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How to Make the Best Cocktail Ice

Sponsored by Tovolo from Spectrum Diversified Designs

The single most important ingredient in any drink isn’t the expensive spirit or even that freshly squeezed citrus juice. It’s the ice.

It doesn’t have to be perfectly clear or hand-cut, but you want the best quality ice possible in your craft cocktails.

a clear ice cube shaped like a tiki head.

What is craft ice?

Very simply, craft ice is ice that has been carefully created to improve your drinking experience. It’s high quality, thoughtfully crafted ice that optimally cools and dilutes drinks, making them taste their best.

The idea of custom ice or craft cocktail ice is relatively new, but the science behind it is not. The larger the ice cube, the more slowly it melts. A slower-melting ice cube means less water in your finished cocktail, making it taste less diluted. And a greater ice to liquid ratio in the glass means a drink that is colder quicker. No one likes a drink that’s watery and not quite cold. Cocktail ice lesson number one:

Use more ice

Fill your glass with ice. Use plenty of fresh, straight-from-the-freezer ice in your cocktail shaker or mixing glass. There’s a common misconception that adding more ice to the glass or shaker will make the drink more watered down. This would be true if you set the glass down and let all of that ice melt while you were sipping your drink.

However, the more ice in the glass, the colder the drink will be, and it will stay colder much, much longer. You’ll have finished the cocktail and there will still be plenty of ice in the glass.

If by the time you get to the bottom of the drink there’s nothing left but a watery mess, you either drank it very slowly, or you didn’t place enough ice in the glass to begin with. More ice = better drinks (that taste better for longer).

Cocktail ice lesson number two:

Use quality ice

If you want the best-tasting drink possible, whether that’s whiskey on the rocks, a Martini, or a Strawberry Paloma, you need to consider the size and quality of your ice. What makes high quality drink ice? Generally speaking, you want ice that’s:

  • Large in size
  • Fresh from the freezer
  • Tastes neutral

The size of your ice matters. Smaller ice cubes melt more quickly, which will mean a more watered down drink. Sometimes this is desired, like in cocktails served over crushed ice. The Mint Julep is an example of a drink that benefits from the extra dilution of crushed or pebble ice.

holding a large pink ice sphere next to ice molds.

When making cocktails at home, it’s important to know what kind of ice the drink you’re making calls for. Most of the time, your drink can be improved by using larger ice, both in the shaker and in the glass.

When it comes to serving your drinks, larger ice is your friend. This is especially true if you like spirit-forward sips like the Negroni, but shaken drinks like Margaritas, and even iced coffees or lemonades can all benefit from being served over large pieces of slow-melting ice. Any drink will taste better if it stays as fresh as the moment it was poured for a longer period of time.

Use ice that’s fresh from the freezer. It’s important to not use “wet” ice when shaking, stirring, or serving drinks. Wet ice means ice that has become very melty from sitting out, like in an ice bucket. It will continue to melt and at a faster pace than ice fresh from the freezer that feels “dry” to the touch. We’re not talking about actual dry ice here – and I don’t recommend using that kind of ice in cocktails at all. So for clarity we’ll just call it “fresh ice”, meaning fresh from the freezer.

pink ice spheres frozen in Tovolo molds.

Use good-tasting water for good-tasting ice. It’s second nature to use tap water for making ice cubes, even if maybe the water from the tap isn’t the best tasting. Don’t do it. If you use water for your ice that doesn’t taste very good to drink, when that ice melts into your drink, your cocktail will also not taste its best.

About 25% of your finished cocktail is water from melted ice. That’s one quarter of your drink tasting like whatever comes out of the tap.

Perhaps you’re lucky and have great tap water. If you’re like me, however, you have well water that’s full of off-putting flavors and aromas. Alternatives to the tap are bottled spring or purified water, or running tap water through a water filter.

The clear ice debate

In addition to tasting good, it’s a real bonus if your ice is great looking too. Clear ice has become the industry standard in craft cocktail bars and many attest to its cocktail-improving properties. However, clear ice has been shown to have a negligible difference from non-clear ice in terms of priority #1: how slow it melts. 

using ice tongs to place clear tiki ice cubes into a tall glass.

What may actually be beneficial about clear ice (other than its appearance) is that it may indeed taste better (or just more neutral). This is because it doesn’t contain all of the air bubbles and impurities of average ice cubes.

For making high quality drinks at home, crystal clear ice is not a requirement. Use neutral-tasting water and large ice molds and your drinks will be fantastic.

Fun & unique ice molds

Now that we’ve covered all of the basics of why craft cocktail ice matters, let’s talk about different molds to create unique shapes without having to hand-cut a block of ice.

I’ve partnered with Tovolo to test out a bunch of cool novelty ice molds and here are a few of my favorites:

pouring red liqueur over clear tiki ice in a highball glass.

The Tovolo Ice Sphere Molds are my top pick and they’re a great addition to any home bar. Each package comes with a set of 2, two-piece molds that create perfectly seamless ice spheres in about 4-6 hours. That is super fast compared to the 24 hours or more it takes to freeze a large ice block and then cut it into large cubes or hand-cut spheres!

The ice sphere molds are also great if you are short on freezer space. They’re compact, stackable, and they won’t tip over or leak. Other pluses are that they’re BPA free and dishwasher safe. I have too many bar tools that require hand washing, so this is a major selling point for me. I like to freeze more than just water in my molds, like in these Pink Coconut Mojitos, featuring pink coconut water ice spheres!

pink coconut water ice spheres

The Tiki Ice Molds are a set of three silicone molds that sit in a hard plastic tray. They were the perfect accent for my tropical-inspired Pineapple Campari Soda and they would also be really fun in a pitcher of Mai Tais or showcased in a Rum Old Fashioned. I easily made mine completely clear by floating the silicone molds in a lunch-sized cooler of water in the freezer.

Tovolo has a fun line of sports ball molds if you’re a baseball, basketball, football, or golf fan. These molds are perfect for serving spirits on the rocks, and you really get to see and enjoy the shape of the ice.

Of all of the novelty ice cube molds out there, Tovolo has by far the widest range of shapes and sizes. They even have a kitten mold! Find their full line of craft ice molds on Amazon.

And if you’re looking for basic square cubes, check out the Tovolo Perfect Ice Cube Tray with Lid and the Tovolo King Cube Tray with Lid, or for the largest, most epic cubes possible, the Tovolo Colossal Cube Ice Molds.

pouring white rum into a glass filled with pink ice spheres.

You might also enjoy learning about how to make cocktail syrups, how to photograph cocktails, or how to make cocktail garnishes.