Those looking to boost their craft cocktail game have in recent years turned to “luxury” or “designer” ice in place of the ordinary tap-water variety. Its proponents champion luxury ice as the superior way to chill cocktails — boasting that it is individually carved, slow melting and has no minerals or chemicals that might affect how a drink tastes. Such an indulgence can cost nearly $10 a pop.
Martha Stewart bested all of that Monday by chilling her cocktail with an actual iceberg.
On Monday night, Stewart posted on Instagram a photo of herself in a winter hat and parka, showing off a beverage in a tumbler with the wilds of Greenland behind her. In the caption, she revealed that, while sailing aboard a Swan Hellenic cruise off Greenland’s east coast, they had “captured a small iceberg for our cocktails tonight.” Other photos showed still-intact glaciers with breakaways floating in the sea below and a pair of “captured” icebergs on a bar cart.
Some of her 1.9 million followers bristled, chiding her in the comments for being elitist and “tone deaf,” given that climate change has made Greenland the fastest-warming region in the world, where ice melts at twice the pace of Antarctica.
“Global warming and melting ice caps but we need glacier ice for cocktails?!” one person commented.
Someone else said that keeping cocktails cold using the remnants of a glacier “sounds like a line from a dystopian novel.”
Perhaps, but plucking an iceberg out of the sea is not a big deal, said glaciologist Eric Rignot, a professor in the Earth system science department at the University of California at Irvine. In fact, Rignot, who studies how climate change affects the polar ice sheets, said he has done it, too.
“It is not like she went to a glacier and carved a piece of ice off it,” Rignot wrote in an email to The Washington Post. “Icebergs float at sea already and slowly melt. Whether they melt in the ocean or in your glass does not make a difference.”
Glaciologist Ian Allison, a professor at the University of Tasmania’s Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, agreed, saying the environmental impact from the fossil fuels powering the cruise ship was far greater than that caused by Stewart putting some ice into her glass, which he described as “zero (or at least no greater than the beating of butterflies’ wings in the Amazon).”
“Popping a bit of ice into a drink is no worse than taking a glass of water from a river,” Allison wrote in an email to The Post.
Bringing aboard one or two ice fragments has been a common practice for decades among expedition cruise ships like Swan Hellenic, said Lindsay Brean, a spokeswoman for the cruise line. It gives guests a chance to see and touch the shape and structure of the ice. As the ice melts, it breaks up, allowing guests like Stewart to put some in their drinks if they choose to do so.
But no one ever breaks ice off a glacier; what they collect is “already in the sea,” Brean said.
“It’s supposed to be an entirely respectful experience,” she added.
Even though Stewart didn’t do anything harmful in Rignot’s view, she could have taken the opportunity to highlight “the beauty of the place and how sad it is to know that it is melting away,” he added.
Stewart does not appear to have done that, at least on her Instagram account. But her travel companion Brian Kelly, who founded the Points Guy travel site, did so in an Instagram post that he published around the same time as Stewart. In his caption, Kelly said climate change has hit Greenland especially hard, but “its beauty still cannot be understated.”
“Icebergs are pieces of art and watching them float by never gets old,” he wrote. “The magnitude of the glaciers is humbling and frankly hard to fully comprehend.”
Stewart is aware that some people must think she spends all of her time indulging in the luxuries of the world, but in July, she told them she is also conscious of the crises it faces. In mid-July, she told her Instagram followers that a recent storm had dumped eight inches of rain on her Maine estate, washing out roads, felling trees and rotting her vegetable garden.
She used the storm and the damage it caused to highlight the increasingly severe effects of climate change.
“And what are we doing as a nation to remedy this erratic weather and global warming??” she asked rhetorically. “Think about it and start to act responsibly please!”
Although he’s a glaciologist, Allison said he was concerned about Stewart’s cocktail-iceberg pairing. The ice in Greenland is formed from layer upon layer of snow compressing each other over time, which traps and pressurizes air bubbles, he said.
“If Martha’s piece of berg had once been buried to depths of hundreds of meters, it would gently effervesce in her drink as it melted,” Allison said.
The glaciologist had a suggested pairing for just such a piece of iceberg.
“Highly recommended with a single-malt scotch.”