Types of ice in cocktails

8 Different types of ice in cocktails

By Timo Torner / Last updated on August 30, 2022 
Ice in cocktails serves various purposes and therefore comes in different shapes and types. It chills and dilutes your drink and can also impact the overall quality of a cocktail.

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-size 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 way faster than a large, clear ice cube.

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 tend to underestimate its importance. The best ingredients won't produce an excellent drink when you don't use proper ice for preparation and for 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

Chilling glassware

To be able to serve high-class cocktails, the glass 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 couple of 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.

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 super important that you don't 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 recipe of the cocktail you want to make.

Important: always discard the ice from your shaker or mixing glass after preparing a drink. The ice already will have melted and would dilute the next batch of drinks way too fast, resulting in watery cocktails.

Dilution when preparing a cocktail

Ice not only 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, the first 15 seconds add 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

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.

The 8 Different types of ice in cocktails

Choosing the suitable type of ice is vital to making a perfect drink. Usually, the cocktail recipe indicates which kind of ice to use. Nonetheless, it's best to know the different options and why they matter.

Regular ice cubes

Regular ice cubes are typically 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.

Regular clear ice cube cones for cocktails

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 own clear ice cubes at home.

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 larger.

Large ice cubes for cocktails

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.

Such 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.

Ice spheres or balls

Ice spheres, sometimes also called ice balls, are round ice cubes that are very popular due to their shape and low surface area.

Ice spheres for cocktails

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 and clearer ice.

Crushed ice

Crushed ice is popular in cocktails and is essential to fancy drinks like the Swizzles. But crushed ice is also part of other classics like Mint Juleps, Moscow Mule, or Tiki cocktails like the Mai Tai.

Crushed ice for cocktails

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 also a cheaper way to get perfectly crushed ice.

Pebbled ice

Like crushed ice, pebbled ice is used for drinks like the Moscow Mule or Mint Julep. These tiny modern cubes are easily made with the help of pebbled ice trays you can find online.

Pebbled ice trays

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.

Shaved 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.

Shaved ice for cocktails

The result is an airy ice structure 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 happen to come across this kind of ice.

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.

Collins ice sticks

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.

If you want to make them at home, you can cut them from a larger ice block or get some Collins ice stick trays online.

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 freezing 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 cocktail

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 all costs.

What to look for in cocktail ice?

When choosing the ice to make cocktails, it should be of high quality. That means it should tick the boxes below.

Neutral taste

The taste of your ice should be neutral. That may sound obvious. However, ice cubes made in the freezer can take 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 that 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.

Clarity

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.

Size

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.

Using a large, clear block of ice in your glass only helps if the drink has been diluted properly during the shaking or stirring process.

If you used 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.

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