Types of Cocktail Ice

cocktail ice

Often, upon hearing the word cocktail, people conjure images of glasses of all shapes and sizes, each holding a liquid concoction of varying hues, and perhaps various types of garnishments. Many times, what’s left out of the image is what some bartenders and mixologists regard as the most important, albeit subtle, ingredient in a cocktail: ice.

Cocktail ice is underappreciated and overworked. Ice does more than provide simple cooling. Ice

  • Melts at an intentional speed (which differs per type of drink) to add just the right amount of water at just the right time throughout the life of the cocktail
  • Draws the flavors of the alcohol and other ingredients together for a taste that is combined yet separate
  • Properly cools a cocktail

Creating a cocktail begins and ends with the ice. Often, it’s the ice that separates a good drink from an excellent one; likewise, proper use of ice can distinguish a good bartender and an excellent one.

A bartender who uses the right type of ice for each drink will serve cocktails whose temperature is optimal and whose flavor is preserved and properly enhanced through the last drop. Many won’t know that the pleasure was due to the ice.

What is it about cocktail ice that allows it to work so precisely in a beverage? It’s mainly about the shape, size, and quality.

The following showcase highlights four common types of cocktail ice. If you’re a home bartender interested in improving your game, read on for information you can use in your craft.

Ice Sphere

This is a round ball of ice. Ice spheres aren’t merely novelty “cubes,” taking the place of the traditional square piece of ice just for visual effect. To be sure, ice spheres do have an aesthetic component. Having an ice ball in your cocktail can be pretty cool and even a bit fun. Visual appeal aside, ice spheres have a functional purpose.

This type of ice can be used for rocks drinks, whether straight spirits or stirred cocktails. Just a few of these favorite cocktails are

  • Old-fashioned
  • Manhattan
  • Martini
  • Mojito
  • Negroni
  • Sazerac

Spheres are used in these drinks because they are best when chilled and diluted slowly. Rocks drinks aren’t just drinks; they’re events. The proper piece of ice will melt gradually, making the chilling process subtler than with an ordinary cube plunked into the glass.

It’s both the shape and size of the sphere that allows the gradual melting process to occur. The large, rounded surface area affects melting speed. Although sizes do vary, a typical ice sphere is approximately two- two-and-half inches in diameter.

This style of cocktail ice has both function and form. It enhances the drink will adding flair and class.

Ice Block

This seemingly unglamorous frozen lump is more “lovely” than it is ”lump.” The ice block is the foundation of the bartender’s mystery ingredient. It is from the ice block that other ice is born.

While it’s common and convenient to use molds for making ice, some establishments and even home bartenders carve and chisel their cocktail ice out of larger blocks. After freezing water into a block, a chef, bartender, or anyone specializing in ice cutting will cut and chop the block to create ice in the desired shapes and sizes.

Incredibly, even perfectly rounded ice spheres can be hand trimmed by an experienced carver. Professionals and home enthusiasts create cubes, balls, and longer spears. The proper tools help them in the process. They include, but aren’t limited to,

  • Ice picks
  • Ice chippers
  • Ice tappers
  • Saws
  • Kitchen knives

Ice blocks are also large pieces of ice used in punch bowls. When serving a cocktail punch, you want the drink to be as fresh and sharp at the end of the night. Filling the bowl with lots of regular-sized ice cubes early on won’t work. The small pieces will melt quickly, leaving the punch warm and watery.

Instead of ice cubes, use an ice block or ice ring. Like the ice sphere in an individual glass, a block or ring of ice in a bowl melts gradually, keeping the contents consistently cool and flavorful. Gradually dissolving ice helps the various types of alcohol mix and mingle and blend well.

Some will even place sliced fruit in the water before freezing it into the block. This makes a festive decorative accent as well as a subtle touch of flavor as the pieces emerge through melting ice.

Ice blocks are great for use in bowls as well as for making individual pieces; however, their visual effect diminishes if they’re clouded. The ultimate cocktail ice and punch blocks come from the most translucent ice blocks.

Clear Ice

Clear ice is frozen water with no impurities. Clear ice looks like smooth glass and adds an air of five-star professionalism to your gathering. Whether you’re entertaining one person or twenty, using clear rather than clouded ice will stun and impress your guest(s).

Because water contains impurities, steps must be taken to create clear ice. Commercial locations use specialized equipment to make it. Clinebell or Kold-Draft machines are designed to create this beautifully clean ice. Such equipment is expensive, however, and typically impractical for household use.

Happily, this doesn’t mean that if you’re a home mixologist, you’re doomed to clouded ice. You can create clear cocktail ice without fancy machines. Here’s how:

  • Start with distilled water because impurities found in tap water have been removed
  • Boil a batch (a “batch” is defined by how much ice you want)
  • Once it has begun to boil, remove it from the heat, cover it, and let it cool
  • Once again, bring it to a boil
  • After it has started to boil, remove it from the heat, cover it, and allow it to cool again
  • Pour the cooled water into the mold(s) you’re using, and freeze

What you’ve done is started with purified water and improved it by boiling and releasing gasses and bubbles that would mar the appearance of the ice.

Making clear ice isn’t just for looks, however. Water that has been prepared in this unique way has a higher density than untreated water due to the lack of gasses and bubbles within. Dense ice dissolves at a much slower rate than ordinary water; therefore, the cooling actions are more even and effective.

Create clear ice no matter what type of ice you’re making. Use it for blocks or in molds for individual pieces. This includes a type of cocktail ice called the king cube.

King Cube

King Cube

Image via Whisky Master

The name says it all: this is one king-sized ice cube. Like the ice sphere, the king cube is excellent for drinks served on the rocks. Unlike the sphere, though, the king cube isn’t well-suited for use in stirred drinks. The combination of its shape and make it cumbersome to stir, resulting in a melt that is too slow.

While they’re not useful for stirred drinks, king cubes are frequently used in shaken drinks like daiquiris. While no one quite knows why, shaking a drink with king cubes as opposed to smaller cubes or other types of cocktail ice improves the texture of the drink.

These cubes make excellent “rocks” for all rocks drinks. This is primarily due to their slow melt time, courtesy of their size. These cubes range in size from about 1.25 inches to 2 inches; accordingly, they have a larger surface area than other cubes which remains frozen longer.

Their size and dissolution time enrich a drink as well as the experience of sipping it. The first taste, before the ice has begun to drip, is robust. As the ice continues to melt, the alcohol sweetens as progressively dilutes at a controlled pace. Finally, by the time you’ve reached the bottom of your glass, you still have full flavor thanks to a king-sized ice cube that melted just the right amount.

Conclusion

Ice seems so common, so ordinary. Almost an afterthought, we add ice to our drinks as a separate act. We treat them as if they were two mutually exclusive items: here’s the drink, there’s the ice. Put them together and drink.

That’s fine if you’re grabbing a glass of water from the fridge on a hot day. It’s unacceptable, though, to treat ice so cavalierly when it comes to your cocktails. Cocktails and their ice are not two distinct things. The ice and the alcohol and other ingredients are all facets of the same whole.

Cocktail ice isn’t an additive at the end. It’s part of the creation process at the start and helps create the finished product. It’s part of the process and the product. Know your different types of cocktail ice and the best uses for each to wow your guests with the best cocktails around,

Great cocktails need great cocktail ice. You can get started making awesome cocktails by making the ice the right shapes, sizes, and clarity. Your cocktail ice has the potential to please the eyes and the palate.

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