Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Tips on How to Make the Best Ice For a Prettier, Better-Tasting Cocktail


Just saying the word “ice” is cooling, crunching, crackling, isn’t it? 

It’s a kind of sound symbolism or onomatopoeia ~ or at the least a phanopoeia! 

The snap, or ting, ting, ting of the ice dropping and hitting the inside of a glass is our aural cue that a happy hour is about to launch.

But ice ~ good ice worthy of a good cocktail, that is ~ appeals to more of our sense of sound. There is their sight and taste, too.

Ice is an artful, sensual ingredient in your cocktail confections. 🧊🍸

Here’s how to shake up memorable mixology:  

Ice is the essential ingredient of a cocktail; the cornerstone of every good bar essentials.  Even if the cocktail is served sans ice - as in straight up; the absolute purity of the ice is paramount when mixing or shaking up your drink.  

"Ice is as important to a bartender as a stove is to a chef," wrote Jason Cott, a partner in the popular Pouring Ribbons bar in New York City's East Village.  “The hidden ingredient in every cocktail recipe is water."  

Frozen as more than a film

Ice is such a staple of American drinks, we don’t realize that less than 200 years ago, this was a luxury only royals and the rich could enjoy.  That changed when Frederic Tudor, a New England Brahmin, got rich himself and secured his own crown, eventually being named Boston's “Ice King,” for his role in evangelizing the use of ice. 

Tudor shipped ice harvested from New England ponds (including Walden Pond) to hot locales including Havana and India, and summertime spots in the US, but not before he created the demand for ice. 

Sampling and education were part of Tudor’s pitch. At the dawn of the Romantic Era, Tudor traveled the country to introduce saloon owners and bar keepers to the magic of chilled drinks made with ice.
The modern cocktail and cold drinks fueled by ice were no longer just for the elites. 

Experts always recommend using the best, most purified water. It safeguards the delicate flavor balance of great cocktails.  

If you’re using the best spirits, bitters, and syrups that you can, along with homegrown and bespoke garnishes, elevate the cocktail with the best ice made from the best water.  With as much as half the volume of a cocktail consisting of melted ice, you can see why the quality of ice and water is so important.

If it’s true that Eskimos have skads of words to describe the variety of snow, then cocktail enthusiasts need to expand their Ice Shape and Texture lexicon.  Ha!

Ice Taxonomy

Cubes for shaking - the best bartenders use a smaller standard size: 1’ x 1”. 

Alternatively, there is a trend to use cubes as large as 2” x 2” or larger.  Very cold, very dense. The theory is that a large piece of ice keeps the lower temperature, longer. 

The bigger cubes are good for Old Fashioneds. 

Spheres or larger cubes for rocks drinks 

Spears for highballs 

Crushed, Pebbles, Nuggets for tiki-style, swizzles, juleps, or exotic drinks, creating a kind of snow cone.  

We bought in early when the Opal was first introduced some years ago.  Opal is now a GE product. It’s countertop size and ease of use makes this appliance a great addition to your bar. 

Our guests love this ice form as much as we do (when we remember to take out the unit to plug it in!) 

GE Profile Opal Countertop Nugget Ice Maker Review - The Stripe

Shaved Ice - smaller than crushed, akin to snow, used in juleps, for example. And as a perfect base for your garden-to-glass garnishes. 


Whiskey Stones - soapstone used to retain the cold with no melting ice, used for sipping Scotch

Novelty Molded Ice - I have so much fun with our skull, Santa, and roses cubes πŸ˜‚


Professional mixologists often custom-carve from large blocks of artisanal ice, creating bespoke cubes and spheres.   I cite an example of this in my Art of the Garnish book: as Ice Block Nerdistry πŸ™‚ 

You can also use Dry Ice for special effects.  I use this in a punch bowl for a spooky Halloween treat.


Cocktails that are shaken and stirred and served straight up require considered, appropriate ice size so that temperature and agitation mix the drink’s ingredients without diluting the cocktail.  Using smaller sized-cubes or pebble ice, creates more surface area that will more quickly chill the drink.

For punches, I use purified water - sometimes called distilled water- (can use boiled water) to create a crystal clear decorative ice display. Using a bundt pan or circle molding pan, put the water in halfway, top with seasonal, edible flowers. Freeze. Then add water to fill the pan to the top and refreeze.  This keeps the florals or herbs in the center of the ice.  As the ice melts, the flowers retain their ethereal, circular cadence… Beautiful. 

      How To Make An Ice Ring For A Punch Bowl - EntertainingCouple.com

Also, consider the water quality when producing ice cubes.  If your tap water doesn’t taste good; it won’t frozen, either.

At the same time, make certain your freezer is clean; no frozen food or old stinky stuff in there!  It will transfer to your ice creations. 

Likewise, you can also use your ice cube trays to go fancy by putting edible flowers into the cubes to enjoy in your glass.

The blossoms or herbs are so pretty and fragrant as they melt…

You can grow your garden-to-ice treats, buy them from the greenmarket, or purchase online.  

Choices of flowers include: Bergamot, pansies, violets, rose petals, cranberries, blueberries ~ any berries, actually, agastache and more. 

Flower Ice Cubes- #FlowerCocktailHour - uBloom (U Bloom photo)                               https://c0.wallpaperflare.com/preview/237/444/905/artisan-background-bartending-beautiful.jpg   How To Make Flower Ice Cubes - Baking for Friends (Baking for Friends photo)


Recently, specialty ice has struck a cool chord and has been the subject of more than a few lifestyle features.  

I, for one, am glad to see that others are catching on to the fun and artistry of luxury ice molds. I’ve had an ongoing love affair with my rose cube molds for years…  🌹🌹

Now, I see them trending on Tik Tok ~ with instructions…  ^:^ 

And Designer ice has been featured in the New York Times’ Magazine:

Whether you go all high-end ice fashion or fantasy ice or just experiment with different sizes and shapes, don’t overlook the bracing appeal of ice.  These nuggets will only boost your happy hour bliss! 

Cheers to garden-to-glass glamour 🍸🍸🧊🧊🧊

“The trouble with jogging is that the ice falls out of your glass.” ― Martin Mull


  1. Never knew ice was so important to a drink. This was so enlightening. I’ll pay more attention to my cocktail now. Thanks

    1. Thank you for your "cool" comment! Yes, indeed ~ good ice not only makes our cocktail taste better but good ice also makes it look really cool/really pretty when you add iced garnish art. I am very honored that I was able to introduce you to the importance of ice to boost your cocktail confections. Cheers!