Whether shaken or stirred, cocktail ice is key to a drink’s temperature, dilution, flavor and presentation. The ice cubes from your freezer will work just fine, but with some different ice molds, tools and techniques, you can elevate your cocktails significantly.
Just as different cocktails call for different glasses, most drinks are best when served with a particular type of ice. Here are some of the basic types of bar ice and how to create them at home.
Cubes. As noted above, the cubes from your basic ice tray or freezer icemaker will do. An ice mold that makes 1-in. square cubes yields perfect, all-purpose cubes that fit well and look good in the glass and provide adequate dilution of the drink. For less dilution and more impact, you can use a 2-in. ice mold.
Spheres. Large ice balls also slow the dilution and amp up the drink’s presentation. Spheres are general used in spirit-forward stirred drinks such as a Negroni or most anything served on the rocks. You can buy the molds at most home goods stores, you may want to make a bunch in advance if you’ll be making a lot of drinks.
Spears. Ice spears, also called shards, cylindrical ice or Collins ice, go in tall drinks such as a Tom Collins or Gin and Tonic. The icicle-like spears look impressive and keep the drink chilled with slower dilution, but they’re probably not necessary unless you really want to make a statement with your long drinks.
Pebble ice. This is essentially crushed or shaved ice, or sort of in between crushed and cubed ice. This type of ice is typically used for Tiki drinks, Juleps and Swizzles; though the pieces of ice are smaller, densely packed into a glass they become insulated and keep the drink cold.
If your refrigerator doesn’t have an icemaker that dispenses crushed ice, you can make your own pebble ice by wrapping cold, dry ice cubes in a dish towel and hitting them with a wooden mallet, muddler or meat tenderizer. Craft bartenders often use a Lewis bag — a canvas bag or money sack with a folding flap or tie — to contain the ice cubes while they smash them into pebbled pieces.
Ice blocks. Serious craft bartenders will freeze large blocks of ice and carve off shapes with an ice pick or serrated knife. But for most of us, ice blocks are best suited for punch bowls: They look fun and chill the punch slowly.
You can buy molds to make blocks or ice, or you can cut the top off an empty, clean milk or juice carton and use it to freeze a block or ice. Ice rings, made with a Jello mold or Bundt cake pan, also work well to chill bowls of punch. You can also add sliced fruit or herb sprigs that will complement the punch to the water before freezing for an ice ring with flavorful flair.