Hi, Friends of Cocktails. You may know that the quality of your ice matters - Clear Ice looks good, melts slower and, since we place a lot of attention to all ingredients in our cocktails, it’s only right to care about ice too. Having a big freezer with lots of space to make big ice blocks is great, but today I’ll show you how you can make Clear Ice cubes at home by turning any plastic container into your own, homemade cooler. This way you can make great Clear Ice even if you have limited freezer space, by sizing the container to your fridge.
For full disclosure, I’ll start by saying that the ice you usually see me use to make and serve cocktails comes from a Hoshizaki Ice Machine we have at the cocktail bar I work at. While I’m lucky to have access to that, we also make our own ice right here, like for the large ice cubes and spears used in some cocktails. But, how do you make Clear Ice if you don’t have a huge freezer? The main thing you’ll need is a container for the water, with insulation on all sides except the top, as we’ll be achieving our Clear Ice thanks to the concept of directional freezing.
When you place a regular ice tray in the freezer, the water freezes from all sides. This forces the gasses, minerals and other impurities dissolved in the water to the center, and once that freezes too, all of that is forced into the ice cubes. That, together with the pressure from the water expanding as it freezes is the reason it becomes cloudy and white. But on the other hand, if you take a cooler filled with water and place it in the freezer, the insulation from all sides will make the water freeze just from the top, pushing everything else to the bottom - you just need to know when to take it out!
After around 24-48 hours, depending on the freezer, the water has frozen almost all the way through. This will leave you with a clear block of ice at the top, and a pocket of air and water at the bottom - it is important to take it out before it fully freezes, as the final result will expand a lot, sometimes even breaking the container you were using. In summary, since a cooler is basically a plastic box with some styrofoam in the walls, it can be cheap and simple to make that fits your freezer. I’ll show you how.
Get a plastic container that will fit your freezer nicely, a working surface that you’re not worried about scratching, some styrofoam, duct tape, and an OLFA knife or any other box cutter to cut the styrofoam with. I also got an old yoga mat to wrap around the container to make it easier to get it in and out of the freezer (it will offer additional insulation as well, but it is optional). Also keep in mind when choosing a container that the Clear Ice will occupy about ¾ of its height, determining what you’ll be able to use the ice for.
Homemade Clear Ice Cooler
• Plastic container
• Styrofoam - 2cm (0,75in) thick
• Duct tape
• Box cutter
• Old yoga mat
Begin by cutting the yoga mat based on the size of the container (including the bottom), and tape it together. We’ll then cut sections of styrofoam - one for each of the sides and bottom - and use duct tape to stick them together around the container. Take your time and try to be precise, so you’ll enjoy using this to make Clear Ice as often as needed. Once you have all styrofoam taped off your cooler is done. If this feels like too much arts & crafts, you can also get a soft bag cooler and place some styrofoam in it for added insulation - this is what our director Robi did for the Frank Sinatra-inspired-Manhattan.
It is now time to fill your cooler up and place it in the freezer - for smaller coolers 24 hours is usually a good starting point, but taller ones can take up to 36, and the big coolers can take over 48 hours. When it’s finally time to take your Clear Ice block out of the freezer, the first thing you’ll do is leave it to sit for about 15 minutes. Since the ice is brittle when super cold, it’ll crack if you pour a drink over it now, ruining the clear appearance. It has also expanded, so it will be easier to get it out when it starts to melt slightly.
I’d suggest taking the Clear Ice out over a sink, because when you start breaking away the bottom part of it, water will go everywhere, then comes the fun part: carving out the ice. While there are special ice cutting and carving tools, I just went to my local hardware store to pick up a big saw and a sharp chisel, but a serrated knife works fine for smaller blocks too. Use big, long movements when cutting with the saw or knife, then tap gently with a hammer or a mallet to break it apart. A sharp chisel or a paring knife can then be used for final adjustments, so keep glasses nearby, to test if they can fit the cubes, spears, spheres or whatever shape you choose to cut the ice in.
You can now place the shaped ice in the freezer separately, so it doesn’t stick together as it freezes again, and after about 15 minutes you can place it together in a sealed bag in the freezer until needed. After all this work I think we all deserve an Old Fashioned.
• 60mL (2oz) Rye whiskey
• 7.5mL (0.25oz) Liber & Co Fig Syrup
• 2 dashes Angostura Bitters
This can be quickly built by adding the ingredients to a glass and stirring with a big piece of our Clear Ice. The cocktail pairs the subtle spice and deep, concentrated fig flavor from the syrup with the rye. The Clear Ice also maintains the balance of 30-40% dilution in a cocktail for longer, so no need to rush while drinking it. As for the appearance, once you start making and using Clear Ice, it just transforms the way you look at a cocktail and you’ll never go back. I hope you enjoyed this guide and thank you for patiently waiting for us to make it. Cheers, Friends of cocktails!
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