About that Ice in Your Cocktail

What’s the deal with the fancy ice you see in high end bars?  We mean the big crystal clear, perfectly chiseled cubes or spheres delicately lowered into Old Fashioned glasses.  Wouldn’t regular ice cubes from your kitchen freezer work just as well?

We were sipping a cocktail chilled with a big ice cube and pondering just these questions.  Turns out, there’s a little bit of science and a little bit of art behind the answers.  

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First, let’s start with size. For the science lover, there’s an explanation involving surface area and volume, but the gist of it is that large chunks of ice melt much more slowly than many small chips of ice. Similarly, a big ice cube in your cocktail will keep your drink chilled while melting more slowly than ice pebbles.  You just bought yourself some extra time to enjoy your cocktail before it gets too watery.

Now that we know size matters, let’s explore the clarity of the ice you get in higher end bars.  It sure looks different than the ice we pull out of the home freezer! Science tells us that clear ice comes from slowly freezing highly pure water.  In other words, when water with impurities and air bubbles freezes too quickly it creates that cloudy middle section you see in kitchen ice cubes.  To prevent that cloudy middle, bars use purified water and a machine called a Clinebell.  The Clinebell is especially designed to freeze water very slowly.  The result is beautiful, clear ice destined for your cocktail.

You may be wondering, is it all worth the trouble? The truth, according to Dave Arnold, author of Liquid Intelligence: The Art & Science of the Perfect Cocktail, is that cloudy ice is as effective at chilling a cocktail as clear ice.  It just doesn’t look as pretty.  Clear ice is not only more visually appealing, but it’s also easier to carve into the beautiful ice blocks that add to a cocktail’s presentation.  Lastly, ice with greater clarity also suggests a highly pure water source.

Trade Eights Cocktail - Gin Hibiscus Lime

Trade Eights Cocktail - Gin Hibiscus Lime

What does this all mean for the home cocktail drinker?  When relaxation and convenience are priorities, all you need is filtered water at a minimum to make ice cubes fit to chill your cocktails.  Other helpful tips from Jim Meehan, owner of New York City’s PDT bar, include freezing your ice cubes using silicone molds that don’t give an off-taste and removing odors from your freezer that could add unwanted flavor to the ice.

When enjoying Trade Eights Cocktails or a favorite drink requiring ice, we also like opting for big ice cubes if you got them on hand.  These will be sure to keep your drink chilled without diluting it too quickly so you can sip a little slower.  After all, when you’re relaxing after a long day, what’s the rush?