How to make large-format, clear ice at home.
There’s something magical about a hand-carved, clear chunk of ice. The way a drink can catch the light and glow with the right piece of ice can make anyone feel romantic about cocktails. Most people think it’s difficult to achieve clear ice, or that you need special tools or freezers. All you need is an understanding about how ice works, some basic kitchen tools, and your home freezer to make a little magic yourself.
Why Large Ice?
Other than making your drink beautiful, large-format, clear ice can control the dilution rate of your cocktail.
“With less surface area, large cubes help keep that drink tasting consistent from start to finish,” says Lucas Huff, director of brand advocacy at Bently Heritage Estate Distillery in Minden. “Smaller cubes will expose your cocktail to a larger surface area and will lead to more rapid dilution. By the time you reach the end of that brilliant old fashioned, you’re likely drinking 90 percent water, and nobody likes a watered-down drink.”
So, in a nutshell, the smaller the ice, the more water you get in your cocktail.
Water wants to become clear ice; it just needs a little help. You can achieve clear ice when the impurities and oxygen in water have the chance to escape before the water is frozen. The best way to aid in the slow freezing of water is to place your water in a hard, insulated cooler with the top open inside your freezer. The insulated walls of the cooler only allow cold air to enter from the top; this way, the water freezes from the top down. This top-down method pushes the impurities and air to the bottom as the density of the liquid changes. (Note: There will be some white ice at the bottom of your cooler, but it will be clear on top.) When you let water freeze from all directions, as you do with your ice tray at home, the cold air surrounding it pushes those bubbles into the center of your ice. (If you have a cooler that fits in your freezer, you also can place an ice tray or other shaped mold inside it and get much more transparent ice that way, too.)
Making the Cut
Cutting ice seems scary, but you don’t need a chainsaw unless you cut massive amounts of it. All you need is a serrated knife or, if you’re fancy, an ice pick, as well as a wooden mallet or rolling pin. The first step in cutting ice is to saw a centimeter-sized cut on the top of the ice you want to break.
Then place the ice pick or knife on the cut and hammer lightly on the tool with the mallet or rolling pin until the ice breaks cleanly.
Once your chunk is off — it is up to you at this point — you can cut long Collins-glass-sized pieces, or, if you’re like me, you can stick to big unruly pieces for that unfinished look. If your ice chunks are too large for your glass, shave away at the edges with a flat blade. I keep a serrated knife, a strong paring knife, and an ice pick in my bar kit for cutting ice to the size I need.
When making ice, remember the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze: “Everything freezes,” but it’s up to you to make sure it freezes well.
Step-by-Step Guide to Making Clear Ice
- Fill a four-quart, hard-sided cooler with distilled water.
- Place the cooler in the freezer without the lid on for 24 hours.
- Remove cooler from freezer and place upside down on a cutting board until ice block is loose and falls out of cooler.
- Trim away any white ice that might have collected at the bottom or corners of the ice block. Then cut to the size you want.
- Store ice in plastic bags in the freezer. The closure will keep freezer smells away from your beautiful ice.
Michael C. Moberly is a spirits educator and creative consultant. His 14 years in the industry have been spent learning, loving, and imbibing with some of its best minds, both locally and nationally. He also is good at wearing hats.