours, then I would recommend experimenting with the trickier slushy drinks, like Manhattans, etc.
- I know lots of you have been wanting a slushy Negroni recipe. Sadly I no longer have my notes from the last time I did that a few years ago, but here is the version I make in a blender at home. Feel free to scale it up and adjust for Brix:
1 oz gin
1 oz Campari
1 oz sweet vermouth
.75 oz 2:1 simple syrup
juice of 1 orange
2 oz water