Often store-bought ice is lacking in character. The small chips dissolve too quickly, leaving your drink already watered down and not properly mixed. But there's a solution to the dissolution! Alex Day, master mixologist and my secret boyfriend, is here to help:
A cube is just a cube, isn’t it? Dream on. Your cocktail has specific cold requirements, and if you want to mix with the best, learn to chill.
By the 1850s, hardly could be found a respectable saloon that didn’t have extensive experience with ice, importing huge blocks from ponds in the North and then cutting an individual piece per order. No longer was frozen water brought from far off a novelty; now ice was a necessary element for mixed drinks.
As a state of water, ice plays an incredibly valuable role as both a dilution mechanism and a tool for merging flavors. A fully integrated cocktail usually has around 20–25 percent of its volume provided by water, either from shaking or stirring with ice, and so it is this percentage that we most want to control. If very dense, very cold ice is used, a cocktail will end up being colder and much more pleasant on the tongue. Most of today’s bars and restaurants use commercial ice machines, churning out limp, flimsy ice that hardly chills a drink and leaves chips of ice in your well-deserved cocktail. But at home you can easily make fantastic ice the way they used to.
A eureka moment will hit when you do a side-by-side comparison between a simple sour-style drink made with flimsy, machine ice, and one made with a large chunk. For me, there’s nothing more appealing than a springtime daiquiri—frothy and cold as Antarctica—and it was just such a drink that opened my eyes to ice. Now, my kitchen freezer is little more than a place to freeze and store ice. Luckily, my roommate appreciates daiquiris more than frozen peas.
Start with good water. If your tap water has lots of minerals, it’s a good idea to boil it first. Minerals will stay with water while it freezes, adding a fragile structure to the ice. By limiting these impurities, your ice will be stronger and clearer.
De-stink your freezer. Do your best to clear your freezer of odorous inhabitants. Water will absorb these flavors as it freezes.
Skip the ice cube tray. Instead, use a metal pan 2 inches deep or more and as large as your freezer will hold. Fill this with hot water to slow down the freezing process, letting impurities out before they’re trapped. Place in the freezer for about 24 hours.
Prepare to cut. When fully frozen, remove the pan from the freezer and set aside for 10 minutes. Remove ice from metal tray and set on a cutting board. I find most ice picks to be pretty dull, mostly because the cutting of ice has fallen out of practice and quality tools can be hard to find. So I use a clean wood chisel, available at any quality hardware store. Begin by firmly and very carefully holding the ice down with your nondominant hand.
Score the ice. With your other hand, tap the chisel across the ice, making a line about a quarter of an inch deep. Turn the block over and do the same to the opposite side, scoring a straight line through the ice.
Make the break. With a decisive hit, push the chisel into the middle of your scored line, forcing the ice to break apart. Repeat to get the best size ice for your application: I like 2× 2-inch cubes for rocks glasses, slightly larger for shaken drinks, and any extra smaller shards for stirring. Return the chunks to the freezer until cocktail hour.