Boozehound Basics: Ice

In the past few years, a new renaissance of classic cocktail culture (say that after three or four Sidecars) has sprung up on the net and in homes and bars around the country.  And though mixologists, writers in style magazines, and, yes, bloggers are quick to harp on the importance of freshly squeezed fruit juices and top shelf liquors, another very basic ingredient is too often taken for granted: ice.

It’s an important part of mixing almost any drink, but it’s generally glossed over in drink recipes.  If you’ve ever hosted a party and run out of ice halfway through the night, you have an idea of how important ice can be, so we’re going to amend this deficit.

We’ll start with the very basics.  Those cubes that you get from the plastic tray in your freezer.  This is what you want to use in a cocktail shaker, to fill a highball glass, and as your general default. When hosting a party, a five-pound bag of that weird donut shaped ice works fine as well.  As a general note though, when making your own ice, better water makes better ice.  If you have a filter pitcher or even a filter right on your tap, that’s the water you want to use for your ice.  Also, be sure to wash your trays from time to time.

Tovolo King Cubes

Now, on to some more specialized territory.  Regular cubes are fine, and even appropriate for most shaken drinks.  They help to mix your ingredients thoroughly, especially where fruit juices, dairy, or even raw egg are involved, but they’re not best for every drink.  Some stirred drinks need to be treated with a gentler hand and may be overly diluted by smaller cubes.  This is where you want King Cubes.  A company called Tovolo manufactures these jumbo silicone trays and lately you can find them just about anywhere kitchen or barware is sold.  Because of their large size (two inches across), King Cubes don’t melt as quickly as smaller cubes.  Therefore, they get your drink colder without diluting it as much.  This can be critical in a delicate drink like, say, a Martini, or when drinking whiskey or other spirits straight on the rocks.

For those whiskey aficionados who won’t tolerate a drop of water in their favorite spirit, there’s another option.  Whiskey stones will cool your drink without a hint of dilution.  Exactly as you’d suspect, these are actual stones, usually carved into cubes.  Simply keep these in the freezer until needed, and best of all, they’re reusable.

On the other end of the spectrum, some drinks, generally originating in warmer climes, call for crushed ice.  Most notably, the Daiquiri is traditionally served over crushed ice.  Now if you happen to have a refrigerator that will dispense crushed ice at your every whim, feel free to sit back and sip your Daiquiri smugly for the next few lines.  For the rest of us, making our own crushed ice can be a necessity especially in the summer time.  There are two favored methods.  For speed and volume, tossing a few ice cubes into a blender will certainly do the trick.  A few short bursts should be all you need though.  Keep in mind you’re just breaking up the cubes.  You don’t want to end up with a slushie.  The other method is a bit more time-consuming, but a lot more fun.  Just place your ice cubes in a plastic zip-lock bag and smash the crap out of them with a big ‘ol mallet.

That about covers the practical and traditional options, but there’s nothing to say you can’t have a bit of fun while you keep your drinks cool.  Perpetual Kid, a refreshingly fun online retailer, offers a vast array of whimsical and nostalgic ice cube trays. With options ranging from snowflakes to sinking Titanics, there are options here to tickle any tippler’s fancy.  Shanna and I have our own wide-ranging collection including hearts, ninja stars, fish, Legos, Space Invaders, and skull & bones.

Legendary bartender David A. Embury famously wrote that a cocktail is only as good as its lowest-quality ingredient.  This adage is generally applied to quality of spirits, but there’s no doubt that dirty or overly melted ice can harm an otherwise superior drink. And I’m not saying that you should be freezing Perrier to shake a Whiskey Sour, but a little bit of consideration for the ice you’re going to use to mix and serve your booze can go a long way.


6 thoughts on “Boozehound Basics: Ice

  1. Yo IPTB!

    I’m with you on the ice! When I was in NYC this past March, I ordered a Vieux Carre cocktail at the hotel bar where we were staying (fabulous drink by the way!). They served it in an old fashioned glass and poured it over two or three big, crystal clear, cubes of ice. Besides the fact that it melted oh so so slowly and didn’t dilute my drink, the presentation was simply stunning! Those silicone trays would be pefect. Question is… how to get the ice to be crystal clear.

    One more thing. Here’s an uber cool video of a Super Bartender from Japan making a hand chiseled ball of ice…


  2. Matt & Shanna says:

    An excellent video! Anthony Bourdain always delivers. Also, I love the concept of “cocktail-do,” the way of the cocktail.

  3. I think he was saying Tao, or Dao. The Tao of Cocktail.

    Also, I went to a place in Vegas called Stripsteak that featured great steaks and great scotches. Besides getting one of the best steak and fries meals of my life, I also indulged on some delicious scotch with my meal (I had the company card at the time, so it was pretty lush). When the waitress asked me for my drink order, I told her I wanted a Macallan 18, and to just put a single cube in there. She laughed at me and asked me if I had ever been there before. I said I hadn’t and left.

    When she came back, she brought a gorgeous highball glass, with a 2″ cube of ice that was 100% completely clear and see-through. She said they have a special Japanese ice-making machine that not only freezes the ice into these beautiful cubes, but also does it under high pressure, and extremely low temperatures – thus creating a cube of ice that looks like it was plucked from a glacier.

    One of my most memorable meals.

  4. Matt & Shanna says:

    Las Vegas is most certainly a mecca for the inebriate with an expense account. The Mrs. and I spent our honeymoon there and the drinks, while expensive, were consistently excellent. I can personally recommend the Vesper bar located at the Cosmopolitan for some great classic cocktails.

    And as a side note: Dao, as in Daoism, is indeed a Chinese term that roughly translates to “the way.” Similarly, -do (as in Judo, Aikido, or chado) is a Japanese suffix which also means “the way.” The more you know!

    • Been to Vegas three times. It’s a great 4 day trip. We definitely took it up a notch on our last trip and had some great meals and drinks (I drank alone since she was pregnant with our 2nd). The bar at The Wyn was particularly memorable, though quite a bit expensive. One Manhattan and one Balvenie Double Wood were close to $40 (might have been more). An expense account would have been welcome! Also, Bouchon in The Venetian was simply superb. I like that it was tucked away in a remote corner of the hotel. Didn’t feel like I was in Vegas anymore.

      And by the way… I now want that Japanese ice machine! Not cause I use very much ice, but because it just sounds awesome!


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