26 May 2014

The Oldest Cocktails You'll Ever Drink

When Fefe Noir and caribougrrl go foraging for prehistoric water, it's just the tip of the iceberg...

It's a brilliant year for icebergs in our neck of the woods.  The more icebergs that drift down from Greenland, the more likely we are to find bits and pieces washed up on shore.

Along some parts of Newfoundland's coast, collecting iceberg pieces to use for cold drinks or to melt for fresh water is an annual ritual.  Down here in the southeast corner of the island, availability is a bit more hit and miss.  It's a good year for icebergs, so we've been scouring the coast for washed up ice and undertaking the terrible job of testing cocktail recipes worthy of ancient ice cubes.

Starting with the obvious ingredient of locally brewed Iceberg Beer (if you can't find this, substitute with a mexican lager), we bring you two cocktails perfect for drinking on the porch after mowing the lawn.

This beer-garita (left) and michelada (right) are made made with beer brewed with iceberg water and chilled with a few hunks of iceberg in the glass.

Iceberg Beer Michelada

sea salt
Use an ice pick or a chisel to crack up the iceberg bits.
small hunks of ice chipped from an iceberg
juice of 1/2 lime
juice from 1/2 small sweet orange (like a satsuma or clementine)
2 tsp jalapeno syrup
most of a bottle of iceberg beer

Salt the rim of a tall glass.  Fill glass with ice. Add the other ingredients in the order they are listed, give it a quick stir and garnish with citrus wedges and sliced jalapeno.
Both cocktails are salty and spicy.  The tequila gives the
beer-garita (left) a bigger kick.  The orange juice sweetens
the michelada (right) just enough to temper the salt.

Iceberg Beer-garita

sea salt
small hunks of ice chipped from an iceberg
juice of 1 lime
3 tsp jalapeno syrup
3/4 oz. silver tequila
iceberg beer

Salt the rim of a tall glass and fill with ice.  Add lime juice, tequila and syrup.  Give it a gentle stir then top up with beer.  Garnish with slices of fresh jalapeno and a wedge of lime.


(Ground-based) Iceberg Foraging and Handling

If the tide and currents are just right, you might come across a beach littered with car-trunk sized pieces of iceberg.  These are small in the grand scheme of an iceberg life, but they can be rather awkward to lug around.  Not only are they hard to get your arms around, but they're slippery as all get out.

The icebergs we see along the Avalon peninsula in the
southeast of Newfoundland have traveled about 3000 km
on their trip from western Greenland.
Foraging for usable iceberg pieces is serious business when you don't have a boat.  (We don't have a boat.)  You have to find bergy itty-bits that are big enough to make it worth the effort of bringing them home, but small enough you can wrangle them from the beach to the trunk of your car.  You are also confined to accessible beaches, and the tides and bergs are not always cooperative.

As the icebergs melt and crack and fall apart, small pieces
sometimes drift close enough to shore to capture.
Go for a drive, sticking to coastal roads.  Try not to be distracted by the spectacular view of gigantic, prehistoric, hunks of ice floating around willy-nilly in the ocean.  Be aware of them though, because they are a good sign that you might find some washed up bits, particularly when there are trails of broken up bits and pieces drifting toward shore.

The first day we went out looking for beached iceberg was the hottest day we've had yet this year.  The sun was shining, it was warm enough to wear short pants, and it was the Saturday of a long holiday weekend.  The holiday weekend when people head out to their cabins and summer homes for the first time in the year.  The holiday weekend at the beginning of tourist season.  There were people everywhere.  Every tiny, barely used side road, every dirt track down to a beach, every lookout.  But not one hunk of ice washed up... at least not one that has survived the eye of other iceberg foragers.

So here's another tip:  go out on a cold, foggy day.  Less competition.

To increase your chances of being the person in the right place at the right time, go iceberg foraging on cold, foggy days when the competition is low.
When you do find washed up ice on a beach you can get to, you want to be sure it's iceberg ice and not annual sea ice.  The pressure of thousands of years of snowfall accumulation results in a very hard ice, much harder than what's in your ice cube trays at home (sea ice is comparatively soft).  Most strikingly, iceberg ice is filled with tiny bubbles.  The same way the ice is made from water which froze 12,000 - 100,000 years ago, those bubbles are filled with air from the same time period.  Prehistoric water, prehistoric atmosphere. 

All those tiny bubbles in the ice are what make icebergs
appear white in colour.  They also contain air from tens
of thousands of years ago when the ice formed.
Despite all that air, the ice is heavy, so remember to lift with your legs.  If you have a pair of gloves handy, this will make the trip back to the car with your armload of ancient ice more comfortable.  You will get wet.  Waves will inevitably wash over your feet while you are wrestling the ice up to the tide line.  Your shirt will be soaked from carrying the berg, because, well, it's wet to begin with, and your body heat is enough to melt it a bit while you lug it.  So either wear your rubber boots and rain suit, or consider the frozen wetness a hazard of doing business... part of immersing yourself in the experience.

(Your mother-in-law's job during iceberg foraging trips is, apparently, to provide helpful advice from the back seat of the car.  She will be worried about your wet shirt.  Pay her no mind, it's not actually possible to catch the flu from an iceberg.  Also, unless you only took fist-sized pieces, she is wrong about it melting before you get home.)

If you wade out at all to retrieve ice, bear in mind that the water is still really cold this time of year.  Unless you're geared up with insulated waders, don't stand in it for too long.  Even prehistoric ice in your drink is not worth hypothermia.

Once you get it home, let the ice sit out for several hours to shed the salty seawater and any other surface contaminants.  If necessary, use a hammer and chisel to break it into hunks which will easily fit in your freezer.  Wrap well and freeze until needed.  Use the chisel again (or an actual ice pick) to break into drink-sized hunks.

If you want iceberg water, chisel into pieces small enough to maneuver into food-safe containers and leave it out to melt.  Bearing in mind that we've stopped heating the house because it's May (never mind that it's only a few degrees above freezing out, I'm in winter-denial): a large saucepan filled with iceberg pieces took nearly 3 days to melt completely, but there was enough for a pot of coffee by the time a day was gone.


Why bother with icebergs?  

There's something incredibly compelling about knowing you are holding the air and water that existed tens of thousands of years ago.  If you buy the local propaganda around iceberg products, this is water in it's purest form.  The scientist in me would argue that distilled water should be more pure, but there's no romance in distillation.  To be fair, this ice was formed before humans started burning petrochemicals and tossing plastic into the ocean, so the air and water is untainted by the industrial age.  I'm willing to forgive a bit of volcanic ash and some woolly mammoth farts captured in the Greenland glacial sheet, and think of it as the cleanest water available.  Plus, it's really really old, and that's just super cool. (Heh.  Get it?  Super cool...)
Get some really good coffee beans and use iceberg water
to brew up what might be the best cup of coffee you'll ever

Definitely use the ice in cocktails. For one thing, it's a great conversation starter at a party.  For another, it's an excellent way to show off in front of your friends.  But also melt some water out and make coffee with it.  Trust me, it makes a seriously good cup of coffee.  Do NOT, however, waste iceberg water on Folgers or Maxwell House.  Go out and buy some really good coffee, in the form of fresh-roasted beans and grind it yourself.  Serendipitiously, we recently won some great coffee from Got My Beans through a The Food Gays giveway... definitely iceberg-water-worthy.

Choose ice that is small enough to handle, but big enough to be worth the effort of  the expedition.  After that, the choice is arbitrary.  This one reminded me of Tiktaalik emerging from primordial soup.  I left it because, well, it's creepy.
One of my all-time favourite Newfoundland words is "maggoty" and although the Dictionary of Newfoundland English will tell you the word refers primarily to salt cod which is full of blow-fly maggots, I've never heard it used to refer to actual maggots.  In my experience, it simply gets used to express that something is riddled with something else.  St. John's is maggoty with tourists in the summer.  The coast is maggoty with icebergs.

And it is, this year.  Maggoty with 'em.  The icebergs.  We're having a crummy, cold spring (minus that one Saturday), but it's a spectacular year for bergs.  Drop everything else and take advantage of it.

The best time to visit Newfoundland if you are hoping to see icebergs is during May and into early June.  


  1. Love it. We've done the Baccalieu trail and two trips to Twillingate already this iceberg season. Our trip to St. John's was foggy but we're already thinking Bonavista next. So many icebergs and so many amazing places to see them from. Might need to pack my boots next time. Watch out for the woolly mammoth farts!

    1. I read your iceberg post right after I finished writing this one... a sure sign that it really is unusually spectacular this year is that all the Nfld bloggers seem to be writing about it. I bet they're especially fantastic in the Twillingate area.

  2. Replies
    1. It is awesome, isn't it? Thanks for stopping by!

  3. One of the highlights of our trip to Newfoundland was kayaking within a few feet of an iceberg (also a couple humpbacks), in fact we could say one of the highlights of our entire lives. We tried iceberg wine, vodka, and loved the beer, even got to eat a piece of berg. Loved it!

    1. There is no way you'd get me in a kayak on this cold ocean, I am not brave enough for that! I'm pretty happy with good old terra ferma. ;) Sounds fabulous though. Terrifying, but fabulous.

  4. Oh NOW you are just showing off! "Just popping down to the coast to pick up an iceburg for our pre dinner aperitif's darling would you like me to pick up anything from the shops while I am out?" ;) Seriously though it is amazing how much you learn from someone elses life. Over here in Tasmania it would be a newsworthy event to have an iceburg wash up on the shore. It would have paparatzi following it around as it washed up and teams of scientists would descend on our humble little island to prod it and poke it till it melted and NO-ONE would get a single scrape of it to put into their cocktails believe me! How awesome that someone elses life involves dodging the maggoty tourists and finding their own personal iceburg to lug home! I am delighted and green with envy at the same time :) Sharing these cocktails on Pinterest so that someone else out there might be able to take advantage of these very special recipes...

    1. What I love about the miracle of the internet is what we can glean about the extraordinary-ness of the humdrum lives we all think we have. I am constantly amazed by what you are able to grow in your garden. I mean, QUINCES! Really? We can't buy quince for love nor money... they may as well be mythical.


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