Straight Up: How to Make the Best Ice Cubes for Summer Cocktails

Straight Up: How to Make the Best Ice Cubes for Summer Cocktails

Nora Maynard
Jun 13, 2008

With the mercury tickling the top of the thermometer this week, today at Straight Up, it's All About Ice.

All ice cubes are not created equal. And while you might not know it, these little frozen blocks do much more for a cocktail than simply chill it. For the full scoop on ice, read on…

Why Some Melting Is Good

Contrary to popular belief, a little melt can do wonders for a drink. When a cocktail such as a martini (or Gibson) is shaken or stirred with ice (and subsequently strained into a glass), two things happen. Yes, the alcoholic ingredients do chill as they mingle with the ice, but also, nearly as importantly, the ice melts a little when it meets the room-temperature alcohol, adding the slightest mellowing touch of water to the drink. This is why you don't want to store your gin or vodka in the freezer when making martinis:

gin + vermouth = firewater

gin + vermouth + a smidgen of melted ice = a very fine drink

Go Big and Blocky

Take a little care when choosing your trays. Unless your final aim is to make crushed ice for a frozen blender drink, tiny ice cubes are not the way to go. And fancy shapes (while cute) tend to melt too quickly to be practical. Select trays that make big, solid chunks for slow, controlled melting. While little a dilution is just what the doctor ordered, too much will just lead to a warm, overly watered-down drink.

More Tips
  • If you want crystal-clear cubes for a special occasion, fill the trays with hot (close to boiling), filtered water so the ice forms slowly and evenly and tiny air bubbles are released. (The cubes in the pic at the very top of this post were made that way, while the ones in the drink beneath it weren't, if you want to compare.)
  • Rotate and replenish ice frequently to avoid off-odors and cube shrinkage.
  • Recycling doesn't pay when it comes to ice. Always refill your cocktail shaker with fresh cubes when making multiple rounds of drinks.
  • To make cracked or crushed ice for frozen drinks without straining your blender's blades and motor, first wrap the cubes in a clean, lint-free tea towel, then whack with a rolling pin (or meat tenderizer or heavy serving spoon) before adding to the mix.
  • To get the elegant, hand-chiseled look of the ice in swanky cocktail bars, make large blocks in cake pans and crack with an ice pick. (We haven't tried this one yet, anyone else?)

Tell us how you like your ice.

Related: What Did We Do With Those Lemons?

(Images: Nora Maynard)


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