Call it an Icee®, Slurpee*, slush or slushy*, adult versions of shaved ice drinks with alcohol are certainly an delightful advance on the shaved ice or snow with syrup enjoyed in China 4,000 years ago.
This is the frozen dessert that traveled to Persia and later to Italy. On the dinner table along with plenty of wine, surely someone must have splashed some alcohol on it. (Arabic people drank alcohol until the early 7th century C.E., when the Holy Prophet Muhammad proscribed it.)
(That shaved ice evolved into granita, sorbet, snow cones and modern shaved ice (a form of granita). A Florentine Renaissance Man adapted the idea and made the first ice cream. Here’s the history of ice cream.)
Then there’s the present: A company called Beyond Zero has developed a technology that will freeze alcohol. It will be available soon, and will not likely be priced for home use (unless your home has 100 rooms).
The beginning of the American frozen drink trend, frozen Margaritas, started in Houston around 1935 with the blender Margarita.
It reached its zenith with the invention of the frozen Margarita machine in 1971, which greatly enhanced the demand for Mexican restaurants. The history of that machine is below.
Then there’s the present: A company called Beyond Zero has developed a technology that will freeze alcohol, but it’s not yet available and will not likely be priced for home use (unless your home is a mansion).
The alcohol’s proof is double the ABV, alcohol by volume. So if a wine is 12% alcohol, it is 24 proof. Standard spirits are 80-proof: too much alcohol to freeze in a home freezer. You need to take some extra steps.
So first, let’s look at lower-proof spirits that will freeze into slush:
Even the strongest is 26 proof; and light beer is just 3 proof. Here’s more on ABV, or alcohol by volume. You double the ABV to get the proof.
You can’t use high-proof spirits and liqueurs straight to make slush. You have to lower them to 40 proof or less.
Do this by diluting the spirit: with water, a carbonated beverage or juice, even iced tea or coffee. If you dilute it beyond a 1:1 ratio, you can bring the mix to 40 proof, which will freeze (we used a 2:1 ratio).
You can make, for example:
Technique #1: Combine the alcohol in a blender with ice cubes or better, with crushed ice.
Technique #2: Pour the alcohol into ice cube trays and allow to freeze thoroughly (at least four hours). The cubes won’t freeze rock-hard like ice cubes. Tip: Smaller slush cubes will melt more quickly than large ice cubes; it’s a matter of personal preference.
Technique #4: The easiest way is to invest $30 in an electric shaved ice machine).
Technique #5: The hard way is to make a granita.
†Check the bottle. Some favorites, like Grand Marnier, are not liqueurs but liqueur blended with brandy and a higher proof (70% for Grand Marnier). Even the generic triple sec orange liqueur ranges from 30 to 60 proof.
‡St-Germain liqueur is Saint-Germain l elderflower liqueur is our personal favorite and the best-selling liqueur in history. It is a favorite mixer with sparkling wines.
WHO INVENTED THE FROZEN MARGARITA?
The original Margarita on the rocks began appearing in bars and restaurants along the U.S.-Mexico border in the late 1930s. An improvement on the first electric (1922), the Waring Blender appeared in 1935.
The Waring, which could efficiently chop ice, enabled the creation of “frozen” drinks”—a conventional cocktail made in a blender with chopped ice.
By the 1960s, slushy soft drinks (non-alcoholic) had become the craze among kids and adults alike. The concept and the machine to make them was invented by in the 1950s by Omar Knedlik, a Dairy Queen franchisee. He did not have a soda fountain, so he served semi-frozen bottled soft drinks, which became slushy and were immensely popular.
This gave him the idea to create a machine that made slushy sodas, resulting in the ICEE Company. They were a huge hit, and in 1966 7-Eleven purchased machines to sell their proprietary-brand Slurpees.
Yet no one made the leap to using the machine for frozen cocktails.
At that time, frozen drinks were made by bartenders in a blender with ice cubes.
But it wasn’t a great solution.
Thanks to Mariano Martinez of Dallas for creating the first Frozen Margarita machine, in 1971 (photo courtesy Herradura Tequila).
In Dallas, a restaurant manager, Mariano Martinez, could not deliver frozen Margaritas to the satisfaction of his customers—who no doubt were comparing them to the Slurpees from 7-Eleven. His bartenders complained that the blender drinks were too time-consuming to make.
One day in 1971, Martinez stopped for a cup of coffee at a 7-Eleven and saw the Slurpee machine. The light bulb flashed on, and Martinez bought and retrofitted an old soft-serve machine to make frozen Margaritas.
According to Brown-Forman, in 2006 the Margarita surpassed the Martini as the most ordered alcoholic beverage, representing 17% of all mixed-drink sales.
Martinez’ original machine is now in the Smithsonian. You can see a photo here.