What is Directional Freezing?

By Timo Torner / Last updated on April 6, 2023

Directional Freezing is a clever and very affordable way to produce crystal-clear ice cubes. This simple method controls the direction water freezes to the ice to ensure the resulting cubes and spheres are free from impurities.
Directional Freezing - cooler and clear ice cubes

Clear ice cubes are one of the simplest and most effective ways to upgrade a cocktail visually. Fancy cocktail bars have been using them for ages to show their attention to detail. And with the directional freezing method, you can make perfectly clear ice cubes at home.

The thing is, clear ice not only looks better, but it also lifts the quality of your drinks. To understand why it's necessary to look at why ice cubes are cloudy.

The reason for cloudy ice

Cloudy ice cubes melt faster, dilute your drinks, and can even affect thor taste negatively. Simply put, they are inferior to clear ice. But why?

As Alcademics explain, the reason why ice is cloudy is that impurities like air and minerals are caught inside the cubes. These trapped impurities then turn the middle of an ice cube milky and cloudy. 

A traditional ice cube mold or tray is not insulated. That means that the cold from the freezer is coming from all sides. The cubes will freeze from outside to inside until the water is entirely frozen. -You might have noticed that the outside of ice cubes is often clear, and only the center is cloudy. So, let me explain:

When water freezes, it pushes air, minerals, and other impurities away to freeze into a perfect crystal lattice. However, with regular ice cube trays, this happens on all sides at the same time. That means impurities are transported into the center of ice cubes until there's no way out. The impurities are kept inside the ice and turn it cloudy. 

Directional freezing vs Regular freezing - illustration

How cloudy ice affects the taste of drinks?

If you have a drink with cloudy ice, you might realize that as soon as the murky parts start to melt, the taste of your drink turns a bit off. That is because you have hit a mineral pocket. 

During the freezing process, minerals and air are pushed away until they're finally trapped. That means that strongly cloudy bits of ice contain lots of mineral impurities. When melting, these won't only dilute your drink but also affect the taste. That's another reason why clear ice cubes in cocktails are so important.

How to apply the Directional Freezing method?

To make crystal-clear ice, you should ensure two things:

  1. The ice should freeze in one direction
  2. Ice cube molds need space to push the impurities away.

Make clear ice with a cooler

The easiest way to do this is the so-called Cooler Method. For this, you fill a small cooler with ice and put the whole thing in your freezer without the cooler's top.

That makes sure that the ice freezes from top to bottom. The upper 50 to 75% of the water will turn into a clear ice block, and only the last 25% will turn cloudy.

The trick is to remove the see-through slab of ice before it freezes through. This way, you won't have to cut off murky ice and can focus on cutting your clear ice block into more conveniently sized cubes. 

Follow these simple steps for the best results:

Time needed: 1 day and 6 hours

Use Directional Freezing to produce clear ice at home.

  1. Fill a cooler

    Fill the cooler with purified water; -Alternatively, you can also use tap water. Make sure to fill it only partly and leave an inch or two for the ice to expand.

  2. Put in freezer

    Put the whole cooler in your freezer with the lid off. This allows the ice to freeze from top to bottom.

  3. Wait

    After 24 to 30 hours, check on the ice by removing the cooler from the freezer.

  4. Remove cooler from freezer

    Wait for 5 to 10 minutes, so the block until the block begins to melt. At this stage, only a part of the cooler's water should be frozen. That leaves you with a solid block of crystal-clear ice.

  5. Trim ice block

    Prepare the ice block and trim excess ice to create a more or less even surface.

  6. Score lines

    Then use a serrated knife to score lines into the block of ice; -Moving the tool like it is a small saw can help with that.

  7. Cut into cubes

    Place the knife into the lines and use a hammer to tap its top to break apart the ice.

The easier way

If you're too lazy to cut your ice cubes, you can purchase a clear ice maker. These gadgets are specifically designed to follow the rules of directional freezing to get best results. They come in various styles, mostly made from styrofoam. You can buy these clear ice makers with molds that create cubes, spheres, diamonds, or other shapes.

Our favorite tool is from Wintersmith. With molds in different sizes and shapes, this tool can help you make big and small spheres, cubes, collins sticks, and diamonds.

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