Posted by: closetfolkie | February 28, 2008

Absolutely Icebox…

I actually became aware of the American fascination with ice within minutes of my arrival on these shores. For some first-time visitors to the US, their first wide-eyed observation of American culture may involve the size of some of the vehicles being driven on the roads; for others it might be the rampant cheerfulness and often unnerving enthusiasm of salespeople in retail establishments here. For me, it was the staggering amount of ice cubes that I witnessed being crammed into customers’ glasses in the airport bar.

Watching the bartender thrust a tall tumbler into a vast ice chest, and pulling it out full to the brim, I couldn’t help but wonder where the cola was supposed to go. I mean, it was obviously a great deal for the establishment, since they were charging a couple of dollars for what amounted to a thimble-sized serving, but what struck me was that there appeared to be nothing resembling a complaint from any of the customers.

I soon came to realise that this is because, by and large, Americans love their beverages cold. Very, very cold. In fact, if their water and soft drinks aren’t served to them at a temperature entirely suitable for the safe transportation of harvested organs, they become ripe for an emotional meltdown.

Even more alarming, in my view, is the fact that this colder is better routine includes beer. As such, it is commonplace to see drinking establishments proudly trumpeting, via the ubiquitous Coldest Beer In Town signs, not the quality of their beer, so much as its serving temperature. These are no hollow promises either; any colder, and you’d be in beer on a stick territory. And to further numb your taste buds (arguably, not a bad idea considering some of the mass-produced swill often found masquerading as beer these days) the beverages will often be served in a frosty mug plucked from a freezer (presumably just in case almost frozen beer is not quite cold enough for you.)

Refusing one of these frigid mugs can be a little tricky. Often, the server cannot comprehend a request for a room-temperature glass, and will give you the old raised eyebrow look, with the implied question “Why on earth would you want a room-temperature glass when we have a freezer full of ice-covered ones at the ready?” A snappy “Because I actually like the taste of beer” or some such retort might momentarily make you feel better, but it usually only results in assorted waitstaff peering from the shadows, nudging each other and motioning towards the heretic at table five who has the temerity to refuse a frozen drinking vessel.

Of course, if you really want to ruffle some feathers, you can always order two bottles of ale at once, explaining that while you’re willing, due to time constraints, to quaff the first one as is, and deal with the accompanying novocaine-like effects of the over-chilled ale on your throat, you’d like to have the second one sit for a while, and warm up to something approaching optimum serving temperature, so that you can actually taste the quality hops, barley and malt that you’re paying good money for. Be warned though, that this may lead to a uncomfortable conversation with the server, and possibly even the manager, who will inevitably hit you with the old standby, “So, why do you drink your beer warm in the UK ?”

Although I don’t ever recall thinking of the beer stored in damp 55-degree cellars in northern England, as warm, I suppose it’s all relative, conditioned as we all are, by our own culture. Spare a thought then, for the poor unsuspecting American tourist as he visits a pub in old Blighty, and try to imagine his shock as he realises that the tiny ice bucket perched atop the bar has not been duly assigned to his cocktail alone, but is actually intended for the use of the entire pub. This is, of course, great fun for the locals. They know that there are only about a hundred or so ice cubes in the entire British Isles at any given moment, so it’s almost inevitable that another Yank’s quest for ice will end in tears.

Understandably, this Stateside fetish for the frozen has resulted in craziness like the ice-brewed beer fad, in which the manufacturer simply adds the word Ice to the brand name in order to make it more enticing. Then, of course, there’s the iced-coffee drink phenomenon, where perfectly fine coffee blends are frozen into submission. Iced tea, I won’t discuss; it’s reprehensible and should be outlawed.

It’s all enough to make me wonder about how this national obsession might be exploited, for both positive and ill gain. In the case of the latter, one can only hope that terrorists don’t figure out that rather than attempting to bomb our airports or bring down our planes, they’re probably better off working on sabotaging refrigeration systems nationwide. One can only imagine the carnage.

At my current place of employment, the recent malfunction of the lunch-room ice maker offered a glimpse into the kind of pandemonium we could expect in the event of such a catastrophe. Supervisors were seen holding spontaneous meetings that served as updates on the repair schedule, as well as morale boosts for dejected, and occasionally near-delirious office workers who were no longer able to pour their already chilled, vending machine-dispensed sodas over cups already full of ice cubes. The poor dears.

The next day, several workers even brought in their own personal coolers with their own ferociously guarded, personal supplies of ice. Amid ever-increasing murmurings of discontent among the troops, one particularly gallant supervisor set off on a reconnaissance mission and was greeted with tumultuous applause and a near-mob scene when he returned with a dolly loaded with two oversized coolers full of ice. It was almost like the entire company was functioning in some sort of emergency mode. It was really all quite surreal.

On a rather more positive note, I wonder if Al Gore’s award-winning alarmism might be more successful in instilling a greater sense of urgency in the general population, if rather than just warning us of devastating coastal flooding in the event of melting polar caps, he were to somehow equate such a catastrophe with an impending, crippling ice cube shortage. I have to imagine that the duly threatened and desperate citizenry would then rise to the challenge of attempting to lessen their dependence on those damned fossil fuels. I rather believe that they’d be dumping their Hummers left, right and centre, in favour of fuel-efficient transportation. Some of them might even go so far as riding bicycles to work.

Now, that… would be the coolest.


  1. Hmmm…you may receive a rather chilly response to this article.
    Now, will you pass the ice?

  2. Brillant! Another well done ‘poke in the eye’ for us Americans from our favorite British cousin!

  3. Warm beer in Pubs and room temp soda pop in Maidstone…..brings back memories!

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