The Perfect Whiskey Ice Cubes are Round
What are those ice balls that I see in cocktails?
Whiskey ice ball, ice sphere, round ice cubes – they go by many names, and if you're a whiskey drinker, you've likely seen them before. They're the large balls of ice served with whiskey or other spirit-forward, whiskey-based cocktails, like an Old Fashioned.
Why are sphere ice cubes better?
The answer is less dilution. Whiskey is stored at room temperature (68-72°F), so when this warmer liquid comes in contact with ice (<32°F), the ice begins to melt. There is no way around this, and if you're looking to chill your whiskey, you need this reaction because the cold water generated from your ice melting is what is chilling your drink. The key is controlling this process to have a chilled glass of whiskey, not whiskey-flavored water. A spherical ice ball is perfect for this. A sphere has less surface area per volume than any other shape. With less surface area, there is less contact between your ice and your whiskey. Less contact means that you will still get the ice's chilling effects, but your drink will be less diluted.
It takes approximately 20 standard kitchen ice cubes to equal the overall volume of a 2.5” ice sphere. That’s a lot of ice. These 20 ice cubes have three times more surface area than a 2.5” sphere ice ball, which will dilute your drink much faster.
Sphere ice keeps your drink at a whiskey-friendly temperature
Whiskey, or other cocktails with ice, chill because your ice is melting, and this cold liquid is mixing with the warmer liquid of your cocktail. Too much melting dilutes your drink, but the continued melting of your ice also continually lowers your drink temperature. Cocktails are served cold (closer to freezing), but whiskey should be chilled enough to reduce the bite of the alcohol, but not so much that it dulls the flavor. The ideal temperature to drink whiskey is said to be around 60°F, while temperatures as low as 40°F are acceptable. By slowing the dilution of your cocktail, due to the reduced surface area of a sphere ice, your drink will remain at a whiskey-friendly temperature for longer.
After 15 minutes, sphere ice holds 2 oz of whiskey at a temperature of 42°F while ice cubes, due to more dilution, cool 2 oz of whiskey to below freezing (less than 32°F)
Ice spheres won't trap your whiskey
It is easy to "over ice" a drink when using standard cubes. I often find that whiskey gets trapped in all of the nooks and crannies created by a glass full of ice. In addition to faster dilution, standard ice cubes make it difficult to get a consistent sip with so much ice.
20 standard kitchen ice cubes vs. a 2.5" ice sphere with 2 oz of whiskey
Let's face it, large ice spheres just look cooler than a glass full of standard cubes
Just watch the reactions of people served an ice sphere. People love them. The spherical shape also lends itself well to fun designs, that while not being a perfect sphere, are round and offer similar benefits to your cocktail. Have a drink on the 19th hole with ice golf balls or tailgate with football ice shapes. Additional designs, such as a skull shape or other sports-related ice shapes are spherical in nature, allowing for craft ice that aligns with your hobbies and makes for great gifts for whiskey lovers.
Whiskey ice is easy to make with silicone ice molds
Most people associate ice spheres with bourbon, but the trend gained popularity with the Japanese whiskey boom, where ice spheres were often hand carved. The good news is that you don't need to be a skilled ice artisan to enjoy sphere ice. Silicone ice molds have made sphere ice so accessible that I use it for all of my craft cocktails served in rocks glasses or other cocktail glasses that will accommodate ice larger than 2" in diameter. If you're looking to up your game, I highly recommend a clear ice sphere maker. Clear ice spheres offer the same benefits of standard ice spheres, but are crystal clear, look incredible, and are easy to make using clear ice systems.
Standard ice spheres and ice cubes compared to clear sphere ice
Additional sphere ice resources:
- Read The Definitive Guide to Clear Ice if you'd like to learn more.
- Click here to see all of our complete craft ice offering.