Last edited on July 29, 2023
Clear ice in glasses on a cocktail bar with soft, elegant sunlight

Ice is one of the most overlooked aspects of cocktails. Many people just see ice as a way to cool their drinks, and an annoying source of dilution. When used correctly, ice can enhance the taste and look of your drinks, so stick around and learn everything you need to become an expert on all things ice.

The primary purpose of ice in drinks is chilling them, but they're also an important balancing aspect in many cocktails. In some drinks, like the Old Fashioned, the ice slowly dilutes the drink, making the flavors of the drink evolve as you drink it.

How Much Ice To Use In Cocktails

It's a common misconception that when you have more ice in your drink, it dilutes more. The opposite is actually true, because the rate of dilution is completely dependent on the difference in temperature between your ice, and your cocktail.

You want to use lots of ice in your cocktails (if they call for ice), because this keeps your drink chilled for a long time. Because your drink will be cold, the rate of dilution will actually be very slow. This makes the drink stay cool for even longer, because the ice will take longer to melt.

If you don't have much ice in your glass, the drink won't be as cold, so the ice will melt quicker, and leave you with a diluted drink.

Types Of Ice

There are many different types of ice used in bartending, each serving a unique purpose, so it's important to have a strong understanding of each type, and when to use them.

It's important to note that ice with high surface area dilutes a drink quickly, and vice versa. Similarly, ice with high surface area only keep a drink chilled for a short time, because it melts faster than ice with low surface area.

Large Ice Cubes

Large ice cubes have low surface area, meaning that they dilute your drink slowly, and they keep your drink chilled for a long time.

These are primarily used in spirit-forward drinks, or spirits neat. This is because these drinks need to stay cold, to minimise the harshness of the alcohol.

Another reason large ice cubes are used for spirit-forward drinks is because it dilutes slowly, so the rich flavors of the spirit you're drinking aren't lessened as the ice melts.

Ice Balls (or Ice Spheres)

Ice spheres have basically the same qualities as large ice cubes, except they're spheres (obviously). These are great for adding the wow-factor to your drinks.

Also, spheres have a lower surface area than cubes, meaning that ice balls actually keep your drink chilled for slightly longer than large ice cubes.

Cracked Ice

Cracked ice is great for quickly chilling drinks. For this reason, it's commonly used when shaking or stirring cocktails, because it minimises the amount of time you need to spend mixing.

You can make cracked ice by grabbing a large ice cube, and a small ice pick (or the back of your bar spoon), and hitting it repeatedly. If you don't have an ice pick or bar spoon, you can really use anything you can find in the kitchen.

Pebble Ice

Pebble ice is basically lots of very small bits of ice. It has a very high surface area to volume ratio, so it cools drinks very quickly, but also dilutes quickly. It's commonly used in tropical and fruity cocktails, like the Mojito, because it looks nice, and has a nice mouth-feel.

You can make pebble ice easily at home by putting it in a bag and crushing it with a mallet (or other hard object), or putting it in a blender.

Small Ice Cubes

Small ice cubes are anywhere from half an inch to an inch wide, and commonly used for presentation. It has moderate chilling and dilution, but they look fantastic, particularly if they're clear.

You can make small ice cubes by cutting up large ice cubes into 8 smaller cubes, by halving it three times.

Collins Ice (Stick Ice)

Collins ice is a large piece of ice, carved into a long stick. This makes it useful for drinks consumed in Collins glasses, like the Mojito, because it allows you to effectively chill the drink with a single piece of ice, with the added bonus of looking very fancy.

Clear Ice

While this is different from the other types, in that this is a difference in texture and quality, instead of shape, it's important to make the distinction. All of the other types can (and should!) be made with clear ice.

We'll go into all of the reasons why clear ice is better than white ice in the next section, as well as teaching you how to make clear ice at home!

Clear Ice VS White Ice

One of the best things you can do to make your drinks look absolutely spectacular is to trade out your white ice for clear ice. It brings a great sense of elegance, and actually is better in terms of chilling ability and dilution than white ice.

What Is Clear Ice?

Clear ice is a type of ice made using a special method of freezing, in which there are no impurities or oxygen bubbles trapped. This makes the ice completely see-through.

The lack of oxygen bubbles and impurities means that the ice takes longer to melt, keeping a drink chilled for a much longer time than white ice, as well as minimising the dilution of the drink.

Is Clear Ice Important?

Clear ice is important to elevate the level of your cocktails. It keeps the drink chilled for longer, without diluting it as much. It also adds an extra elegance to the presentation of the cocktail, compared to white ice. If you have the time to make it in advance (we'll show you how in a bit), it's definitely worth it!

How To Make Clear Ice For Free

There are plenty of clear ice molds which you can buy online. They're very easy to use, and they can usually make a couple of large ice cubes at a time. This is great, but what if you don't want to spend money, or you want to make clear ice en masse? I'll show you a way to make clear ice at home, for free!

Here's everything you'll need to make clear ice:

  • A large, insulated cooler
  • Distilled or filtered water
  • A bread knife or ice pick.

First, you want to ensure your cooler (or other similar container) is completely clean, because that is what we're going to make the ice in.

Then, fill the container with your distilled/filtered water. Don't fill it up the whole way, because you want to leave space for the water to expand as it freezes without spilling over.

Once you've done that, pop your container into the freezer. Make sure it's level and stable, then let it freeze for about 18 to 24 hours. The freezing process will happen from the top down, trapping all of the air bubbles and impurities at the bottom of the container.

Once the water has frozen, remove the container from the freezer, and let it sit and defrost for a couple of minutes. If you don't let it sit, the warmth from your hands may make the ice crack from being exposed to different temperatures too quickly.

After you've let it sit for a few minutes, remove the ice block from the container by tapping the sides. If it doesn't release, you can pour a bit of warm (not too warm!) water over the ice to help it release.

Now, you'll be able to see that a significant portion of the ice is completely clear (if you've done everything right!). You can use your bread knife (or any knife really) to break up the ice into whatever shapes and sizes you'd like.

Once you've made the clear ice, it's important to store them in ziplock bags, because leaving them out in the freezer without a bag can actually result in the ice becoming cloudy, from excess moisture latching onto the ice and freezing.