July 08, 2007

The 3-Minute Chilled Beverage

So the problem is, you've got thirsty people on a hot summer afternoon, and nothing to drink but room-temperature beverages. What to do? Sometimes there's a low-tech solution:

Here is how he took beer from 80+ degrees to (seemingly) 40 degrees in about 3 minutes.

1. He took 6 hot beers from my garage and he placed them into a steel pot from the kitchen

2. He tossed in enough ice cubes to completely cover the beer

3. He then filled the pot with water

4. Next, and this is the trick, he tossed in (what must have been) 2 cups of table salt.

5. He took a large wooden spoon and stirred this thing up to be sure the salt dissolved.

6. He placed the concoction into the freezer and in 3 minutes we had ice cold beer.

Frankly, I wish I knew about this little trick years ago. Apparently this works for wine, soda, or anything. The addition of the salt does something that I am admittedly not qualified to explain. If we have any experts that want to weigh in, feel free. I do however know that this works.

Of course, anyone who has ever made ice cream with a hand-crank (or sell-out mechanical) ice cream freezer on a hot summer afternoon already knows that rock salt is key. I've never been quite certain how the salt brings the temperature down, but I assume that it has something to do with the accelerating speed at which the ice is melting.

Ah, here's an explanation:

Rock salt forces the ice surrounding the can of ice cream mix to melt. The "brine solution" or liquid that forms in the wooden bucket absorbs heat from the mix and gradually lowers the temperature of the mix until it begins to freeze. If there were no salt added to the ice, it would melt at 32 degrees Fahrenheit and eventually the ice water and mix would come to equilibrium at 32 degrees. The ice cream mix, however, does not begin to freeze until its temperature falls below 27 degrees. Therefore, in order to freeze the mix, we need a salt concentration, or a ratio of 5 cups of ice to 1 cups of salt. At this concentration, our brine temperature should remain constant at 8 to 12 degrees F. This will give the rapid cooling and freezing that is essential to making smooth creamy ice cream.

So this is a terrific low-tech solution for quick-chilling beverages, but the whole thing breaks down in one place for me. The guy telling the story reports that he would have had more chilled beer, but his refrigerator was full. How could his fridge be full, and yet he has room for a big steel pot with six beers in it in his freezer?

This guy has got to be single. Anyway, another low-tech solution that would also work would be to fill a cooler ahead of time with beverages of choice if you have people coming over on a hot summer afternoon. This requires the ultimate low-tech solution to many of life's problems -- planning ahead.