A Bartender's Defense of Blenders

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Photo by House of Sims/Flickr CC

A friend once joked to me that, when starting a bartending job, his first act would be to throw a jigger in to the blender. Then, standing before the last gasps of the convulsing machine, he would tell the owner, "I'm sorry, the blender appears to be broken."

Such is the extreme hatred most bartenders have for drinks made in a blender, a hatred I admit I used to share. Yet as the weather warms, I'm drawn more and more toward frappe-style drinks, which are drinks served with crushed ice. Crushed-ice drinks are typically colder and more diluted than drinks shaken with thicker cubes.

So why not toss the same thing in a blender with ice? It's not a far stretch. In fact, hearty spirits and viscous, sugary, or creamy beverages can all take the beating--consider them the spoiled brats of ingredients because they're ultimately better off for the heavy hand.

Dismissing Tiki drinks for their need of a blender is akin to a Jelly Roll Morton fan dismissing Herbie Hancock for his use of an electric piano--it's blatant Luddism.

My change of heart happened when I took the blender for what it is: a different way to process ice. After all, some classic-styled bars boast seven different types of ice but wouldn't be caught dead with a blender. Constante Ribalagua, a former bartending legend at Havana's famous Floridita, pioneered flash blending during the heyday of the classic daiquiri. Flash blending is pulse-mixing drinks in a blender. So you needn't use the blender simply to pulverize everything.

Also, my affection for Tiki drinks has grown exponentially and blenders are required for many Tiki-styled drinks. These are some of the great standards of post-Prohibition cocktails. Dismissing them for need of a blender is akin to a Jelly Roll Morton fan dismissing Herbie Hancock for his use of an electric piano--it's blatant Luddism.

Two complaints that I do sympathize with are: (1) that the whizzing of blenders is annoying and (2) that blender drinks are too often associated with alcoholic slushies. (Picture washing machine-like portals filled with blue, green, and red flavored high-octane ethanol on Bourbon Street.)

The complaint about the level of noise from a blender may be moot--sitting at some of the great classic cocktail bars while the shakers are blazing can be paramount to front row at a Pig Destroyer concert. Either way, it's still possible to add in the noise at a reasonable and responsible level. It just requires some forethought.

In the world of frozen drinks, the pernicious use of mixtures and syrups that are processed and manufactured with high fructose corn syrup is only equivalent to the use of similar mixtures at bars without blenders. In each case they should be eliminated. In other words, blenders don't make bad drinks--people make bad drinks.

For those who need their beverages to have some pedigree, George J. Kappeler, who authored Modern American Drinks in 1895, has a section on frozen drinks that expounds different methods to freeze and serve drinks, ices, sherbets, and punches. While he certainly didn't have the luxury of a blender--the Waring blender wasn't widely available until the 1930s--my guess is it would have been heartily welcomed.

Imagine how much time it would save making the Kirsch Punch, while doubtfully sacrificing quality.

Kirsch Punch

Mix two quarts water, three pounds sugar, the juice of four lemons, and one pint Kirschwasser. Put in freezer. When nearly frozen, whip eight egg whites firm; mix in and freeze again.

The truth is those damn blenders make a mess, make a whole lot of noise, make a few bartenders mad and, most importantly, make delicious drinks. My suggestion: give them a whirl.