Whipping up a cocktail definitely comes with a few steps. You need to gather your spirit, your mixer and your garnish to finish it off — but what about your ice? Ice can often be an afterthought when it comes to mixing drinks, but it certainly isn’t for bartenders.
In fact, the way your drink is served up in a craft cocktail bar is very intentional, and ice plays a huge role in that. Want to be sure you’re serving up your cocktails at home on a pro level? Especially when you’re making the recipes from our new cocktail guide? We sat down with Seattle Cocktail Stylist and Mobile Bartender Adam Way to learn all about ice types for cocktails.
Why Those Rocks Matter
First things first — why should we even care about the type of ice we’re adding to a cocktail? Well, ice is added to cocktails or straight spirits for two reasons: chilling your drink and diluting it. While any form of ice can cool things down, the speed at which the ice melts and the flavor it can impart onto your cocktail can make all the difference.
“Ice shape, clarity and size impacts how fast a drink cools, how long it stays cool for, how fast it dilutes and how much it dilutes,” Way says. After all, ice eventually melts and turns into water, so depending on your cocktail recipe, it’s important to consider if the addition of ice will make your beverage too watery.
According to Way, clarity of ice plays a role in the science of making the perfect cocktail as well. “Ice that is crystal clear is more dense as it holds less air, and it melts slower,” he adds. “It has less impurities and imparts little to no flavor to a drink, whereas cloudy ice from a home freezer can impart the taste of plastic.”
Spherical Ice and King Cubes
If you’re sipping on something with complex flavor palate, of course, you want to be able to savor it, and ice certainly plays a role in that. Large cube or spherical ice can cool your drink evenly and for a long time, without the ice melting and diluting your spirit or stirred cocktail too much along the way.
“Ice spheres are best used for spirit-forward drinks that you want to dilute slowly and stay cold for a long time, like an Old Fashioned for example,” Way says.
If you’ve sipped on a Mint Julep or a Mai Tai, traditionally those cocktails will utilize crushed ice packed in the glass, in an intentional shape to boot. “Crushed and pebble ice are best in drinks that you want to dilute and get cold quickly,” Way says, recommending dropping by your favorite tiki bar to buy pebble ice, a denser and more uniform option to crushed. To make crushed ice, toss some cubes in a high-intensity blender or food processor to grind them down, or Way suggests adding ice to a canvas bag (often called a Lewis big) and smashing it with a mallet.
This is another shape of ice to totally up your cocktail game. Cylindrical ice is typically utilized in Collins glasses with drinks like mojitos partially because — let’s face it — they look really cool. But, this shape of ice also plays a role in keeping a drink incredibly chilled all throughout, with much slower dilution while sipping.
Standard Freezer Ice Cubes
If you don’t have the tools to make large sphere-shaped ice cubes or a crushed ice machine, don’t fret. Utilizing standard cubed freezer ice is certainly acceptable, and this type of ice will actually come in handy for some drinks or when that’s all you’ve got. Because of their size and shape, these cubes provide consistent chilling in a drink — though often faster in dilution and Way says he believes they often impart a plastic flavor — and do the trick when shaking or stirring a cocktail to chill it and strain out.