Drinks

A Guide to Ice for the Home Bartender

Everything from crushed ice to crystal-clear spheres
The Different Types of Ice to Use in Cocktails
Photo: Roman_Baiadin/Getty Images

Cocktail ice does more than simply chill a drink; it adds dilution and provides aesthetic flair.  Exactly what are the different types of cocktail ice, and what are they used for? We talk to a few ice experts, from tenured bartenders to cocktail bloggers, who know a thing or two about the subject.

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 Freezer Ice

If you've ever had a drink at a proper cocktail bar, it's all too easy to sneer at the stuff in your freezer due to its cloudy appearance, but don't be so quick to disregard it. "Freezer ice, while ugly, can chill a drink down just as well as any other," bartender Tristan Willey, formerly of Brooklyn's Long Island Bar, says. "Stir and shake any drink with this stuff, even if it's not ideal for a final presentation."

 

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 One-by-One-Inch Cubes

One-inch-cube ice trays have become ubiquitous; they're essential for any cocktail enthusiast. "One-inch ice is the bread and butter of home ice," Willey says. "It's great for stirring, shaking; it's a decent size that won't over-dilute too quickly; and it fits into every glass."

 Two-by-Two-Inch King Cubes

Large cubes melt slower than one-inch cubes, reducing the amount of dilution of a drink while also looking impressive. Large cubes can also be used for shaking, as they add extra fluffiness to drinks like daiquiris.

 

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 Spheres

Ice spheres are typically served with a straight spirit or a stirred cocktail, the ice sphere pulling double duty as a garnish. Additionally, ice spheres melt at a slower rate, slowing down the chilling process and reducing the dilution. Japanese bartenders famously hand-carve their ice spheres, but those who don't want to risk cutting off their thumbs should check out the Wintersmiths Ice Chest.  

 

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 Collins Spears

Collins ice spears are used for highball cocktails, such as a gin and tonic or a whiskey soda; here, a stack of one-inch cubes would do the trick, but the ice spear is far more impressive looking. Use a Collins Ice Mold, or, if you're feeling particularly ambitious, cut the spear from an ice block with a serrated knife and a mallet.

 Crushed Ice

Crushed ice is typically used in juleps, tiki drinks, cobblers and other spirit-forward cocktails that need dilution. The best tactic to make crushed ice at home is to wrap freezer ice (or one-by-one-inch cubes) in a dish towel and bang away with a mallet (a meat tenderizer can also do the trick).

 

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 Ice Blocks and Clear Ice

Ice blocks are used in punches, slowly chilling the beverage as the party rolls on in the background.

To create a large, clear ice block at home, go with the tried-and-true method recommended by Alcademics.com. "Directional freezing is simply controlling the direction in which water freezes, so that the last bit to freeze is where all the cloudy parts end up," the site's Camper English explains. "Using an insulated cooler, that cloudy part is the bottom, rather than the middle of the cube." Simply use an ice pick to separate the cloudy from the clear and cut into any shape: cubes, spears or spheres.

Emily Arden Wells is the cofounder of Gastronomista, a website dedicated to the Culture of Drink. Follow her at @gastronomista_.

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