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Why Ice Is The Key To Great Cocktails

Ice. It may be the most underappreciated ingredient in all of cocktaildom.


But consider the Martini. Without ice, you'd have a warm glass of gin and vermouth. Good enough if you lean that way, I suppose. But take away the ice, and you not only have a warm drink, you have a “hot” drink, in the sense that it’s highly alcoholic and harsh. The ice dilutes as it melts. It smooths off the edges. It’s a critical ingredient in the drink.

There’s an old adage about the necessary building blocks of a cocktail: one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and four of weak.

The “weak” is ice. Or more to the point, the water that comes off it.

So the quality of ice matters. You want ice made from pure, filtered water. You want clean, fresh, youthful ice that doesn’t give off the essence of whatever else is in your freezer.

The Recipe for Cocktail Ice

Admittedly, a recipe for making ice sounds preposterous. And yet, I posted just such a recipe for ice on this very site. And yes, as making ice goes, the recipe's a little worky. But it is not a joke. Follow it, and you'll find that the resulting cocktails taste better.

What I do is boil some filtered water on a Friday morning, cool the kettle down in an ice-water bath (using regular-old ice), and then freeze it in the silicone trays or globes for the Friday night cocktail. It makes a difference.

But a reasonable person could easily skip the boiling step and still be in good shape. Excellent shape, even. (Full disclosure: I skip that step more often than not.)

Now, if you’re super-serious about your cocktail ice, you might want to keep it in its very own freezer. If that seems excessive, it's probably also obsessive.

Either way, once you have some large cubes or globes of youthful ice, you can customize it for your drinks.

This means wailing away at it. You can wrap the ice in a kitchen towel and bang it with a rolling pin. (I use a Lewis bag and wooden mallet.)

For Old Fashioneds and Negronis, crack the ice into large shards.


Classic Old Fashioned Cocktail

Old Fashioned Cocktail

Photo by Carl Hanson


Negroni Cocktail



For the cocktail pitcher or shaker, crack your ice a little smaller to make perfect Martinis and Manhattans.




Shaggy's Manhattan

Shaggy's Manhattan

Photo by Butler


Or really wail on it, pummelling your poor ice into wee cobbles for Mint Juleps, Mojitos, and Sherry Cobblers.


Sherry Cobbler



Mint Juleps



The Real Mojito



Or do nothing of the sort, and leave the large cubes or globes of ice whole.

This is a good way to drink straight whiskey if you don't want shards of ice (with more surface area) melting and diluting your drink. (Or leave the ice in the freezer and drink your whiskey neat.)

And if you think the recipe for cocktail ice is ridiculous, get a load of this. A few years ago, I watched a bartender, who was more than a little serious about his ice, cut cubes from a 300-pound block of crystal-clear ice.

, New Orleans, 2011

Making chainsaw ice at home is easy! 

All you need are a few simple tools:
1. A chainsaw with a very, very clean chain. (Run it through an industrial dish washer before use.)
2. A band saw for slicing large blocks into cubes.
3. A Kold-Draft machine with inverted evaporator, a pressurized system that locks out air and impurities.
4. Or some kind of commercial ice-block delivery service that will bring a 300-pound chunk of purified, deoxygenated ice to your door.
5. Protective eyewear. People, the chips fly where they may!

Carl Hanson

About Carl Hanson

Carl will eat that. Share with him @CarlNo9 on Twitter.