Frozen Alcoholic Drinks Are Not The Same

How to Make Better Frozen Drinks

It wasn’t that long ago that a frozen drink machine on the back bar was a neon warning sign. Neon colored frozen alcoholic drinks were overly sweet chemical cocktails sure to induce the worst kind of hangovers. But you can’t deny the joy of an ice cold brain freeze inducing cocktail on a blazing hot summer’s afternoon. Now, thanks to some creative bartenders a lot of those machines are now cranking out some pretty tasty adult slushies.

You probably don’t have a frozen drink machine in your kitchen, so let’s take a look at the best way to blend your way to a better frozen drink. It’s not as simple as just throwing your standard cocktail in the blender and hoping for the best. There are a few tricks to making great frozen drinks.

Frozen AlcoholicDrinks
Margaritas – Photo by who_jennjones on Reshot

Differences Between Shaken Drinks and Frozen Drinks

The most important thing you need to know is this: Shaken drink recipes don’t work in a blender. A great frozen drink is a careful balance of ice, alcohol, sugar and acid. When everything comes together properly you end up with a drink that is actually colder than ice.

A combination of sugar, alcohol and flavor molecules are suspended in a bunch of tiny ice crystals. Execute it well and you will get a nice slushy texture and great flavor. Screw it up and you’ll get a watery mess of chunky flavored ice.

If you just add ice and blend a typical shaken drink recipe you’re going to get a drink with too much acid and not enough sugar. Your shaken drink recipe will also have too much dilution meaning you will end up with big chunks of ice or it will be runny watered down and possibly still have big chunks of ice in it.

Your extra cold drink doesn’t just give you brain freeze, it freezes your taste buds too. The perception of sweetness is dulled in an extra cold drink, but your perception of acidity stays the same. That means we are going to have to adjust the sweet to sour balance.

A blender is extremely efficient at diluting – a typical shaken drink recipe will give you a watered down drink. That extra water will not only dilute your flavor, it can also freeze into bigger chunks of ice and destroy your texture.

Sugar Content in Frozen Alcoholic Drinks

In frozen cocktails sugar does more than just sweeten the drink. It is also key to the structure of the drink. Sugar, along with alcohol, lowers the freezing point of the water in the drink. This is why these drinks are so crazy cold.

That extra low temperature dulls your perception of sweetness. You will need to add sugar to account for this. Generally increasing the amount of sugar by about 50% works well. In other words, if the recipe you are trying to adapt normally call for 1 ounce of sugar you will add 1 1/2 ounces.

Sugar is one of the big pieces in getting the texture right in a slushy drink. Just like in a sorbet it helps hold everything together and prevents big chunks of ice from forming in your drink.

Normally you would balance this extra sugar with acid, but colder temperatures don’t have the same affect on acid. So, we can leave the acid components the same and just adjust the sugar. This is why a frozen Margarita or Daiquiri works so well.

Alcohol Content in Frozen Cocktails

The other big factor in a frozen alcoholic drink is the amount of alcohol in the drink. Like sugar, alcohol lowers freezing point of the cocktail. If you have too much alcohol the drink won’t freeze and you’ll end up with a runny mess.

On the other hand, a little alcohol will help keep things nice and slushy. You don’t want to skimp either. The optimum level is somewhere between 10 – 14% ABV. That will get you a nice slushy consistency similar to what you’ll get from a frozen drink machine.

As a general rule of thumb if you are using a standard 40% ABV or 80 Proof spirit you will need 1 ounce of spirit for every three ounces of other ingredients. In other words, 4 ounces total liquid is about 120 ml. One ounce, or 30 ml, of spirit at 40% gives you 12 ml of absolute alcohol. That means you have 12 ml of alcohol in a 120 ml solution, or 10%.

You will have to do a little bit of similar math to figure it the amount you need for higher or lower proof spirits and liqueurs.

Ice / dilution / temperature

  1. Get the amount of ice right
  2. Try using crushed ice
  3. Pre-freezing and blending
  4. Try different lengths of blending time

Basic Frozen Sour Recipe

This recipe is adapted from Dave Arnold’s book Liquid Intelligence. It is designed to be adapted to work with a variety of spirits.  

Course Cocktails, Drinks
Keyword frozen alcoholic drinks, frozen cocktails
Servings 1 Serving


  • 2 1/4 ounces spirit at 40% ABV
  • 12.75 grams sugar
  • 1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice strained
  • 4 ounces ice
  • generous pinch of salt


  1. Dissolve sugar in alcohol.

  2. Fill blender with ice.

  3. Pour liquid ingredients over ice and add a pinch of sea salt.

  4. Pulse blender a few times to break down ice and then blend on high for 15-20 seconds.

Recipe Notes

Dave Arnold recommends adding sugar to your alcohol beforehand. You can add 159 grams of sugar to a 750 ml bottle of alcohol at 40-50% ABV if you want to have a bottle dedicated to making frozen drinks. That’s not such a bad thing.

Superfine sugar is best because it dissolves quickly. You can use granulated sugar, but it will take longer to dissolve.

Alternative Methods

  1. Sgroppino
  2. Slushy
  3. Shave ice


  1. Frozen Margarita Recipe
  2. Frozen Daiquiri Recipe
  3. Frozen Pina Colada

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