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!

Standard Spoon at Amazon.com + Production Update

Via Update #27 on Kickstarter:

Hi Backers & Friends,

We hope you all have been enjoying your spoons, stirring up many great cocktails this summer and fall!  After we fulfilled orders to backers earlier this year, our work didn't end. We had received just enough spoons from the factory to fulfill Kickstarter pledges and pre-orders, with a very small amount of inventory remaining to offer for sale. 

New Inventory:

Just this past month we received the second half of our original shipment, which has given us the go-ahead to get more word out about the spoons, now that we have a good amount of inventory to sell!  We've also added a few companion products to the website.  We have some of the last copies in stock of Dave Stolte's Home Bar Basics cocktail manual (won't be available again until summer!). 

We also have those great square ice cube trays by Tovolo, which we personally use to make good stirring and serving ice, and highly recommend. And lastly we've added some locally-made solid wood maple muddlers as a special side add-on for the upcoming holidays.

1" Ice Cube Trays ($15), 2" King Cube Tray ($10), Solid Wood Maple Muddler ($15)

1" Ice Cube Trays ($15), 2" King Cube Tray ($10), Solid Wood Maple Muddler ($15)

Give Spoons for the Holidays:

BUY AT STANDARDSPOON.COM: Use Coupon Code GIVETHANKS for 15% off the purchase of either of our cocktail spoons (effective November 27-30, 2015)

BUY AT AMAZON.COM: We're now listed on Amazon, and both spoons qualify for Free 2-Day shipping for Amazon Prime members, and Free Standard Shipping for everyone else. 

Legit Cocktail Spoons make Awesome Holiday Gifts!

Legit Cocktail Spoons make Awesome Holiday Gifts!

Story Time: Production Update 

Interested in what we've been up to for the last 5 months? Settle in (seriously, go make yourself a tonic) and read on:

One of the reasons it took so long for us to receive this last shipment is that we needed to have many conversations with the factory, and revise our Quality Assurance documents over the summer.  A high proportion of that first batch of spoons didn't make it past our own quality inspections - you backers got the best of the best, which is why we didn't have many left over to sell.  Let's just say that since we've got pretty high standards, we've got a pretty good-sized box of unsellable spoons collecting dust. 

We weren't able to move forward with manufacturing long term with that level of waste, so we went back to the factory with our feedback, extensively documenting and refining our Quality Assurance plan, and requesting revisions for the next shipment of spoons.  After receiving a small sample shipment of about 60 spoons in June, we reviewed and revised again.  With the last batch we received in October, we're confident we've arrived at as close to our original vision as we can get; the spoons are beautiful, consistent, and extremely strong. 

Wingman Cocktail Spoon being boxed up

Wingman Cocktail Spoon being boxed up

We recently received a message from one of our backers, Jon, who was curious about the construction of the spoons.  Manufacturing methods have always been something we've been straightforward about, and while we spent most of our summer working on revisions (and considering some alternatives), it wasn't until a few weeks ago that we've been able to finally arrive at our long term plan for manufacturing the spoons.

So if you're curious about getting into the nitty gritty with us, here's the (lengthy) response I sent to Jon about investment casting (our original plan) v. other alternatives, and the twists and turns, pros and cons, and cost-benefit decisions that are made behind the scenes in product development.

Hi Jon,

Thanks for your message this week, it's always great to hear from our backers! I'm especially appreciative of you taking the time to write, as you bring up a subject (manufacturing method) that we've been working on tirelessly behind the scenes, but realized we haven't addressed definitively online or in communication to backers. I hope you're settled in with a nice cocktail, because your curiosity is about to get the story you asked for :)  

A long time ago.... well, at least earlier this year, when we received the final production samples from the factory (before you backers got your spoons), they looked AMAZING, and for all we knew, they were made using the manufacturing method we requested - investment casting as one single piece. We placed the order. The factory experienced delays, much of it related to the metal warping during polishing, and then having to straighten them, and then polish again, in a seemingly endless cycle of revision and re-work. 

 One thing we've learned about working with Chinese manufacturers is that they are not very forthcoming with the challenges they might encounter during the manufacturing process. We've learned that their tendency is to try to solve the problem on their end, without involving the client (us) unless they feel it’s absolutely necessary, in the best way they know how. Sometimes, as we've discovered, that means the factory makes changes with the end-goal in mind, and may take liberties in balancing priorities. 

We found out about some of these changes when we received our order of spoons, and saw that some of them clearly exhibited signs that the spoons were not cast from a single mold, but were rather assembled, welded, and polished smooth. While this did essentially produce a seamless design when done correctly, it didn't follow the method that we had wanted, and the one that we had communicated to backers (namely, that it be cast as one piece using the investment casting method). 

 We were stuck in a hard place, because we’ve been perfectionists about these spoons since the beginning. Not to mention that these spoons were paid for, and we didn’t have the luxury of throwing them out and starting over. The factory provided us with a partial order (less than half) -- barely enough spoons to fulfill orders to Kickstarter Backers. We were already 9 months behind delivery schedule, and the second half of the order would take another 2-4 months to finish. The spoons were SO close to what we wanted. We were in no position to reject an order that met 95% of our requirements—they were the right size and shape, and they were beautifully polished. We also did strength tests on them, and DANG, they were strong. We were confident that even though we suspected the factory was fusing them together, rather than casting them as one piece from the beginning, they still met our original intention of being incredibly strong, and damn near unbreakable. 

 There were some that were too wavy from extensive polishing, and there were a few that had too much warpage around the neck where the handle meets the bowl of the spoon. We marked these as rejected, and picked the best of the order to send to backers. Fulfilling a Kickstarter is insane. I know our communication to backers suffered, and since we sent the spoons out, we haven’t posted much in the way of updates. We also wanted to try to solve the wavy and warping issues with the next round of spoons, so most of our communication during this time was directed intensely toward the factory. 

 We revised our Quality Assurance documents to reflect the manufacturing issues we were seeing in the rejected spoons. The factory said they would revise the mold to make sure the handles were straighter, and the transition point from spoon bowl to handle was smoother. They didn’t clarify whether this meant they would try to make that elusive single-cast spoon, but at this point, we were willing to concede that it might not be ideal, as cast parts need a great deal of polishing, and polishing on an item of such a small diameter produces a great deal of warpage, which was our new major issue, nearly impossible to correct. 

 We worked on this with the factory back and forth all summer, until the second half of the order went through Quality Assurance in September. Before the spoons left China, our QA team inspected every single spoon, and the attention to quality was obvious when we received the shipment in early October. The spoons are straighter than ever before, and even though we’ve clarified that they are not cast as one piece using the investment casting method, they are incredible, and as close to perfect as we could ask them to be. 

 So now here we are. It was about 5 months ago that we sent that first batch out to backers, and it was only in the last two weeks, when we received the second half of our shipment, that we’ve been able to evaluate the quality of the spoons and the progress we’ve made in perfecting them to the highest standard we know how to achieve. 

 With this recent new information, we have made sure to update the language on our website to ensure we aren’t misleading anyone as to the manufacturing method. The Aero spoon is still a seamless design, and really still a single piece of stainless steel. Rather than being cast from a mold as one piece, the manufacturer fuses several pieces together to make a single piece. It has seamless transitions, and is so strong we can bend it into a U shape with a vise and it doesn’t break. The Wingman is designed the same way, with the obvious multiple-piece design of the spinning handle.

We do still occasionally receive some spoons from the factory that show evidence of assembly – manufacturing defects like a bit of warping– and we try our best to cull these from our inventory so they don’t get passed on to customers. 

Since Kickstarter projects are frozen in time, we aren’t able to modify language on the project page that was written back when the project was live. But with this email, (which I’m going to turn into a Kickstarter update), we’re delivering the transparency of information we promised from the beginning. We are proud to share with backers the work we’ve been doing behind the scenes to continuously improve the tools we’re making.

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So, Backers --- that's our current update with the intent to continue to keep you informed about this project, even after the Kickstarter fulfillment and campaign conclusion. Please continue to stay in touch; we love hearing from you!  

Cheers,

Rachel Eva & Shawn Michael