Ice is an integral part of making cocktails and mixed drinks. It cools your drink, keeps it chilled, and brings in water for dilution. -At least if you choose the right type of ice.
Besides standard ice cubes and large ice cubes, there is crushed ice, shaved ice, Collins spears, and ice spheres - to name only a few.
And ice will behave differently depending on the type, shape, size, and quality. For instance, a small, cloudy ice pebble dilutes much faster than a large, clear ice cube. That's why using clear ice in your drinks is so important. To make clear ice cubes a method called directional freezing is used. This method mimics how crystal-clear ice forms in nature, and results in ice cubes that are free of impurities and perfect for any beverage. By crafting clear ice cubes, you can ensure that your drinks look and taste their best.
Additionally, you need ice during the preparation of the drink, which, in most cases, is not recommendable to reuse when serving. So why exactly is it crucial to use quality ice? How do the different types of ice in cocktails compare? And what should you watch out for when buying or making ice for your mixed drinks?
Why do you need ice in cocktails?
Ice is vital when making cocktails, and beginners often underestimate its importance. The best ingredients won't produce an excellent drink when you don't use proper ice for preparation and serving.
So let's see when ice is necessary for the cocktail-making process:
- Chilling cocktail glassware
- Chilling the ingredients during preparation
- Dilution during shaking or stirring
- Keeping your cocktails cold
1. Chilling glassware
To serve high-class cocktails, the glass in which a drink is served needs to be chilled. One way to do this is by putting them into your fridge hours before. Another way is by putting ice into your cocktail glass a few minutes before preparing your drink.
The ice cubes will chill the glass, which, in turn, keeps the cocktail chilled longer. The ice used in this step doesn't need to be of the highest quality. But you should ensure it is pure and has a neutral flavor. Otherwise, it will affect the taste of your cocktail.
2. Chilling during preparation
Ice helps chill and blend the different ingredients. Regardless if you shake your cocktail using a cocktail shaker, stir it in a mixing glass, or build it in the glass like a Swizzle drink.
In most cases, it's important not to reuse the ice from your cocktail shaker or mixing glass, as it usually leads to too much dilution.
Instead, you strain it into a chilled glass without ice or over fresh ice - that depends on the cocktail recipe you want to make.
Important: always discard the ice from your shaker or mixing glass after preparing a drink. The ice will have melted and would dilute the next batch of drinks way too fast, resulting in watery cocktails.
3. Dilution when preparing a cocktail
Ice chills a drink during preparation but also adds a bit of water to the mix while shaking or stirring. So stick to the instruction of a recipe because when you shake or stir a drink longer, there will be more dilution. That can affect taste, mouthfeel, and strength.
As a rule of thumb, there is a simple way to calculate dilution. When stirring, during the first 15 seconds, the ice adds about 1 oz of water to your drink. Every further 15 seconds, another 0.25 oz is added. This means:
- 15 seconds of stirring: 1oz dilution
- 30 seconds of stirring: 1.25oz dilution
- 60 seconds of stirring: 1.75oz dilution
For shaking, there's a similar approach. Yet, shaking a drink will dilute your cocktail faster.
For 1oz of water, you only need to shake a drink for 20 seconds. After 15 seconds, the dilution is already at 0.75oz.
- 15 seconds of shaking: 0.75oz dilution
- 20 seconds of shaking: 1oz dilution
- 30 seconds of shaking: 1.25oz dilution
4. Keeping your drinks cold
The ice served in a cocktail glass is supposed to keep a cocktail cool.
A large, clear ice cube will do that while diluting your drink only slowly. The smaller and cloudier your ice is, the faster it will melt.
As you might know, certain drinks require a specific type of ice. So, if the recipe asks for crushed ice, you should use it instead of cubes.
But if, for instance, you serve a glass of whiskey on the rocks, a large, clear block of ice in your rocks glass is the best way to ensure slow dilution and proper chilling.
What are The Different Types of Cocktail Ice?
Cocktail ice comes in various shapes, textures, and sizes. Here's our bartender's guide to the most important ice cube categories to chill your drinks.
1. Standard ice cubes / Small ice cubes
Regular ice cubes are typically 1 inch by 1 inch in size and come in different shapes. But no matter if square, coned, or irregularly shaped - these standard cubes are ideal for shaking or stirring a drink.
If you only want to store one type of ice cube in your fridge, these are the ones. To get the quality of the ice right, purchase clear ones from the store or make your clear ice cubes at home.
How to make standard ice cubes
Standard ice cubes (small ice cubes) are easy to make or get. You can use standard ice cube trays and put them in your freezer or let your kitchen ice maker produce some cubes. Alternatively, you can also get them from your local grocery store. If you're planning a party or need larger volumes, this is the easiest option, and it's typically better quality than homemade freezer ice.
Cocktails to make with standard ice cubes
- Long Island Ice Tea: A famously potent drink made with 5 different spirits: vodka, tequila, rum, gin, and triple sec.
- Vodka Soda: This simple two-ingredient vodka drink is typically served in a Collins or Highball glass garnished with a slice of lemon or lime.
- Mojito: The Cuban classic is one of the most refreshing summer cocktails. Combine white rum, lime juice, sugar syrup, and mint and serve it in a Highball glass over standard ice cubes. Top up with chilled soda water and garnish with a sprig of mint.
- Caipirinha: Brazil's national drink is made with fresh limes, Cachaça, and sugar. Built it in the glass, chill with small ice cubes, and enjoy.
- Bloody Mary: This delicious brunch cocktail is based on vodka, tomato juice, and spices. Serve it over ice and garnish with a celery stalk or any garnish you like.
2. Large cubes
Large ice cubes vary in size and can easily be at least 2 inches big. When cut from a block, they can also be way bigger.
These slow-melting ice cubes are best for serving top-shelf spirits like Rum or Whiskey on the rocks or in classic sippers like a Negroni or an Old Fashioned.
The lower melt rate of these large ice blocks won't dilute your drink unless you let it sit for a long time. Alternatively, you could also use ice spheres for this.
How to make large ice cubes
Large ice cubes measure over 2 inches in width and height and won't dilute your drink as quickly as smaller ice cubes. You can easily make them with special molds in your freezer. However, if you want to make larger ice cubes crystal clear, you should invest in a clear ice maker.
The resulting ice cubes are free of impurities and ideal to use with ice stamps or ice design plates. These tools will add a symbol or pattern to the ice, making it look even better.
Cocktails to make with large ice cubes
- Boulevardier: The cousin of the Negroni cocktail is made with whiskey, Campari, and sweet vermouth. Stir it with ice in a mixing glass for 12 - 15 seconds, then strain into an Old Fashioned glass over a large ice cube and garnish it with an orange peel.
- Christmas Old Fashioned: Our festive Christmas-themed Old Fashioned recipe demands a large ice cube that melts slowly. Flavored with cranberries and garnished with a sugar rim, it's one of our best Christmas cocktails.
3. Ice spheres or balls
Ice spheres, sometimes called ice balls, are round ice cubes that are very popular due to their shape and low surface area.
The round shape ensures an even slower dilution than squared cubes. And as they rose in popularity, you can find plenty of molds making ice spheres at home.
For best results, I recommend one that is intended for producing clear ice. These molds are a bit more expensive, but you will benefit from better, higher-quality ice.
How to make ice spheres
There are a few ways to make perfect ice spheres for cocktails. Here are the most practical solutions:
- Ice sphere molds: Spherical ice cube molds made from silicone or plastic are the cheapest option to make perfectly round ice balls or spheres at home. They consist of two parts and fit in any freezer. The only downside is that the ice spheres won't be transparent but cloudy.
- Clear ice sphere makers: These tools are similar to the above-mentioned molds but come with an insulated that helps make the spheres crystal clear. Typically, these tools can make two ice spheres at a time.
- Ice sphere press: If you can produce large clear ice cubes, an ice sphere press is undoubtedly the fanciest way to make ice spheres. You place the cube in the ice press, and gravity paired with thermal conduction forms an ice sphere within 30 seconds. However, those ice presses come at a high price point ($200+).
- Hand carve ice spheres: If you're an advanced (home) bartender, learning to carve spheres out of ice cubes could be your next project. Popularized in Japan, bartenders use specialized ice picks to carve ice balls within minutes. The result won't be perfectly round. However, hand-carved ice spheres are certainly an impressive way to serve your drinks.
- Buy in a grocery store: Luckily, you can even buy pre-made ice balls and spheres from various producers online and in grocery stores. The prices vary, but most options will cost double what regular ice cubes cost.
Cocktails to make with ice spheres
- Negroni: The Italian aperitif cocktail made from Campari, gin, and sweet vermouth is stirred on ice and then strained into an Old Fashioned glass over a large ice cube or an ice sphere. Garnish it with an orange peel.
- Old Fashioned: Ice spheres are a popular choice when choosing ice for the famous whiskey cocktail. After combining sugar/syrup with bitters and whiskey, add the ice sphere to the drink and stir to chill the cocktail.
- Rum on the rocks: Ice spheres are an excellent way to serve spirits like whiskey, rum, or Mezcal on the rocks.
4. Crushed ice
Crushed ice is popular in cocktails and is essential to fancy drinks like the Swizzles. But crushed ice is also part of classics like Mint Juleps, Moscow Mule, or Tiki cocktails like the Mai Tai.
The benefit of crushed ice is that it chills drinks way faster than other types. On the downside, the small pieces of ice also melt quickly.
If you don't want to buy it in stores, there's an easy way to make crushed ice at home. It's easy, fun, and a cheaper option to get perfectly crushed ice.
How to make crushed ice
There are two ways to make perfect crushed ice at home. One is using a blender the other requires manual work. Here's what to do:
- Crushed ice with blender: This is the easier way to make perfect crushed ice at home. You only need to add ice cubes and a bit of tap water to your blender and pulse blend until it's ready. For more detailed instructions, check our guide on how to make crushed ice.
- Crushed ice with Lewis bag and mallet: This is the old-school way to make crushed ice. A Lewis bag is a bag made from canvas, specifically designed for making crushed ice. Fill it with standard ice cubes, close the bag, and use the mallet to crush the ice manually.
Cocktails made with crushed ice
- Mai Tai: One of the most iconic tiki drinks. A Mai Tai is shaken with crushed ice for two to three seconds and then served in a glass garnished with a sprig of fresh mint.
- Moscow Mule: Served in the iconic copper Mule mug, the Moscow Mule is a drink made of vodka, ginger beer, lime juice, and syrup. Served over crushed ice and garnished with a sprig of mint; -It's a perfect summer cocktail.
- Mint Julep: The Mint Julep is a classic whiskey cocktail made of bourbon, sugar, and mint. The Mint Julep is traditionally served in a Mint Julep cup over plenty of crushed ice.
- Queen's Park Swizzle: This swizzle cocktail is built directly in a Collins glass. For this, crushed ice, Demerara rum, lime juice, and simple syrup are put in the glass and combined with the help of a swizzle stick. Top up with more crushed ice, float with bitters, and garnish with mint.
5. Pebbled ice
Like crushed ice, pebbled ice is great for drinks like the Moscow Mule or Mint Julep. These tiny modern cubes are easy to make with the help of pebbled ice trays you can find online.
However, these DIY pebbled ice trays will create cloudy pebbles only. While this may work for some drinks, I recommend sticking to regular crushed ice.
How to make pebbled ice cubes
It's super easy to make pebbled ice cubes yourself. The small size makes the production process even easier, as the cubes fully freeze within a few hours. You can make plenty of them in a day or two.
Get a few pebbled ice trays, fill them with water, and put them in the freezer. A few hours later, they're ready for "harvesting." You can store the frozen pebbles in an airtight container in your freezer and fill your trays once more.
Cocktails to make with pebbled ice
You can use pebbled ice in any cocktail that requires crushed ice, and it has similar properties regarding melt rate, chilling, and size. However, there are two very similar drinks I love to make with pebbled ice.
- Blue Hawai: This tropical cocktail is made with vodka, rum, blue curaçao, pineapple juice, lemon juice, and simple syrup. Serve it in a Hurricane glass filled with pebbled ice cubes.
- Blue Hawaiian: This related drink uses rum as a base spirit paired with blue curaçao, pineapple juice, lemon juice, and cream of coconut. It's served in the same glass (Hurricane glass) and also over pebbled ice.
6. Nugget Ice
Nugget ice comprises small, semi-soft, nubby-textured chunks that readily soak up flavors, enhancing and elevating your drink experience. What sounds strange is possible due to the unique way nugget ice is produced. To create them, ice flakes are compressed into small nuggets. Increased air content makes it less dense and easier to chew, leading to a delightful crunch with each bite.
Nugget Ice was developed by Scotsman® in 1981. Since then, other manufacturers copied the technique and sold their products under names like "Sonic Ice," "Pellet Ice," "Cubelet Ice," or "Pearl Ice."
How to make nugget ice
You can not make nugget ice at home as you would need special equipment, namely a professional ice machine from Scotsman.
Cocktails made with nugget ice
- Bourbon Smash: A whiskey Smash cocktail made with bourbon, simple syrup, lemon juice, and fresh mint. Serve it in a rocks glass over nugget ice and garnish with a sprig of mint.
- Bramble: A gin cocktail made from Creme de Mûre, gin, lemon juice, and sugar syrup. Serve it over plenty of nugget ice and garnish with a slice of lemon and fresh blackberries speared on a cocktail pick.
7. Cracked Ice
You make cracked ice by crushing huge cubes into chunks of ice. Sometimes people refer to cracked ice as a cross between crushed ice and standard ice cubes.
However, most cracked ice is made from a huge ice block which is cracked with the help of an ice pick. The result is a comparably large chunk of ice.
How to make cracked ice
Put a large ice block on your desk and crack it with an ice pick or mallet. The chunks of cracked ice will vary in size and may require a second round.
Cocktails made with cracked ice
You can use a chunk of cracked ice to replace a large ice cube in a cocktail. However, in most cases, cracked ice is not used for serving cocktails but rather for chilling them during shaking. Bartenders often prefer these chunks of ice in their shakers as the melt rate is much slower compared to standard ice cubes; This helps create a less diluted drink.
8. Shaved ice or Flake ice
Shaved ice is best known for its use in desserts. Here, larger ice blocks or cubes are shaved with the help of a special machine.
The result is an airy ice texture that will melt in your mouth. These boozy snow cone cocktails usually are twists on classic drinks, like a strawberry-flavored Negroni.
Using this type of ice at home is unusual. But in some experimental craft cocktail bars, you might come across this kind of ice.
How to make shaved ice
Making shaved ice or flake ice always requires special equipment. If you don't have a machine you can make shave ice by putting water into a zip-lock bag, freeze it, and then use a rolling pin to crush the ice into fine ice particles. The results can be close to shaved ice but are closer to crushed ice. I would only recommend it if you can't get your hands on an ice shaver.
Cocktails made with shaved ice
There are no traditional cocktail recipes that ask for shaved ice. However, its consistency makes it an excellent choice for blended drinks like a frozen Daiquiri.
9. Collins ice sticks or spears
Collins spears or Collins ice sticks are the perfect way to chill drinks served in Collins glasses. Those ice spears are long, thick ice blocks diluting a cocktail perfectly.
However, due to their shape, Collins ice sticks only work in Collins or Highball glasses. But if you plan to serve your drinks in this particular type of glassware, Collins ice spears are a perfect choice.
How to make Collins spears
There are multiple ways to make Collins spears for cocktails:
- Cut out of ice block: If you want to make Collins spears at home, you can cut them from a larger ice block. For this, fill a cooler with ice and leave it in your freezer for about 24 hours. Remove a clear block of ice and cut it into the desired shape with the help of a serrated knife.
- Silicone molds: Collins ice spears can easily be made with the help of silicone molds. These molds are affordable and easy to use. You can even put some flowers into the molds to make the Collins spears look more appealing.
- Clear Collins spears maker: Not many tools can produce clear Collins spears. However, the Phantom Ice Maker from Wintersmiths has a mold that allows them to produce these crystal-clear ice sticks. They also offer molds for making spheres and cubes in small and large sizes.
Cocktails made with Collins spear ice
Collins spears are an excellent ice choice for every cocktail served in a Collins or Highball glass. There's no other shape that looks so good in these cocktail glasses. Here are just some examples
- Tom Collins: This classic gin cocktail is made with gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, and chilled soda water. Served with a Collins spear ice stick it looks even better.
- Gin Tonic: A Gin Tonic is a simple combination of gin and tonic water. A Collins ice spear made with botanicals or flowers can elevate the presentation of the drink.
- Vodka Soda: This Highball is a simple combination of vodka and soda water. Try to use one of Chopin's vodkas. This Polish vodka brand produces exquisite vodkas from a variety of base ingredients.
10. Top hat ice
Top hat ice, known for its distinctive round shape with a flared base resembling a top hat, brings style and practicality to the table. Its texture makes it less chewable, preventing customers from eating the ice and ensuring drinks remain cool and refreshing.
Individually produced by the ice machine, these cubes won't clump together, providing a consistent supply for serving. Measuring 1" in height with a 7/8" diameter, top hat ice adds a touch of elegance and functionality to a wide range of beverages, making it a favorite choice in bars and restaurants.
How to make top hat ice
You can not produce top hat ice at home. This type of ice can only be made by professional ice machines.
Cocktails made with top hat ice
You can use standard ice cubes and top hat ice interchangeably. Here are some suggestions:
- Margarita: The Mexican classic is made from blanco tequila, fresh lime juice, and triple sec. Shake all ingredients with ice and then strain it into a rocks glass over top hat ice.
- Piña Colada: A traditional rum cocktail made with white and dark rum, lime juice, pineapple juice, and cream of coconut. Serve it over top hat ice and garnish with a slice of pineapple.
11. Dry ice
Using dry ice for cocktails is mainly used to add a smoky effect to drinks. Often it's used for Halloween cocktails or in cocktails served in fancy craft cocktail bars.
But handling dry ice can be dangerous as it is extremely cold (-109° F / -78.5°C). To stay safe, you should be very careful and always wear protective gloves and use tongs during handling.
Dry ice won't affect the taste of your drink and will sink immediately to the bottom of your glass. Make sure to wait until the dry ice has melted completely. Avoid swallowing at all costs.
12. No ice
While discussing cocktail ice, it is essential to remember that many cocktails are served without ice. These drinks are chilled while the bartender shakes or stirs the ingredients with ice cubes. Then strained into a chilled glass, these cocktails come without ice cubes.
Chilled cocktails served without ice
- Dry Martini: A classic gin cocktail made with five parts gin and one part vermouth. After stirring the ingredients with ice, the drink gets strained into a chilled Martini glass without ice.
- Ramos Gin Fizz: A famous cocktail from New Orleans that is shaken for up to 15 minutes to get the perfect frothy, creamy top.
- Manhattan: One of the most popular whiskey cocktails is made with rye or bourbon, sweet vermouth, and Angostura bitters. After stirring to chill the drink, a Manhattan is served without ice but garnished with a luscious Maraschino cherry.
Cocktail Ice Terminology
Bartending, and cocktail ice, in particular, is a subject with many terms that can seem confusing at first glance. Phrases like clear ice, fresh ice, wet ice, or gourmet ice. We have collected the most important words for you and clarify. terms
What does "wet ice" mean?
The phrase wet ice describes ice cubes that have been at room temperature for a short time and are beginning to thaw. It feels moist when you touch it.
So even if the term sounds wrong at first. It makes a lot of sense when you know what it means.
What is gourmet ice?
The term gourmet ice is more of a marketing term. Gourmet ice is high-quality cocktail ice produced by professional ice machines for upscale cocktail bars/lounges and restaurants.
Gourmet ice usually has an extraordinary shape or size, can be decorated with ice stamps, and is clear and transparent.
What is "fresh ice"?
Fresh ice means that the ice cubes come directly from the freezer and have not been used for mixing. Cocktails are strained from the shaker or mixing glass into a glass with fresh ice.
The advantage of this fresh ice is that it melts more slowly than ice that has already lost a lot of temperature in the shaker or mixing glass.
What is clear ice?
Clear ice is one of the easier terms to explain. It stands for ice that is crystal clear, has no inclusions, and is therefore fully transparent. Besides the size of an ice cube, clarity is the most important quality characteristic to achieve slower melting rates and less diluted drinks.
What to look for in cocktail ice?
When choosing the ice to make cocktails, it should be high quality. That means it should tick the boxes below.
The taste of your ice should be neutral. That may sound obvious. However, ice cubes made in the freezer can carry the taste of other foods.
Also, ice with freezer burn tends to have a non-neutral taste and could ruin your drink.
The best way to ensure your ice has a neutral taste is by using ice trays with a lid. Once the cubes are frozen, you can store them in a freezer bag or closed ice bin.
Using crystal clear ice is the best way to ensure high-quality drinks. No matter what size or shape, always opt for clear ice.
It isn't only about aesthetics but also about reducing dilution. -Foggy ice is subpar because the cloudiness comes from the air trapped inside the ice cubes. This trapped air makes the cubes less dense, and the ice melts faster. That is ultimately responsible for watered-down drinks.
The size of cubes also affects the dilution process. The larger the cubes, the slower the ice melts.
The size of ice cubes that goes into your drink is stated in a cocktail recipe. But remember that you also use quality ice cubes during preparation.
A large, clear block of ice in your glass only helps if the drink has been diluted properly during shaking or stirring.
If you use small and cloudy ice cubes at this step, the resulting drink will be overly watery by the time you pour it into your cocktail glass.