You can call it pretentious and you can lament the bar scene of today with its artisanal chefs and hipsters all you want but substandard cocktails suck. If you’ve spent effort and money on good cocktail ingredients, why would you ruin your drink with cloudy cubes that smell and taste faintly like the frozen foods they’ve been chilling with?
If you’ve visited any good bars recently, you’ve probably noticed that we’re in a new Ice Age. The move to higher quality ice has accompanied the rest of the craft cocktail movement’s push to use higher quality ingredients. There are amazing spirits, juices, mixers, liqeurs and artisanal bitters these days but all that work is for naught if the ice imparts off flavors or dilutes the drink too quickly.
The perfect cubes and spheres found in modern craft cocktails serve not only to further the aesthetics of the drink. A large cube melts more slowly than a small one and a cube without air bubbles is less likely to crack. When a cube cracks its surface area grows which allows for faster melting. Same goes for air bubbles. As a cube with air bubble melts that rough bubbly surface is exposed and more bubbles means more surface area.
Artisan ice companies have popped up across the country and many craft bars make ice in house. Most have invested in a Clinebell ice machine, which produces giant blocks of clear ice. But you don’t need a $7,000 ice maker to make clear ice at home for your cocktails. With a little experimentation and dedication you can perfect the art of making clear ice at home and up your cocktail game.
I’ve been playing around with making clear ice at home for some time. The most popular tip online is to boil the water, sometimes the suggestion is to boil and cool the water several times over before freezing. Some suggest filling ice molds with the still boiling water so you can try and burn yourself getting it into the freezer. But boiling, it turns out, is a massive waste of time and energy.
What does work, is directional freezing. If you insulate the water from one side it is forced to freeze in a single direction. As ice freezes it forces air bubbles and other impurities out, but if water freezes from all direction at once those impurities are pushed to the center of the cube. You can freeze ice directionally at home using a small cooler, here’s how to do it:
- Take a small cooler, that will fit in your freezer, and fill it almost to the top with water. Leave the top off the cooler and put it in your freezer. If you’re city has poor water filter it before you fill the cooler.
- Leave the cooler in the freezer for approximately 24 hours.
- Take the cooler out of the freezer and run some cool water over the ice to help release it. Slowly turn the cooler upside down and remove the ice, you should have 2-3 inches of ice at the top of the cooler and a lot of unfrozen cold water below it. This is a good thing, if you let the cooler freeze solid it becomes very hard to remove the ice and you will have to skillfully cut the cloudy ice off the clear.
- Now that you have a nice clear slab of ice, cut the ice into cubes. An easy way to do this is to score the ice with a serrated knife and then give the knife a tap with a rubber mallet.
- Store cubes in a bag in the freezer.
For a nice visual aide, watch the Cocktail Chemist explain how to make clear ice below: