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How to Make Ice for Cocktails (and Other Drinks)

Here's what you need to know about ice cubes, crushed ice, and block ice.

red and blue ice cube trays stacked
Photography by: Bryan Gardner

Ice is a crucial component of any cocktail recipe, and it deserves just as much thought as the spirits, bitters, juices, and other mixers you put into your drink. If you're going to buy a vodka from Scandinavia because it is made using a superior water source, why would you use freezer-burned, stale, or cloudy ice? One of the most important functions of ice in your drink is the way it melts and not only keeps the drink in balance with the proper amount of dilution, but the act of ice melting is what keeps your cocktail cool as you sip it. As well as the quality of your ice, the shape of ice is also important: If it melts too quickly, you'll end up with watered-down flavors; too slowly, and your drink may be too alcoholic. 

 

Here are the ice shapes that any budding mixologist should be familiar with.

 

Related: Try A Tropical Cocktail

 

Cubed Ice

Ice cubes are the workhorse of your ice repertoire: You'll use them for stirring, shaking, and also building cocktails on the rocks. There are molds available to freeze larger cubes, which allow for slower dilution. Cubes can also be pounded into crushed pieces. The only other things you need for this is a clean towel and a hammer or mallet.

 

Crushed Ice

A very fine, fluffy ice shape, crushed ice is what commonly comes out of fountain soda machines and will make a slushy cocktail. Crushed ice is perfect for strong cocktails that need a lot of dilution, like the mint julep, cobblers, and tiki drinks.

 

Cracked Ice

Bagged ice from the store is a common example of cracked ice, which melts faster than cubes and adds more water to a cocktail. Cracked ice is perfect for frozen drinks because cubes can clog the blade of your blender. 

 

Block Ice

All ice used to be cut to order from a large block but today ice blocks are mainly used in punches and large batch cocktails. You can make your own ice ring with a simple bundt pan or buy a special ice mold.

 

How to Make Ice

Start by using water you would want to drink: distilled, filtered, purified, spring, or mineral water are all good options. Experiment with various sizes of ice cube trays: One inch-square cubes are versatile; but mix it up and try jumbo cube molds and spherical ice ball molds as well. For a fun drink garnish, make infused ice. Fruit and herbs are colorful and add a hint of flavor, you can also use edible flowers.

 

How to Keep Ice Fresh

Rotate your ice-cube trays frequently and keep ice away from frozen foods with powerful aromas such as frozen fish. If your refrigerator has an ice machine, make sure you are keeping the ice fresh by using the oldest cubes first.