Blended and Frozen Cocktails with Ross Simon of Bitter & Twisted in Downtown Phoenix

Frozen and frappe-style cocktails have had a few good seasons under their belts in larger cities like Chicago and San Francisco, but these frozen drinks have yet to gain real popularity in the Valley. (Though, to be fair, Joshua James of The Clever Koi did do Negroni snow cones for Negroni Week last summer.) And that's where Ross Simon of Bitter & Twisted steps in. Not only is he doing upscale versions of classics like the Piña Colada (with house-made, charred pineapple rum, mind you), he also keeps adding specials such as a frozen "Summer Irish Coffee" using local Cartel cold brewed coffee.

Naturally, we wanted to know more about what's chilling over at the bar. 

Q: What's so special about your water, and how does this influence your ice?

A: The nano filtration process helps our water reach the quality of bottled water by controlling the TDS [total dissolved solids] so it still has a great taste yet doesn't totally strip it of all its minerality. This causes our ice to be really pure, helping assist in increasing quality and taste in our cocktails. It's also not as wasteful as, say, RO filtration, which is an extra bonus when living in Arizona where conservation should be taking into consideration.

Q: The blender hasn't been "cool" in bars or at coffee shops since the 80's (would you agree?) — so what's the draw and why are we circling back? Is it time for bars to let loose again? In Arizona, of all places, frozen drinks...

A: The blender took a hit because most bartenders assigned it to the hotel pool or related it to cocktails which weren't were made particularly well. They blended cocktails that were made with "mixes" with high fructose corn syrup or other nasty or cheap ingredients. Now bartenders are realizing if you stick quality ingredients in that are fresh, and tasty, you can get amazing tasty things out of them that are fun and icy-cold. Perfect for one of the hottest states in the union.

Q: Tell me your favorite "frozen" drinks — on your menu, sure, but elsewhere as well? Does it lend itself towards tiki drinks, or is the reach and potential farther than that?
A: The B&T Piña colada with charred pineapple rum equals yum. Going in another direction, we did actually add another one called the "Summer Irish coffee". We took the classic winter cocktail and turned it into a refreshing summer version using Cartel coffee cold brew and Powers Irish whiskey as the base.

Right now in the bars I frequent around town I see a few frozen drinks popping up, I'm sure we'll see more with some really creative touches if more bars start taking up the blender. Micah [Olson] did make me a very tasty number over at CI (Counter Intuitive) at a special event which used amaro and was delicious. Frozen drinks love fresh fruit so tiki is a natural and logical direction for it to pair with.

Q: Any secrets to frozen cocktails? Any tips?

A: Use crushed or nugget ice to blend with. Don't use your solid cubes. It will take longer and destroy the life span or the blender blades and motor. Use half a cup of crushed ice to start, then add more if needed to end up with a great smooth frozen cocktail. If it stops blending and freezes up, just add a little more liquid get it blending smoothly again.

Q: Would you or do you already make frozen cocktails at home and if so, which ones?

A: I love making frozen daiquiris when someone brings a load of fresh fruit or berries to a bbq in the Summer. Just blend those puppies up with some fresh lime juice, a touch of cane syrup or honey for balance, and finally add a good measure of any good flavorful rum. Great for sharing and cooling you down on a summers day.

Q: How do feel about boozy snow cones? Too far? We went to a place in LA recently that was serving them out of a backyard camper van-turned bar... Given the setting, I'd say they pulled it off.

A: That sounds fun! Great example of right place, right time. I would say the same rules apply here. Quality ingredients are required or else you'll just end up with something cheap and syrupy; giving you not just sticky fingers, but perhaps a nasty little headache the next day as well.

Q: Any other comments on frozen drinks? Tell me anything you'd like to say or find interesting.

A: Frozen or blended drinks can be a lot of fun, but it's shouldn't be the be all and end all as far as cocktail menus are concerned. Adding just a couple of blended drinks helps to balance out the other stirred, built, swizzled or shaken techniques.
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Shelby Moore