Really Clear Ice Balls
Making cocktails has become a recent hobby of mine. I’ve been buying all sorts of spirits, bitters, syrups and fruits in order to try out every cocktail recipe I could find on the internet. When you make a drink at home, it’s generally very similar to what you’d expect to receive in a bar. However, while you can buy the same ingredients and follow the same recipes, there’s a certain element that professional bars have over your homemade concoction.
When you read a cocktail recipe, it generally ends with “shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass”. The variable in that sentence is the “ice”. The next time you visit a high end bar, take a look at the ice they use. It’s fucking amazing. They usually use extremely large cubes (at least 1 inch) that are crystal clear. Most bars probably have $1000+ industrial ice makers that pump out high quality cubes. Seriously, just look at the ice they use in this video.
I used to use the ice that my refrigerator spit out or if people were over, a bag of ice I bought at Safeway. But both of those options resulted in small, fragmented ice cubes that over diluted the drinks and look terrible in a glass. I bought some larger 1″ and 2″ ice cube trays and manually started stockpiling ice in my freezer. I even went so far as to buy a small cooler so I could freeze huge blocks of ice and then hand carve them with a knife and hammer.
However, the pinnacle of ice making has to be the ice ball. Nothing is as baller as an old fashioned with a crystal clear sphere of ice floating in it. Balls of ice are so interesting to look at because you grow up only knowing cubes of ice. When you see a sphere of ice for the first time, it’s a very intriguing sight because it’s so different looking.
For a while, I owned one of these standard ice ball molds. It does exactly what it was built to do: create a spherical ball of ice. However, these balls of ice generally end up extremely cloudy with large cracks throughout. Besides the poor visual aspect, cloudy ice melts faster and dilutes your drink.
That ice ball mold didn’t really cut it. I did a bunch of research about how to make clearer ice, but the general consensus is that the type of water you use (bottled, distilled, boiled, etc) has no impact and the only real way to get clear ice is to use directional freezing. There were a few other $60+ ice ball molds that promised clearer ice through directional freezing but it was kind of expensive. The other alternative was a ridiculous, several hundred dollar ice ball press that uses pressure to actually squeeze a cube of ice into a sphere. I say “ridiculous” now but I know one day in the future I will probably end up owning one of these.
Last year, Allison showed me a Kickstarter for a $25 clear ice ball mold that used directional freezing. The price was low enough that it didn’t make me feel too stupid so I pulled the trigger and bought it.
I was definitely a little bit disappointed when I first received it and started pumping out ice balls. They were definitely clearer than my original mold, but they still contained a lot of air bubble strands within the sphere.
Over the course of several months, I made 30+ ice balls using various techniques. Different types of water, different starting temperatures, tapping on the mold to dislodge air bubbles and everything you could possibly try. A bunch of people in the Kickstarter comments also mentioned that they were disappointed, so the creator sent out some additional tips and instructions on how to make better ice balls. After an unnecessarily long struggle, I finally ended up with what I think is pretty much a perfectly clear ice ball. The ultimate solution involved boiling filtered water and letting it cool for a short period. While the water is still hot but not burning hot, I pour it into the mold. Then I place the entire mold into another, insulated cooler. Then I have to wait over 24 hours for the entire thing to freeze.
So yeah, the moral of this story is that really clear ice balls are fucking hard to make.