What’s cooler than being cool? Ice cold! Often awarded the least attention when crafting quality drinks, ice is a fundamental component of any decent beverage. The shape, type and quality of your ice will hugely impact several factors in any drinks you make – texture, dilution and, most importantly, taste, amongst others.

With this in mind, we wrapped up and went for a chat with one of the USA’s leading ice suppliers, San Francisco’s Blind Tiger Ice, about what goes into a great ice programme and how to craft crystal clear, quality ice.

WHY THE QUALITY OF YOUR ICE MATTERS

Ice is for bartenders like fire is for chefs. By improving your ice game you will be taking your cocktails to the next level.

First, dilution - and quality and shape matter. Clear, high quality ice is harder than ice from trays in the freezer. Additionally, extra-large cubes (and especially spheres) have lower surface-area to volume ratios than small chips or irregular shapes. Both of these characteristics mean your ice will melt more slowly and more slowly dilute your drink.

Second, wow. Beautiful, crystal clear ice can have a profound aesthetic impact. The same way the right glassware ups your customer’s delight in a drink, the right ice will practically beg your customer to pay attention and enjoy. Creative techniques like etching designs into ice or embedding florals can add even more wow factor.

CRAFTING QUALITY

Cloudy ice comes from trapped air so the best way to get clear ice is via directional freezing. When ice crystals form in a single direction, gases and impurities are pushed out, leaving perfectly clear ice behind. Like other professional cocktail ice makers, we freeze ice in 300 lb (136Kg) blocks using directional freezing and then break them down by hand using a chainsaw and bandsaw. We additionally use a modified CNC to carve designs into ice.

The speciality equipment used by artisanal ice producers yields the best quality and consistency, but you can also use directional freezing to make clear ice yourself.

One easy technique is to fill an ice chest with water, then put it in a freezer without a lid. The insulated container will cause the ice to form from the exposed top down -- just be sure to harvest your ice before the water fully freezes to the bottom. You can also purchase specialized directional freezing molds.

Aside from how you freeze the ice, starting off with great water is essential. The ice needs to be tasteless and free of any sediment, even the slightest bit of chlorine can affect the cocktail. A good ice provider will perform the proper filtration and water testing to make sure there are no contaminants, however if you are making the ice yourself just make sure to use filtered water. Pure ice means you customer will be tasting the cocktail as it is meant to be.

STORAGE

Great bartenders know to demand a quality ice machine as part of their ice program. Look for a machine that produces square, clear and good sized cubes. You know the quality by how fast it melts – the slower the better quality.

Store your ice at 20°F (about -6.7°C) or lower. The more the freezer is opened, the lower the temperature should be. Defrost cycles will also affect your ice, so you’ll generally only want your large cubes or spheres in storage for 2-3 weeks. Try putting a small freezer behind the bar to eliminate extra trips to your main freezer, but keep only what you need for a single service in the small freezer since it will get opened a lot.

ICE FOR SHAKING

The ice you shake with will dilute directly into your cocktails, so make sure the water quality is excellent. Use larger cubes to get less dilution; a single, extra-large cube will actually provide the best results (though that approach isn’t generally economical at higher volume).

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Follow @blindtigerice on Instagram for a look behind the scenes with these ice wizards.

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