How to Make Clear Ice
Before learning how to make clear ice cubes, why should you care about your ice?
For whiskey and cocktail enthusiasts, the details matter. From high-quality, fresh ingredients to crystal cocktail glasses, there's more to your favorite bourbon or craft cocktail than the liquor alone.
How to Make Clear Ice
As water freezes and crystallizes to form ice, dissolved gasses (oxygen) and other minerals (fluoride, calcium, and others) are pushed away from the crystallization and into the remaining liquid. These components are concentrated into the last part of the ice to freeze. This presents as white, milky, or cloudy ice and impacts the taste and rate of dilution of your cocktails.
Clear ice is absent of these air bubbles and minerals and therefore is crystal-clear. Ice becomes clear due to a process called directional freezing.
What is Directional Freezing?
You've likely seen the effects of directional freezing occur naturally. Have you ever seen a pond with ice so clear that it looks like you're walking on water? The pond's banks provide enough insulation that the water freezes slowly from the top down. All air bubbles and impurities are pushed to the bottom of the pond, leaving behind crystal-clear ice.
How to Make Clear Ice at Home?
The directional freezing method is the only way to achieve ice that is truly crystal clear. There are three primary ways to accomplish this.
1) Clear Ice in a Cooler
Fill a small cooler with 5-6 inches of water and place it in a freezer with the lid off. After 20-24 hours, there will be a 3-4 inch ice block with water under the ice. All the air and impurities will be in the unfrozen water leaving crystal-clear ice cubes. Remove the ice and use a serrated knife and cutting board to cut the ice block into your desired ice shape.
- Pros: Low cost (most people already have a cooler)
- Cons: Can require a lot of freezer space, Requires ice carving, Doesn't produce perfect shapes
2) Ice Machine
In recent years companies have designed machines that can replicate directional freezing. Just add water, and these machines will do the rest. Traditionally found in bars and other service environments, options are now available for the home. There are even refrigerators that make ice designed for cocktails.
- Pros: Easy (add water and plugin)
- Cons: Expensive (can cost hundreds to thousands of dollars), Storage space, Limited shape options
3) Clear Ice Maker
Clear ice makers combine silicone ice molds and the Cooler Method (described above) to make clear ice. Available as a compact chest and in a variety of shapes, clear ice makers freeze ice directionally utilizing two-way silicone ice cube trays. A silicone ice tray, or mold, gives ice its shape. In a Clear Ice Maker, water passes through openings at the mold's top and bottom. The tiny air bubbles and water impurities are pushed outside the mold when freezing. This leaves behind crystal-clear ice in your desired shape.
- Pros: Easy to use (fill with water and freeze), Inexpensive, Available in many shapes
- Cons: The quantity of ice shapes you can make at one time is limited to the available cavities in your maker's ice mold.
THE WINNER: Clear Ice Makers
It's tough to beat the flexibility and value of a Clear Ice Maker. They're affordable enough to buy multiple systems to cover your ice needs if you're concerned with capacity. Clear Ice Makers are also available in spheres, cubes, skulls, roses, and other fun shapes.
Frequently asked Questions
Does Boiling Water Make Clear Ice?
Boiled water does not produce crystal-clear ice. Using boiled or double-boiled water to make clear ice is a myth. The only way to make perfectly clear ice cubes is through directional freezing. Boiled water helps eliminate air and impurities from water and leads to ice that is clearer than standard kitchen ice cubes but is not crystal clear.
Does Distilled Water Make Clear Ice?
Similar to boiled water, distilled water will not deliver crystal-clear ice. Distilled water is made by collecting steam from boiling water, which helps remove salts, minerals, and other organic materials found in tap water. However, you must remove air and impurities to achieve clear ice. Also, distilled water costs much more than standard tap water.
Does Clear Ice Taste Better?
Taste can be subjective, and there are a couple of ways of answering this question…
When clear ice is created through directional freezing, the air and impurities that cause cloudy ice are absent. These impurities are pushed out of the water as it freezes, leaving behind more pure ice. Impurities can impact the taste of water. This is partly why the U.S. bottled water market is over $7 billion.
Clear ice used in whiskey and cocktails is often larger shapes over 2 inches in size, such as ice spheres and cubes. These larger ice shapes melt slower than standard-sized ice, diluting your drink more slowly and maintaining the taste profile of your cocktail. The air pockets in cloudy ice can lead to cracks and breaks that accelerate the melting process, leading to a more diluted cocktail.
Have you ever heard the expression that we "eat with our eyes?" The same is true for cocktails. Details matter for whiskey and cocktail enthusiasts. From whiskey glasses to fresh ingredients and garnish, clear ice enhances the overall cocktail experience. Look good, taste good!
How do I Store Clear Ice?
There are many solutions, but simple plastic or silicone reusable freezer storage bag works well without taking up much freezer space. The key is to use airtight containers to reduce the risk of the ice absorbing odors from your freezer. A good rule of thumb is to cycle through your stored ice every 30 days.
Cocktails made with clear ice!
Any cocktail that calls for ice cubes or rocks is an ideal candidate for clear ice cubes. If your cocktail is served with ice, clear ice cubes will enhance its appearance.
Our favorite clear ice cocktails include:
Whiskey on the Rocks
Whiskey on the rocks refers to a drink made by serving whiskey over ice cubes, also known as "rocks." Large format clear cubes look great but won't dilute your favorite bourbon or whiskey.
Old Fashioned cocktails are a simple yet sophisticated cocktail that has been enjoyed for centuries. Made from bourbon, bitters, sugar, water, and an orange garnish, Old Fashioned cocktails are an American classic enhanced by large, clear ice spheres or cubes.
A Negroni is an Italian cocktail that has been enjoyed for many years. It featured a perfect balance blend of gin, vermouth, and Campari. The red color of this cocktail reflects elegantly off of clear ice cubes.
A close cousin to the Negroni, a Boulevardier also features vermouth and Campari but replaces the gin with whiskey.
A Vieux Carré is a classic cocktail that originated in New Orleans. It is made with whiskey, cognac, vermouth, and a variety of bitters.
The Godfather is a classic cocktail mixed with scotch and amaretto liqueur. It is a simple yet flavorful drink that is easy to prepare and looks excellent with perfectly clear ice cubes.
The Penicillin cocktail is a modern classic created by bartender Sam Ross. It is made with a blend of Scotch, lemon juice, honey syrup, and ginger liqueur and is typically served in a rocks glass over ice.
What should I do with my cloudy ice?
Cloudy ice can still prove useful in your home bar. I use standard kitchen ice cubes in cocktail shakers. They get the job done and let me save clear ice for my cocktails.
Putting it all together
Home mixology has evolved considerably over the past ten years. You no longer need to spend $20 per cocktail at a bar for a high-end cocktail experience. From high-quality ingredients, to affordable innovations like Clear Ice Makers, making cocktails at home has never been more accessible. Clear ice will improve the taste and appearance of your cocktails, and are a must have for your bar.
- Steve S