What if you stumble across a recipe with cracked ice? You might be thinking to yourself, What the heck is cracked ice? and Ice is just frozen water … What does the size or shape have to do with anything?
Well, turns out a lot.
While you might only give thought to ice in frozen cocktails, ice is actually really important for dilution of cocktails. But it also can act as a cocktail garnish itself, adding to the overall appearance of a finished drink.
It’s worth noting that various types of ice can go by several names, making it a little confusing. Keep reading for further descriptions and ways to achieve different kinds of ice.
COMMON TYPES OF ICE CUBES
There are a few different styles of fancy ice you might use, depending on the type of drink. Besides regular pieces of ice you might get out of a fridge or from an ice tray, here are the main cocktail ice varieties:
- Crushed ice or flake ice is like a snow cone. It melts faster and will dilute your cocktail, but in a good way. While a lot of people think of it as what I’ll refer to below as cracked ice, for our purposes here, I’ll be referring to flake ice’s snow-like texture when talking about crushed ice.
- Cracked ice looks like pellets or rocks (and is often referred to as pellet ice or nugget ice). These chewable nuggets have become all the rage in cocktail bars and beyond lately, thanks in part to Sonic burger making it fairly well-known. It gives a fun, chewable texture but doesn’t melt as quickly as crushed ice.
- Large ice cubes and spheres will melt more slowly and can be tedious to maintain. These are generally served as one large cube ice in a spirit-forward mixed drink.
Cracked ice for cocktails most resembles little rocks or pellets, while crushed ice is minced and provides a grainy consistency for a slushy-like mouth feel.
Crushed ice melts more quickly and, as a result, dilutes any drink you make at a faster rate. Why would you want this? For higher alcohol-content drinks, like tiki cocktails where the taste can make your mouth pucker, you’re going to need quicker-melting ice for appropriate drink dilution.
If you have larger ice cubes or spheres with smooth edges, your drink will be diluted more slowly, which is ideal for whiskey sippers or drinks made to be enjoyed for a longer amount of time. That’s why big ice cubes or spheres are a favorite for bartenders and bar patrons; it opens up the drink’s flavor as time goes on.
WHICH ICE FOR WHICH CLASSIC COCKTAILS
True crushed ice/flake ice is saved for Mint Juleps, tiki drinks, or even house-twists like in Moscow Mules. You’ll be able to serve the best drinks for your bar top all because you picked the perfect ice to really highlight your drink’s personality!
Of course, there are disadvantages to any type of ice you choose for your delicious cocktail. Big rocks can be hard to achieve a crystal-clear appearance, and they are often tedious to maintain. And be forewarned that if you decide to go with an ice vendor, your beverage cost may increase.
Of course, as I mentioned, crushed ice can melt really quickly, which means the potential for more complaints about your cocktail.
Wherever you would serve slushy ice, you can substitute cracked ice/ice nuggets instead. It will melt more slowly and is perfect for a variety of favorite cocktail recipes like Juleps, Mojitos, Smashes, and even tiki drinks.
HOW TO CREATE THE PERFECT COCKTAIL ICE
One major downfall with cracked ice is that ticket times can be lengthy when you have to crush ice for every single drink. You should probably warn your bar top that you have to hand-crush the ice– and they’ll get a front-row spot to your daily therapy session.
Fortunately, there are lots of ways to get the style of ice you want so you don’t have to resort to plain ol’ regular ice cubes. Here are a few ways to create the perfect ice types for your favorite bar cocktail– from machines to hand techniques.
Large Format Ice:
- Ice delivery: Order large format ice from a company who will deliver it directly to your bar. This can come in the form of block ice (see below for more details) or in pre-made larger cubes or cylindrical shapes.
- Ice molds: You can buy silicone whiskey ice molds in squares, rectangles, rounds, and even specific shapes like roses and skulls.
- Break it down: You can break really large ice blocks into smaller yet still large-format pieces yourself using an ice hammer. Generally, these will not be perfect squares or rectangles, but the imperfect, organic look is a personal preference for many bars– and this flashy technique using your handy hammer in front of guests and colleagues shows off your true ice skills.
- Ball ice maker: You can now get a super fancy, large format ice machine that creates large balls of ice for cocktails, which is great for a high-volume bar where using ice molds isn’t realistic. (How many molds would you even need?!?)
- Ice hammer: Use the edge of an ice hammer to gently crack off specific pieces of ice from a larger block. It won’t look like pebble ice, but it will be larger & appear cracked, and it will melt more slowly.
- Large or countertop ice maker: If you have room at your bar, you can buy or rent a large machine from a company like from Clinebell— Think of the salad bar restaurants in the 80s and 90s that had these to serve up deliciously chewable nugget ice. They have a large ice capacity, making them great for bars and restaurants. Or you can get a countertop nugget ice maker for a smaller space– The nugget ice machine is my personal favorite solution for this form of ice, especially for the home bar.
- Built-in ice maker: A refrigerator ice maker will crush ice for you, making it a good home solution. It won’t actually come out looking like traditional nugget ice, but it will be larger than fully crushed ice, meaning it will melt more slowly.
- Tea towel method: This is probably the most basic technique used– and it’s pretty effective! Take a clean tea towel or Lewis bag, and wrap ice cubes in it. Use an ice hammer to break down the ice into its desired size. This will not give you slushy ice, but it will be finer and more melty than nugget ice. Make sure to pick up the new A Bar Above ice mallet in our shop!
- Food processor or blender method: Put ice cubes into a food processor or electric blender and pulse until the ice has been broken down into fine, slushy pieces.
- Hand-crank: Small, hand-cranked machines crush ice for you– this ice isn’t exactly slushy but can get small and does melt quickly. This manual ice crusher also takes some muscle power and time, so you probably wouldn’t want to do this for each individual drink at a bar. Personally, this is my least favorite method.
- Slushy machine: If you want truly crushed ice with a slushy consistency, consider using an actual snow cone or Icee machine!
So which kind of cocktail ice do you love most? Is there any technique we missed? Leave us a comment, and let us know!