How To Make Clear Ice at Home

You've seen it by now - clear ice, crystal clear ice, ice rocks, pond ice, the holy grail of ice -- we all love the beautiful illusions, the bare reflections, the looking-glass clarity and almost-not-there effects of a big ass clear ice cube chilling down a cocktail in our rocks glass. 

 

If bars and restaurants get fancy with clear ice, it often comes from a giant block of ice that is broken down using saws and chisels.  Some restaurant groups have entire ice programs devoted to keeping them in supply, while others contract with ice companies who deliver the goods. 

Some bartenders take their ice very seriously, and continue to carve it into spheres or other shapes (very popular in Japan).  Here's an impressive demonstration by Hidetsugu Ueno:

And of course, as the clear ice craze has made its way into the home bartending scene, there have been many, many new products created for helping you achieve crystalline perfection. We've tried a few, and while some work (and others don't), we find we have a bigger appetite for clear ice when we do decide to make it, and producing one or two clear chunks at a time just doesn't cut it.  

Thankfully there have been some pioneers in the clear-ice-at-home movement that have done extensive testing and experimenting, the foremost being Camper English of Alcademics, who has a whole treasure trove of blog posts devoted to his ice experiments.  Our favorite methods produce a good quantity of ice for relatively little expense - here are our top two for making some fancy-ass ice at home:

For both methods:

  • Use distilled water - it has less impurities than tap water!
  • If you can adjust your freezer temperature without compromising food contents, set it to a higher cool temperature (or, LOW COOL on your freezer).  The goal here is to get the water in the cooler to freeze slowly from the top down, like pond ice. (Food safety guidelines say your freezer should be set at 0° F or -18° C. If you're not storing food, you could set the temperature higher than 0° F.  Just try not to set it at sub-zero temperatures like -10°  F.) In other words, the colder the temperature, the faster the freeze, and the less clear your ice will be!

The Cooler Method for Making Clear Ice

  • Fill a small, clean, hard-sided insulated plastic cooler with distilled water.
  • This part is important:  Take the lid of the cooler OFF, so that the surface of the water is exposed to the air in the freezer.  Put it in the freezer.
  • Wait.  Depending on the size of cooler you're using, and your temperature settings, it could take a few days to freeze all the way, so plan ahead. (If you let the water freeze all the way solid, its possible the cooler can crack!  One option is to check on it every day, and when about 75% of the ice has frozen, remove the ice block that has formed so far from the surface of the unfrozen water.  If you let the block freeze all the way through, the bottom 25% or so will be cloudy, so this just cuts your time down and leaves the to-be-cloudy portion unfrozen.
  • Take the cooler out of the freezer, and let it sit at room temperature until you can extract the ice from the cooler.  This could take some time, anywhere from 20 - 45 minutes.
  • When you've got your solid block of ice free, you're ready to render it down into smaller pieces. You may have to let it sit out at room temperature some more; if the ice is too cold, it could shatter a lot when you're cutting it.  Let the ice block sit until the surface is shiny and starting to sweat.
  • To cut the ice, use a serrated blade to score around the block at the width of your first desired cut. Be sure to score all the way around the block, drawing a line where you want the ice to break apart.  Use a chisel and hammer right on the scored line to break the ice, which should follow the score line and calve off a nice big block.  
  • First cut off any cloudy areas - you can cut these down and use them for shaking or stirring ice. Continue to score and use the chisel to break down the larger block into smaller blocks, ice rocks, and cubes.

The Cube Method for Making Clear Ice

  • Procure some silicone ice cube trays in the size you prefer
  • Punch or cut holes in the bottom of the trays
  • In a deep tray (we used bread loaf pans), elevate the ice cube tray about 1" above the bottom using whatever you can. Ideally the support will allow water to flow freely - we stack a few metal trivets on the bottom and put the ice trays on top.
  • Put the whole thing in the freezer, and wait until the water in the trays has frozen all the way through.  Then you can take them out, and let it rest at room temperature until the ice cube trays can be separated from the rest of the block of ice.  You should have clear, already shaped square cubes ready to use from the trays!

 

Clear Ice for Craft Cocktails Standard Spoon Bar Tools

Ready to take the Clear Ice Challenge?  Try your hand at making some at home, and tag us on Instagram @standardspoon #clearice!

Tales of the Cocktail Launches New Website & Interviews Standard Spoon

Following close on the heels of this year's Tales of the Cocktail Conference in New Orleans, the founding organization re-launched its website as an online publication.  While the site has always been a great reference for cocktail industry events, education programs, and the list of annual Spirited Awards Winners, now it hosts a wealth of editorial features on everything from industry personalities to cocktail history to technique how-to's.

Product Features

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One of the feature sections focuses on products. If you made it to the Market at Tales this past year, you may recognize some of them, including the bar bag Jim Meehan collaborated on with Moore & Giles (leather to lust over), and Bull in China's beautiful handmade mixing glasses (we brought one home with us!).  The new Tales of the Cocktail site has very well written pieces about these products, as well as articles on small batch bitters companies, handmade bar knives, and, yours truly, Standard Spoon.

Rethinking Modern Barware with Standard Spoon

Sara Commet from Tales of the Cocktail asked some great questions when she interviewed us for the article, and it was fun to see what tidbits she drew out. From inspiration by airplanes and submarines, to a sneak mention of products in development, she covered a lot of ground in a short article (and Rachel's Mom even got a mention!).  Here's a bit of what she had to say about the spoons:

The first, the AERO Cocktail Spoon, is elegant and aerodynamic (hence the name), with a slim profile that makes it a cinch to slip into a glass of ice. The second is the spinning WINGMAN Cocktail Spoon. Spinning and swivel spoon designs were popular in the 1950s, but they haven’t seen much love since. A surprising fact, considering a spoon that essentially stirs a cocktail itself (no, really) decreases fatigue for bartenders and makes cocktail-crafting a whole lot more fun for dabblers and enthusiasts

She did an excellent job at capturing the essence of not only our tools, but of our brand and of us (yes, the real people behind the brand). Here's a link to the full article (go ahead, go for it!  There are pretty pictures too):

Article: Rethinking Modern Barware with Standard Spoon

So when you catch yourself browsing through your Facebook feed and watching inane videos of 3-year olds contemplating the impact of their diet of pickle chips and poutine on the plumbing, maybe pull yourself away for a few minutes and get to the new Tales of the Cocktail website.  We're finding it a great resource to read up on some beautiful new cocktail products, bar destinations, and in-depth articles on regional, national, and international happenings in the bar and spirits industries.

Good Work TOTC!

How to Stir a Cocktail with Jim Meehan

You know that some cocktails should be stirred, and others are better shaken - right?  Refresher:

When to STIR

When a cocktail includes all clear spirits & liqueurs. 

When to SHAKE

When a cocktail contains fruit juice, dairy, or egg whites

So drinks such as the Old Fashioned Cocktail, Manhattan Cocktail, Sazerac Cocktail, and of course the Martini should all be stirred.  Don't believe us? Make two of the same cocktails side by side, and taste and see the difference.  Stirred cocktails maintain a viscosity, clarity, and smooth mouth-feel that's very satisfying.  Stirring is an artful form of preparation that's simple, thoughtful, and fulfilling. Try it!

But HOW to stir a cocktail?  It's not quite as simple as making lemonade. Mixing a stirred cocktail requires a bit of technique, a bit of practice, or a Wingman. The goal when stirring is to combine ingredients and chill the cocktail -  without the force of shaking, which introduces tiny air bubbles and greater dilution, and changes the texture (less smooth).  

Jim Meehan has an excellent demonstration of how to get started with stirring:

Want to learn more about cocktail technique, culture, history, and recipes?  The Small Screen Network on YouTube is an excellent place to get started.

In the meantime, the Wingman Spinning Bar Spoon is an excellent sidekick for stirred cocktails.  It does most of the work for you! 

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Home Bar Basics - 12 Essential Cocktails to STIR or SHAKE

Want to make more cocktails?  Need a starting recipe for stirring those classic drinks?

Taking a serious moment to give a serious nod to Dave Stolte over at Home Bar Basics as the starting point for this post about classic drink recipes.  He outlines "twelve drinks that form the core of a home bar menu" on www.homebarbasics.com

Courtesy of Dave Stolte, Home Bar Basics

Courtesy of Dave Stolte, Home Bar Basics

It's the kind of list that makes me squirm in my seat and want to run out and make a cocktail, immediately.  That, and Shawn Michael just built a beautiful bar in our home.

But first, back to the basics, and the basic question of "shaken or stirred?"  It's really this simple:


When to STIR

When a cocktail includes all clear spirits & liqueurs. 

When to SHAKE

When a cocktail contains fruit juice, dairy, or egg whites


So here's Dave's list of the 12 essential cocktails for home bars.  Many of you have been asking for drink recommendations, and I say, START WITH THESE!  Learn the basics, because a really well-made classic cocktail is hard to beat. I've summarized the method you use (STIR or SHAKE) and ingredient list, but click through to Home Bar Basics for a thorough look at each.

STIRRED Cocktails

Old Fashioned - STIR - Bourbon, Simple Syrup, Bitters, Orange Twist

Sazerac - STIR - Rye, Herbsaint/Absinthe, Simple Syrup, Bitters, Lemon Twist

Manhattan - STIR - Rye, Vermouth, Bitters, Cherry

Martini - STIR - Gin, Vermouth, Bitters, Lemon Twist or Olive

Negroni - STIR - Gin, Vermouth, Campari, Orange Twist

Rusty Nail - STIR - Scotch Whiskey, Drambuie, Orange Bitters, Lemon Twist

Required Tools for Stirred Cocktails:

  • Jigger or Measuring Device, preferably in ounces
  • Mixing Vessel - You can stir some of these in the serving glass, like the Old Fashioned. We think it's a better experience when you use a Mixing Glass, then serve over fresh ice so the drink doesn't get too watered down.  Some drinks that are served up in coupe or martini glasses should always be stirred in a Mixing Glass.  
  • Hawthorne or Juelp Strainer, if using a Mixing Glass.
  • Cocktail Spoon - Pretty essential item.  If you've never used a bar spoon, you should probably take a look at the Wingman spinning cocktail spoon as an incredibly swanky place to start.
  • Serving Glasses - Not necessary, but highly recommended.  Investing in a few appropriate styles of glassware will make your drinks OH SO much more presentable! 
The Negroni: Three Ingredients - timeless and delicious! Click through to see an incredible photoseries of the Negroni being made.

The Negroni: Three Ingredients - timeless and delicious! Click through to see an incredible photoseries of the Negroni being made.

SHAKEN Cocktails

Mint Julep - SHAKE - Bourbon, Simple Syrup, Spearmint Leaves (well, technically it's a swizzle!)

Tom Collins - SHAKE & STIR - Gin, Lemon Juice, Simple Syrup, Tonic Water, Citrus Wheel

Sidecar - SHAKE - Brandy or Cognac, Triple Sec, Lemon Juice, Lemon Wheel

Margarita - SHAKE - Tequila, Triple Sec, Lime Juice, Simple Syrup, Lime Wheel

Daiquiri - SHAKE - Rum, Lime Juice, Simple Syrup, Lime Wheel

Cuba Libre (Preparado) - SHAKE & STIR - Rum, Gin, Lime Juice, Bitters, Coca-Cola, Lime Wedge

Required Tools for Shaken Cocktails:

Same as those for Stirred Cocktails, but switch out the mixing glass and cocktail spoon for a shaker, and you're good to go.  Shaken cocktails often incorporate fruit, citrus, or other aromatics that need to be incorporated, and sometimes you need a Muddler for that:

  • Cocktail Shaker - you can use a cobbler shaker, a boston shaker, or a set of tins - the idea is to have something that won't leak, and that you can give a gooooood shaking too.  Dumping the drink between one pint glass and the other is more of a folding technique, and doesn't do the same thing.
  • Muddler - Some of these drinks require a bit of pressure - like the Mint Julep!  Muddlers should be unfinished and unvarnished - no chemicals in the drink, guys! When muddling delicate herbs like mint and basil, you don't want to tear the leaves to shreds, which is why we recommend a muddler without teeth - just a nice flat muddling surface.
Muddling mint for the Mint Julep Cocktail - get a Muddler without sharp teeth that rip the mint to shreds!  An all-natural, unfinished muddler with a nice flat muddle end is best. 

Muddling mint for the Mint Julep Cocktail - get a Muddler without sharp teeth that rip the mint to shreds!  An all-natural, unfinished muddler with a nice flat muddle end is best. 

Well folks, those are the basics!  Check out Home Bar Basics for more cocktail recipes and how-to, and stock up on your cocktail tools for stirred and shaken cocktails over at our Shop.

Cheers!

Rachel Eva