At some point in your career as a home bartender, you’re going to want to start making mint juleps. Or Moscow mules. Or scorpion bowls. Or frozen margaritas. And you won’t have a blender. What to do about the crushed ice? You can use that funky stuff that comes out of refrigerator doors and never tastes right. You can wander from store to store to find an ancient bag of crushed ice, now frozen solid. Or you can make your own. As you begin expanding your home bar toolkit, it’s time to consider the Lewis Bag.
What’s a Lewis Bag? Essentially, it’s a sturdy canvas bag with a flap, fold, or tie that you can fill with ice cubes and beat till you get tinier ice fragments. We know you’ve tried to do this before with block ice (or in a plastic sandwich bag), pounding it with a regular hammer, or maybe the heel of your boot. What happens? The ice crushes, sure, but it also perforates the bag and makes a soggy mess. Maybe you’ve even tried wrapping ice in a cotton kitchen towel. That works a little better if you can keep the towel closed. Still, it quickly gets soaked. Soon, everything’s wet.
The Lewis Bag solves all these issues and more. The sturdy canvas won’t tear or leak. The flap keeps ice chips from shooting out like a miniature Emma Frost battling the Inhumans (or .. .the X-Men … we got so confused). It also wicks away all that unwanted moisture created by transferring energy from your arm to the ice (science!) so your ice isn’t “wet” when it goes into the drink. Seriously. You only want so much water dilution in the glory that is bourbon, sugar, and mint.
The whole thing couldn’t be simpler: Scoop a dozen or more ice cubes into the bag. Fold the flap over and pound the hell out of it five or six (or eight) times. A soft, wide mallet (think rubber mallet, meat tenderizer, or wooden specialized mallet) works better than a regular claw hammer. Use a sturdy surface (especially if you have downstairs neighbors), et voila! No mess.
There are a number of Lewis Bags available for purchase on Amazon, like this option from Viski. Cocktail Kingdom, which specializes in specialized bar tools, has a great bag-and-mallet duo (pictured). Cocktail mecca Portland, Oregon, is home to Bull in China, which also has a swanky set. But honestly? You can hack this if you need to. If you can sew a double stitch, you can make your own bag pretty quickly with fabric from Joann’s or Ace Hardware. If you can’t, hop on eBay and grab coin bags for a couple bucks. (This is where this whole thing started in the 19th century. You’ve seen old-timey bank robbers in movies stealing bags of coins.) As to the mallet: A block of wood or a wooden roller works pretty well in a pinch (keep the boots on), but here you’re risking RSI if you’re make a ton of drinks.
Pro tip: No matter how pristine the ice source, eventually cloth picks up a funk from that frozen water. Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Portland bar owner extraordinaire and author of The Bar Book (which you totally already have, right?), notes that you don’t want to wash your Lewis Bag in the washing machine with scented Tide Pods. Instead, flip it inside out, throw it on the top rack of the dishwasher (sans soap), and let it air dry.
Oh … and why is it called a “Lewis” bag? No clue. We reached out to all the booze historians we know, and looked through all the books. We even consulted YouTube “bartenders.” No luck. If anyone knows, please Tweeterfy or Facebook us. Until then, we’re going to assume its named after Vaudeville legend Ted Lewis.
Feature image courtesy of Viski.