Best Ice for Cocktails: 3 kinds of ice for your bar

Ice really is a cocktail maker’s best friend.

When it’s right, drinks will have a consistent high quality to them. When it’s not, even the most seasoned pro will struggle to impress. Knowing, preparing and choosing the best ice for cocktails is more important than many budding mixologists realize.

We can break down and categorize the different kinds of ice you will need.

3 forms of ice should provision even the most demanding drinks mixer with everything they could reasonably want.

1) A large block of ice to be cut on demand

A large block of ice for drinks served "on the rocks"

This is the best ice for cocktails of any kind served ‘on the rocks’.

Having a large single lump of ice in a drink, instead of numerous smaller ones, ensures a slower dilution. The reduced surface area contact between ice and liquid translates to a slower process of heat exchange between the 2 substances and accordingly, a slower rate of dilution. As the dilution is slower, The residual cold within the ice persists longer, so we can achieve both more cooling and less dilution.

The slower the ice is frozen, the clearer it is, so bringing filtered water slowly to approx -18c ensures the best quality ice a drink could ever desire.

2) ‘Bread n butter’ 1 inch ice cubes

Best ice for cocktails: 1 inch ice cubes

Bartenders across the world worship at the altar of Hoshizaki; the Japanese god of ice manufacturing.

As a staple, for shaking and anywhere we need a moderate level of dilution to optimize our drink, approximately 1 inch ice cubes work well.

As Hoshizaki ordanes, the best ice for cocktails in this category are the driest, clearest and most regularly formed cubes we can lay our hands on.

Avoid any ice that has any hollowing to it. This cavity increases surface area contact, and with it, heat exchange and dilution.

Having a predictable dilution rate, and one that occurs slowly enough to bring our drink to desired temperature without over dilution is a huge asset in pursuit of consistently high quality drinks.

3) Flaked ice

Crushed ice for cocktails

For frappé style drinks, flaked is typically the best ice for cocktails.

We distinguish flaked ice from crushed ice as follows:

  • Flaked ice is frozen almost as a sheet on a rotating drum and then flaked off the device into shards.
  • Crushed ice is simply ice which is crushed into smaller form

Flaked has more regularity and dryness to it, which means the drinks maker has more control over the dilution process.

The problem is, flaked ice is extremely difficult to make at home.

Unless you feel like shelling out thousands for an industrial flaked ice making machine (yes, they exist), you will need another option. If you live in a big city with bars and restaurants galore, then you might get lucky and be able to order some from a commercial ice delivery. But realistically you’d need to use it that evening.

A substitute for flaked ice would be the best crushed ice you can make.

Vulture Hacks for preparing the best ice for cocktails:

Many of the best bars across the world would be envious of someone who had access to the ice above. We can’t always have it all, but there are a few tricks to give us the best shot, wherever we are.

Use “directional freezing” to create a large block of clear ice

If you’re keen to try the route of creating a large block of ice to be cut as needed, you’ll want it as clear as possible.

Just filling a container with water and freezing it in a hone freezer won’t, unfortunately, create the desired effect here. But you can use a hack called directional freezing, where the ice is insulated on all but one side. This ensures the ice freezes from the one exposed side (the top) which forces the impurities in the ice to sink to the bottom.

An insulated cooler with the lid removed should be all you need to give this a try!

Approx 2 inch cubed silicone ice cube moulds.

These are great for mixing at home. You can:

  • Select what your ice will be made of. Water, or something a little more?
  • Freeze in advance and build up an ice supply in freezer
  • Freeze slowly for a clear ice

These are ideal for on the rocks drinks.

Different sized moulds can provide the ideal ice for glasses of different diameters.

Pick a mould whose edge length is approx 10-15% less than the diameter of selected glass, to ensure the perfect fitting ice for every glass you like to drink from.

Shop bought bags, or ice from a home freezer’s ice maker

These will generally be poor quality and not the best ice for cocktails, but they can be combined with the 2” cubes above to obtain the required dilution rate.

For crushed ice, this poor quality ice can easily be wrapped in a towel and smashed up. Go carefully though, as it won’t take much for this ice to disintegrate and give you little chance of controlling dilution as soon as it comes into contact with room temp liquid.

Go forth and create with the your new selection of the Best Ice for Cocktails!

We’ve established that when it comes to creating cocktails, your choice and use of ice can make a world up difference.

Best of all, getting this right isn’t costly. Taking the time to ensure you have the best ice for cocktails prepared and readily on hand will only take a matter of minutes out of your day. In time, it will become part of your cocktail preparation ritual.

Marrying up your new ice varieties with a selection of essential bottles will mean that your home bar will be well stocked, leaving you ready to create.

What kind of ice is best for cocktails?

It really does vary depending on the drink you’re making, but having an abundance of 1 inch cubes available, along with some bigger cubes with a larger surface area will cover you for most drinks.

What kind of ice do you use for a cocktail shaker?

Regular ice will do, or small cubes around 1inch work well.