There’s more to ice than frozen water. Well-made ice cubes actually affect the way that your cocktail tastes—and different ice does different things to different drinks. So dump out those crescent cubes and get ready to make the best drinks of your life by simply paying attention to your ice.
To help up your ice game we tapped bonafide ice expert Richard Boccato. Not only does he own two renowned cocktail meccas in New York—Dutch Kills and Fresh Kills—as well as Bar Clacson and The Slipper Clutch in Los Angeles, but he also owns NYC’s Hundredweight Ice, which produces some of the finest blocks of ice in the world used by many of the city’s top bars. Here, Boccato reveals his tips for “hustling frozen water.”
Crescent Ice Won’t Cut It
While you can fill a glass with ice at the push of a button, the ice produced by the machine built into your refrigerator is not ideal for stirring or shaking cocktails—and don’t even think about serving your cocktails with that stuff. Not only does the ice melt quickly, but it also breaks easily and just plain looks bad. “You can easily make ice with larger molds at home with silicone cube molds,” Boccato says.
Water Doesn’t Matter as Much as You May Think
While the ice from your fridge won’t do, the water from your sink will. Unless you live near a Superfund site, the water that you use to make ice generally won’t affect the flavor (or smell) of a cocktail. “You would have to have a highly exalted palate or live in an area where the water is soft, hard or exhibiting a high minerality (or PH) that is unsavory and obvious to the palate,” Boccato says. But if you’re really worried about the water that you use for your ice, simply use filtered water or distilled water.
Pick the Right Shape for Making Your Drink
Don’t save all your big, beautiful king cubes for serving drinks. You’ll also need some to make those drinks. “A larger cube for shaking is going to give you more aeration, which will give you a better head on your finished cocktail,” Boccato says. “When stirring, the size of your cubes should be varied, larger pieces [at the bottom of the mixing glass] for temperature and smaller pieces for adding water content because they will melt faster.”
Pick the Right Shape for Serving Your Drink
Every type of ice will affect your drink differently. “With each particular style of ice, you’re trying the best that you can, given the parameters of your environment—whether that be your kitchen, your living room, or an actual, working cocktail bar—to control and mitigate temperature and water content [in the cocktail],” Boccato says. For something that already has a higher water content, you want ice that melts slowly. “For example, if you’re making a Highball, you know that you are going to be adding water as an ingredient in that cocktail, so the ice going into that cocktail would ideally be larger format relative to the size of the glass and the liquid volume of the cocktail.” Similarly, for stirred cocktails that are almost 100-percent alcohol (like Negronis or Vieux Carres), your cube of ice should also be larger so that it does not lower the strength of the cocktail as you drink it. Only when a cocktail is extra boozy and served long—i.e., tiki cocktails that layer an insane amount of high proof booze on top of one another—should you use smaller cubes of ice or even crushed ice. This ice will melt faster, softening the alcoholic edge of the drink and making it more drinkable the longer you sip on it.
Add the Ice at the Right Time
“The ice used to serve your cocktail ideally would be right out of the freezer—at around minus 4 degrees Celsius [about 25 degrees Fahrenheit],” Boccato says. “At around 0 degrees Celsius there is a phase change that is taking place, where liquids and solids are parting ways. You don’t want to be using ice with surface melt. If you shake with it, you get a slushie. If you stir with it, you’re adding too much water content to a high proof cocktail.”
As far as serving your cocktail, you never want to add ice to a glass while you mix your drink (unless you are pre-chilling your glass and plan on dumping that ice out). By the time that your cocktail is made, there will be residual water in that glass from the ice melting. Ice that has sat at room temperature will also melt faster in the cocktail, diluting your drink too quickly.
Store Your Ice Right
Some cocktail purists argue that if you keep your ice in your freezer alongside frozen foods—either in an open container or in a mold—it will pick up the flavors and aromas of the food. While this theory has not been proven (or disproven) scientifically, there are preventative measures you can take to make sure that your ice maintains its quality when you store it. Boccato says that if you really want to be meticulous about it, you can “put your ice in freezer bags and that should combat any malodorous offenses.” Or, if you have the luxury of a separate freezer, you can use it as a dedicated ice locker, which will eliminate any possibility of contamination from outside sources.
Your Ice Has an Expiration Date
No, your ice will not develop mold spores or turn sour like milk when it expires—but it still can develop unwanted flavors if it is stored too long in your freezer. “In any freezer there is going to be evaporation. It happens no matter what. So if you leave your ice for too long in the freezer, it’s not going to be the same as it was when you put it in there,” Boccato says. To alleviate this issue, we recommend storing your ice in Ziploc baggies and labeling each bag with a clearly written date (in sharpie) to ensure that you are using the oldest ice in your freezer first.