A few weeks ago I received an email from a reader who admitted to being “the weirdo who makes giant blocks of clear ice to hand cut cubes for an old fashioned…” It definitely piqued my interest, so I replied to ask him more about his process – I had no idea how awesome it would be.

“It’s really freakin cold here in Canada-land. All I need to do for clear ice is fill a cooler with clean water and stick it on my back step.” – Rylan Martin

While I am grateful our temperatures in the San Francisco area don’t drop to Canadian temperatures, I definitely felt a bit jealous of Rylan’s giant outdoor ice machine. So when he agreed to take some pictures and provide step-by-step instructions the next time he made ice, I was very excited.

So without further ado, here is Rylan’s process for making Canadian Clear Ice:

How to Make Canadian Clear Ice

Step 1: Check the Weather

We had to wait an extra week because it was a balmy 0c / 32f degrees outside – not quite cold enough to get a good batch. When Rylan checked and saw the temperatures were going to be -20c / -4f the following week, he knew it was time for action.

Step 2: Fill a Clean Cooler with Ice

Rylan is using a normal camping cooler here, but has cleaned and sterilized it. He’s using normal Edmonton tap water – “nothing special.”

Step 3: Place it Outside

Leave the Cooler open and leave it outside under an awning or cover to prevent snow falling on it. In the photo above you can see a photo from an earlier trial where one corner was snowed on and was both cloudy and warped.

Step 4: Wait

After three days at -20c / -4f conditions, the block has frozen completely solid.

“The problem with freezing outside is that it’s incredibly inconsistent. But that keeps it fun.” – Rylan

This block is frozen and ready to go. The first thing to do is turn the whole cooler over to dump out any remaining water.

“Once it’s upside down, I usually hammer a nail into the bottom spout to get some air in the bottom to free up the suction.” He admits, “usually it takes a few minutes, a pool of cold water, and a few drops before I hear the ice block bubble and drop.”

Step 5: Carving

It’s time to bring the ice inside. There are usually a bunch of sharp ice shards underneath the block and along the edges of the cooler. Rylan uses an old chef’s knife to knock the sharp ice off. (Don’t use a good knife – he says his is starting to get warped from the process.)
This ice block is clean and tidy and ready for the next step.

Step 6: Breaking it Up

From there, it’s time to break the ice up into smaller, workable pieces.
He admits – it doesn’t always break into perfect cubes, but he keeps the bigger “sexy” chunks and puts them in a ziplock in his freezer for using in cocktails later.

“This block of ice must have been through a few odd temperature changes.” Rylan suggested, “It would not split in straight lines. In the past I’ve been able to knock a block into a handful of large cubes. This one would not have it. I ended up cutting into large chunks and shaving the edges off into large rocks, rather than cubes.”

He usually keeps the bigger pieces in a ziplock in the freezer, and uses the smaller pieces for working ice.

“It’s probably unnecessary, but it sure makes the process of making a drink look super cool. I feel that if I’m using tempered ice, I’m getting a far more consistent rate of dilution with the clear ice.”

From there, the ice can either be shaped by hand or just broken off in to large chunks. When making larger batches for parties, he’ll just load them into a smaller cooler and leave it outside. (Weather permitting, of course.)

Step 7: Serve!

The results: beautiful cocktails with crystal clear, Canadian ice!

Making it Look Easy

Thanks again to Rylan for sharing your process and photos, I never would have thought to make clear ice outside!

Julia Tunstall

Julia Tunstall is the co-founder of A Bar Above and Chief Cocktail Taster. She's in charge of keeping things running smoothly around here, but you'll also find her stopping by on the Mixology Talk Podcast or hanging around the Craft Cocktail Club.