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Best ice for cocktails

Best Ice for Cocktails

Our complete guide to the best ice for cocktails

Not all ice is created equally, and when it comes to cocktails, the ice you choose can significantly impact your drink's taste.

This guide will cover when to use small ice cubes, ice spheres, large ice cubes, crushed ice, clear ice, and dry ice. You'll also learn why the type of ice you use in your drink is important and tips and tricks for making cocktail ice.

Why is ice used in cocktails?

There are a few reasons why ice is used in cocktails:

  1. To chill the drink: Ice is used to chill cocktails and keep them cold as they are served.

  2. To improve the taste of your drink: As the ice melts, it can dilute the drink and lower its alcohol content. This is especially true with spirit-forward cocktails, where this dilution helps remove some of the alcohol's bite.

  3. To create a visual effect: Cocktail ice can also make a visual impact. For example, clear ice or sphere ice can add a visually appealing element to a drink.

  4. To add texture: Different types of cocktail ice, such as crushed ice or small ice cubes, can also add texture. This can be a fun way to create a more interesting and enjoyable drinking experience.

Ice is an essential element of cocktails. It is just as crucial as the mixers, garnish, and glassware used to create your favorite cocktail. But, with so many types of ice, what ice is best for your favorite cocktail?

What are the different types of cocktail ice?

Cocktail ice comes in different shapes and sizes. Here's our guide to the main ice cube categories.

Small Ice Cubes (standard ice cubes or perfect cubes)

Small ice cubes, also called kitchen ice, perfect ice, or standard ice, are approximately 1" by 1" cubes. A small ice cube is made using an ice tray or kitchen ice machines found in refrigerators and freezers. These ice cubes are often used in cocktails, as they are easy to make and are a convenient size for most cocktail glasses.

Due to its size, a small ice cube will melt faster than large cubes or ice spheres. This is because there is more surface area exposed to the warmer liquid of the cocktail. A small ice cube will melt faster and lead to a drinking temperature close to freezing.

Small ice cubes for cocktails

Cocktails made with small ice cubes:

  1. Gin and Tonic: This classic cocktail is made with gin and tonic water and served in a tall glass over ice.

  2. Vodka Soda: This simple cocktail is made with vodka and soda water and served over ice in a tall glass.

  3. Mojito: This refreshing cocktail is made with white rum, lime juice, sugar, mint, and soda water. Mojitos are served over small ice cubes in a tall glass.

  4. Long Island Iced Tea: A strong mixed drink made with vodka, tequila, white rum, gin, and triple sec. It is mixed with sweet and sour mix and a splash of cola and served over ice.

  5. Bloody Mary: A classic cocktail made with vodka, tomato juice, and various spices and seasonings. It is traditionally served in a tall glass over ice and garnished with a celery stalk and a wedge of lemon or lime.

Ice Spheres

Ice spheres are great for cocktails that would benefit from a slight chill or mild dilution. Spheres have less surface area than any other shape, including cubes. With less surface area, ice spheres are exposed to less of the warmer liquid of your cocktail. This leads to less melting and less dilution.

Cocktails made with an ice sphere will not get as cold as cocktails made with small ice cubes, but when you're enjoying a high-end bourbon, that's the intent.

Ice spheres are larger than standard ice cubes. Ideally, ice spheres measure greater than 2" in diameter.

Bourbon served on the rocks with a large ice sphere

How do you make ice spheres?

  1. Ice sphere molds are silicone or plastic molds designed to make ice spheres. Silicone sphere ice cube molds are the most compact option for making ice in your home freezer.

  2. Spherical ice cube trays have round compartments for making ice spheres. Most trays are stackable and have multiple cavities, allowing you to make more than one sphere at a time.

  3. A sphere ice press takes a block of ice and compresses it into the shape of a sphere.

  4. Hand-carved ice spheres were popularized in Japan and carved by skilled ice artisans. Although impressive, I'd recommend using an ice tray or sphere ice mold for their convenience.

Sphere ice cocktails:

  • Whiskey on the Rocks: If you enjoy bourbon, scotch, or other whiskeys with a slight chill, a sphere is the ideal ice.

  • Old Fashioned: This classic cocktail is made with whiskey, bitters, and sugar and is often served over an ice sphere to keep the drink chilled.

  • Negroni: This cocktail is made with gin, vermouth, and Campari and is often served over an ice sphere to keep the drink chilled.

Many cocktails are chilled with ice in a cocktail shaker or mixing glass and served without ice. These cocktails can also benefit from a large ice sphere if you prefer added chilling.

Large ice cubes or king cubes

Large cubes are the square cousin to ice spheres. Measuring over 2 inches, large ice cubes won't dilute your drink as quickly as small ice cubes. Because a cube has more surface area than a sphere, large ice cubes will melt faster than spheres, but they still make great options for bourbon, scotch, Old Fashioned's, and other spirit-forward cocktails.

Large clear ice cubes for cocktails

In addition to cubes, silicone molds and ice cube trays are available for many other ice shapes. If it is larger than 2 inches, they fit into the same category as a large ice cube. Shapes such as roses, diamonds, and skulls can be a fun addition to your favorite cocktail.

Crushed ice (pebble ice)

Crushed ice or pebble ice is a type of cocktail ice made by breaking up larger ice cubes into smaller pieces. It is often used in drinks that require a lot of ice, such as frozen cocktails.

Crushed ice used for cocktails

How do you make crushed ice?

  1. Use a blender or food processor: Fill the appliance with ice cubes and pulse until the ice reaches the desired consistency.

  2. Use a rolling pin: Place the ice cubes in a plastic bag, seal the bag, and use a rolling pin to crush the ice.

  3. Use a Lewis bag and mallet: A Lewis bag is a canvas bag specifically designed for crushing ice. To use it, fill the bag with ice cubes and use a mallet to crush the ice.

Cocktails made with crushed ice:

  1. Moscow Mule: This refreshing cocktail is made with vodka, ginger beer, and lime juice. It is served in a copper mug with crushed ice and garnished with a slice of lime.

  2. Margarita: This classic cocktail is made with tequila, lime juice, and orange liqueur.

  3. Piña Colada: This tropical drink is made with white rum, coconut cream, and pineapple juice.

  4. Daiquiri: This simple cocktail is made with white rum, lime juice, and sugar.

  5. Pisco Sour: This Peruvian cocktail is made with pisco (a type of brandy), lime juice, sugar, and egg whites.

  6. Hurricane: This fruity cocktail is made with white rum, dark rum, lime juice, orange juice, and grenadine.

  7. Tokyo Tea: This colorful cocktail is made with vodka, gin, light rum, tequila, triple sec, sweet and sour mix, and cola.

  8. Shark Bite: This sweet and spicy cocktail is made with rum, mango juice, pineapple juice, and habanero peppers.

  9. Snowball: This creamy cocktail is made with vanilla liqueur, cream, and coconut rum.

  10. Planter's Punch: This classic tropical cocktail is made with white rum, lime juice, orange juice, grenadine, and bitters.

  11. Mint Julep: A julep is a classic cocktail made with bourbon, sugar, and mint. It is traditionally served over crushed ice in a silver or pewter cup.

  12. Swizzles: A swizzle is a cocktail made with crushed ice and various ingredients, such as fruit juice, syrups, and spirits. It is typically served in a tall glass and garnished with fruit or other decorations.

Collins spear

A Collins spear is a long ice spear often used in cocktails served in a Collins glass. A Collins glass is a tall, narrow glass traditionally used for cocktails such as the Tom Collins and the Gin Fizz.

A collins spear is an excellent alternative to small ice cubes. Like an ice sphere, a collins spear is one large piece of ice with less surface area than a glass full of smaller ice cubes. This will lead to less dilution.

You will need a silicone ice tray or mold to make collins spears.

Collins ice spear used for making cocktails

Cocktails with a collins spear:

  • Tom Collins: This classic cocktail is made with gin, lemon juice, sugar, and soda water and is traditionally served over ice in a Collins glass. 

  • Gin Fizz: This refreshing cocktail is made with gin, lemon juice, sugar, and soda water. It can be served over ice in a Collins glass and garnished with a Collins spear.

  • Vodka Collins: This cocktail is similar to a Tom Collins, but it is made with vodka instead of gin. It can be served over ice in a Collins glass and garnished with a Collins spear.

Dry ice

Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide used to create a dramatic visual effect in some cocktails. When added to a drink, dry ice creates a thick fog or smoke effect as it sublimates (turns from a solid to a gas). This can be a fun and unique way to serve cocktails, but it is vital to handle dry ice safely and to follow proper precautions.

Cocktails made with dry ice

Here are a few tips for using dry ice in cocktails:

  • Wear gloves: Dry ice should always be handled with gloves, as it can cause frostbite if it comes into contact with your skin.

  • Use small pieces: Dry ice should be broken into small chunks before being added to a cocktail. This will help it sublimate more quickly and create the desired effect.

  • Avoid prolonged contact: Dry ice should not be left in contact with a drink for an extended period, as it can cause the drink to become too cold and potentially cause injury to the drinker.

  • Use caution when serving: When serving cocktails with dry ice, be sure the drinker knows not to touch the dry ice. 

No ice at all

Cocktails served neat

A cocktail served neat means that it is served without ice. Neat cocktails are typically served in a short glass, such as a rocks glass, shot glass, or snifter.

Whiskey served neat

Many different types of alcohol can be served neat, including whiskey, brandy, and other spirits. When serving a cocktail neat, it is essential to use high-quality spirits and pay attention to the drink's temperature.

 To serve a cocktail neat, pour the desired spirits into a glass and serve immediately. The drink can numb the tongue and mask the spirit's flavors if it is too cold. If it is too warm, it can become harsh and overpowering. The ideal temperature for a neat cocktail will depend on the specific spirit and personal preference. For most spirits, the ideal temperature is room temperature - between 60-65° F (15-18° C).

Common spirits served neat include:

  • Whiskey neat: This is a simple cocktail consisting of a single pour of bourbon, scotch, or other whiskey served without ice.

  • Brandy neat: This is a cocktail made with brandy and served without ice.

  • Tequila neat: This is a cocktail made with tequila and served without ice.

When enjoying rare or expensive bourbon or other spirits, many people drink them neat to experience the full flavor of their cocktail.

Chilled cocktails served without ice

Chilled cocktails are shaken or stirred with ice or chilled in the refrigerator or freezer before being served. Cocktails are served without ice so they won't get diluted while enjoyed. This can be a good option for cocktails with higher-proof spirits, as they generally drink slowly, increasing the risk of dilution.

Chilled Cosmopolitan cocktail

Should you stir or shake your cocktail?

In the first 15 seconds of stirring, about 1 ounce of water is added to your cocktail. For each additional 15 seconds, an extra ¼ ounce of water is added.

  • 15 seconds - 1 ounce of water

  • 30 seconds - 1¼ ounces of water

  • 45 seconds - 1½ ounces of water

  • 60 seconds - 1¾ ounces of water

When shaking, dilution and chilling occur more quickly when using 1-inch ice cubes. Expect to add about ¾ an ounce of water for the first 10 seconds and an additional ¼ ounce every 10 seconds after that.

  • 10 seconds - ¾ ounce

  • 20 seconds - 1 ounce

  • 30 seconds - 1¼ ounce

Chilled cocktails served without ice:

  • Vodka Martini: This classic cocktail is made with vodka and dry vermouth and is often served chilled and without ice.

  • Cosmopolitan: A famous cocktail made with vodka, orange liqueur, cranberry juice, and lime juice garnished with a lime wedge.

  • Gin Martini: Made with gin and dry vermouth and garnished with a green olive or a twist of lemon peel.

  • Gin Fizz: This refreshing cocktail is made with gin, lemon juice, sugar, and soda water. It can be served chilled and without ice.

  • Manhatten: Made with bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters. It is traditionally served garnished with a cherry.

  • Sazerac: A classic cocktail made with rye whiskey, absinthe, and a simple syrup flavored with bitters and garnished with a lemon peel.

  • Rob Roy: Made with scotch, sweet vermouth, and bitters. It is similar to a Manhattan but made with scotch instead of bourbon.

  • Sidecar: A cocktail made with cognac, orange liqueur, and lemon juice. It is served garnished with a sugar rim and a lemon wedge.

  • Blood and Sand: A classic cocktail made with Scotch whisky, sweet vermouth, orange juice, cherry liqueur, and garnished with a cherry.

  • Whiskey Sour: A classic cocktail made with bourbon, lemon juice, and sugar. It is traditionally served over ice and garnished with a cherry and an orange slice.

Whiskey sour

Clear ice

Although it is commonly associated with ice spheres, clear ice is not so much a shape of ice but a style of ice. A kitchen ice maker or standard silicone mold will make cloudy ice. This is due to air and impurities trapped inside the ice.

Clear ice cocktail

Clear ice is made through a process called direction freezing, which eliminates air bubbles and impurities as ice freezes. This leaves behind a crystal-clear ice cube that will enhance any cocktail. The best way to make clear ice is with a Clear Ice System. Available in ice spheres, cubes, and any other shapes, clear ice systems are extremely easy to use.

Putting it all together

All ice will dilute your drink. The rate at which it dilutes your drink will change based on the starting temperature of your cocktail and the size of your ice, but if your cocktail has ice in it, it's diluted.

So, what ice should I use?

If your cocktail calls for ice, a good rule of thumb is to match your ice to your cocktail glass. If you're using a rocks glass, you can use a large sphere or cube. Highball glasses or collins glasses are tall and thin, which make collins spears or small ice cubes ideal. 

Also, remember that ice is just as essential to your cocktail as spirits, mixers, and garnish. Don't just fill your glass with kitchen ice cubes. You're using the best ingredients, so you should also use the best ice.

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