Pretty drinks always taste better. Of course, it's more than just aesthetics. Large ice melts slower thus keeping your beverage at its served strength longer. Good ice when mixing also breaks up slower thus diluting your drink less. Remember when shaking or stirring there can never be chilling without dilution and vice versa. But we are talking about frozen water here. And that should not cost you anything but time if done correctly at home. There are three main types of ice being served up at cocktail bars these days and here's what you need to know about them:
Crushed Ideal for juleps or tiki style drinks, this can be acquired from any form of solid ice by placing it in a Lewis bag(or dishtowel or Zip Lock bag) and hitting it with a mallet (or frying pan). Any bar that sees volume, skips this step and uses a different machine called a flaker to crush in bulk, though the stress relief from smashing ice is usually missed.
Cubed Machined cubes made by a "KoldDraft" or "Hoshizaki" ice maker are formed by a slow downward spray freezing one layer at a time and come out in perfect, just-over-an-inch cubes. Meant for shaking and stirring cocktails, they can be easily cracked to increase the surface area so drinks chill and dilute faster.
Block A Clinebell machine spits out 300 lb. blocks that are then cut down with a chainsaw to more useful sizes. These crystal clear pieces are great for serving drinks or straight pours as they melt slower and look beautiful. Most bars purchase ice like this in large 60 lb. bricks and break them down before service.
Make Clear Ice at Home
You can easily make all three styles at home by freezing a large block inside a cooler or hard sided insulated lunch box. This method will produce stunningly clear ice.
When I was the beverage director at the Whistler in Chicago we made all our block ice like this with many coolers on scheduled rotation and a chest freezer.
- Remove the ice maker from your freezer that makes crappy ice and just about everything else. If you haven't eaten it yet...you probably won't.
- Take a hard sided cooler like a Rubbermaid 10 quart lunch box and remove the lid.
- Fill it mostly full with hot water from the tap (less dissolved oxygen in hot water). No need to boil the water. No need to use special artesian magic water. Good old Lake Michigan tap water works fine for me. The whole point here is for the water to freeze in one direction like an inland body of water.
- Optional: Leave the cooler out on your counter for a bit (hour or so) and tap it to get those pesky bubbles off the side walls.
- Put the cooler in the freezer and wait 24-30 hours and check on the ice. If it's solid on top with a bit of unfrozen water on the bottom, remove the box from the freezer and let it temper on the counter to loosen up. Of course, if it is still watery, you may need to call the repairman or just give it some more time in the chill chest.
- Turn it over on a plastic cutting board in the sink and let the ice slide out. The bottom quarter or so will be cloudy or full of water because of trapped impurities but, after sitting out, it will be easy to separate.
- Score a line in the block with an old bread knife, tap the top of the knife evenly into the ice with a mallet and you will have removed the cloudy part (Don't use this. It is gross). Continue this somewhat therapeutic process by cracking the block into perfectly clear ice cubes and keep them in the freezer until ready to use and double check that you have all your fingers.
- Practice makes perfect.
Note: If you let the block freeze solid you run the chance of stretching out the bottom of the cooler. This makes it hard to slide the block of ice out because its bigger on the bottom. I have learned this lesson the hard way.
Note: Keep towels around. This is a wet job.
Bar To Home
A simple translation from bar to home.