Ice - clear, cubed & crushed

Words by Simon Difford

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With the exception of toddies and a handful of other cocktails, a plentiful supply of ice is essential to making good cocktails. Like other ingredients, the quality of that ice will dramatically affect how the finished cocktail tastes, and, if served on-the-rocks, also how good it looks.

Cubed ice

Decent-sized (inch/25mm square) solid cubes of ice are perfect for shaking and stirring cocktails. However, hollow tubular ice and the thin wafers that are so often sold as bagged ice are not. If only this kind of bagged ice is available in your area then you're better off making your own.

In bar and restaurant situations, then ice-machines are usually more cost effective than bagged ice. Both Hoshizaki (hoshizaki.com) and Kold Draft (kold-draft.com) make ice-machines that produce good solid cubes but even these machines need to be correctly set up (so they don't produce cubes with holes on one face) and frequently cleaned and maintained.

For home cocktail making, ice made using ice cube trays placed in the freezer is an easy solution to good cheap ice. Silicon ice trays are the most practical to use and be sure to buy one that makes inch/25mm square cubes, such as the Bar Original Jumbo Ice Tray. Ideally use bottled or filtered water to avoid the taste of chlorine often apparent in municipal water supplies. (To make clear ice cubes see below.)

Unless otherwise stated, all references to ice on this website (e.g. "shake all ingredients with ice") mean cubed ice. If crushed ice (see below) or another type of ice is required for a particular recipe, the recipe will state crushed ice, cracked ice, etc.

"Bar ice" versus "home ice"

Beware, ice taken straight from a freezer is dry, almost sticky to the touch while ice from an ice machine has a wet surface. In addition to this difference, ice that has been sat in the ice chest of a professional bar becomes even wetter as it starts to thaw.

'Wet ice' will impart much more dilution to a cocktail than ice taken straight from a freezer. Most cocktails benefit from the dilution ice contributes during shaking or stirring, so ice taken from a freezer is best left to temper at room temperature for a few minutes before using. Some cocktails, such as Daquiris, benefit from more dilution so if using very cold 'dry' ice then you may want to consider adding a splash of water to these cocktails.

If a glass is broken anywhere near your ice stocks, melt the ice with warm water, clean the container and re-stock with fresh ice. If this occurs in a busy bar and you are not immediately able to clean the ice chest, mark it as being contaminated with a liberal coating of red grenadine syrup and draw ice from another station.

On-the-rocks ice

Whenever serving a drink over ice, always fill the glass with ice, rather than just adding a few cubes. This not only makes the drink much colder, but the ice lasts longer and so does not dilute into the drink.

Never use ice in a cocktail shaker twice, even if it's to mix the same drink. You should always discard ice after straining the drink and use fresh ice to fill the glass if required. Dumping ice from the shaker into the glass along with the drink, rather than straining the drink over fresh ice in the glass, will result in an overly dilute drink that will also not be as cold.

Crushed ice

This is available commercially. Alternatively, you can crush cubed ice in an ice-crusher or simply bash cubed ice held in a Lewis bag or wrapped in a tea towel with an ice mallet or rolling pin.

Clear ice

A good ice machine will produce clear ice cubes, but cocktails served over ice in an old-fashioned glass look better served over a single large chunk, cube, or ball of clear ice. Tall drinks served in Collins glasses, such as G&Ts, look best when a single column/spear of clear ice stands proudly in the glass, reaching from the base to the rim. These large single pieces of ice have a lower surface area than lots of cubes so also take longer to melt in the drink.

You can make clear ice in an ice-cooler box placed in a chest freezer but it's easier to use specially designed insulated ice trays. We use cube and spear Clear Ice Boxes by Ice-Forward. These make clear ice with only fine "ice hairs" visible from tap water in around 36 hours and you can harvest the ice and build up a stock for when entertaining guests.

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Ice-Forward Clear Ice Box

There are numerous tricks to making clear ice and I've added "How to use" notes on the Ice-Forward Clear Ice Box page. These cleverly designed insulated ice boxes contain two silicon inners and work by the insulated container ensuring that the ice freezes slowly from the top down so pushing impurities down as they freeze and eventually through the small holes on the base of the mould to end up in the reservoir beneath. With a modicum of trial and error, you can produce cubes and spears of ice with just 'ice hairs' visible in the bottom of the cube (or spears) to a less or greater degree depending on the water used, and temperature of the freezer etc.

The ice in the photographs above are supplied by Ice-Forward while those below are our own examples made with tap water using an Ice-Forward Clear Ice Box without boiling, filtering or other potentially beneficial processes. You can see some ice hairs in the base of each cube but these all but disappear when placed in a drink, particularly with a dark spirit or if an old-fashioned glass with a patterned bottom is used. (Urban Bar's Koto Old Fashioned is ideal.) When the spears are used in drinks such as a G&T, the carbonation masks the ice hairs to produce satisfying ice clarity.

We also use a Ice-Forward block ice machine which produces giant crystal-clear blocks of ice. These then need to be chopped or sawed to fit the desired glassware using an array of ice-saws, picks and knives that resemble tools of torture. Once chopped up, this method produces brilliantly clear ice but is only suited to professional bar use. Again I've added notes on how to use on the block ice machine page.

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