By Carl Hanson
May 22, 2015

Ice. It may be the most underappreciated ingredient in all of cocktaildom. Fact is, ice is the key to truly great cocktails.

Consider the classic martini, won't you? Without ice, you'd have a warm glass of gin and vermouth. Good enough if you lean that way. But take away the ice, and you not only have a warm drink, you have a "hot" drink, in the sense that it's highly alcoholic and harsh. The ice dilutes as it melts. It smooths off the edges. It's a critical ingredient in the drink.

There's an old adage about the necessary building blocks of a cocktail: one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, and four of weak. The "weak" is ice -- or more to the point, the water that comes off it.

So the quality of ice matters. You want ice made from pure, filtered water. You want clean, fresh, youthful ice that doesn't give off the essence of whatever else is in your freezer. Would you believe we have a recipe for ice?

The Recipe for Cocktail Ice

Admittedly, a recipe for making ice sounds like an April Fools' gag. And yet, I posted just such a preposterous recipe on this very site. And yes, as making ice goes, the recipe's a little worky. But it is not a joke. Follow it, and you'll find that the resulting cocktails taste better.

What I do is boil some filtered water on a Friday morning, cool the kettle down in an ice-water bath (using regular-old ice), and then freeze it in the silicone trays or globes for the Friday night cocktail. It makes a difference.

But a reasonable person could easily skip the boiling step and still be in good shape with filtered water. Excellent shape, even. (Full disclosure: I skip the boiling step more often than not.)

Now, if you're super-serious about your cocktail ice, you might want to keep it in its very own freezer. If that seems excessive, it's probably also obsessive.

Either way, once you have some large cubes or globes of youthful ice, you can customize it for your drinks. This means hacking away at it. You can wrap the ice in a kitchen towel and bang it with a rolling pin. (I use a Lewis bag and wooden mallet.)

For Old Fashioned cocktails and Negroni cocktails, crack the ice into large shards.

Photo by Carl Hanson

For the cocktail pitcher or shaker, crack your ice a little smaller to make perfect martinis and Manhattan cocktails.


"This is the perfect cosmopolitan drink -- very dry, and very smooth," says Jen.

Photo by Arturo

Shaggy's Manhattan

"A classic!" says CALILOO. "Don't skip the bitters -- they really do add the perfect touch."

Photo by Butler

Or really whale on it, pummelling your poor ice into wee cobbles for mint juleps, mojitos, and sherry cobblers. Mint Juleps, Mojitos, and Sherry Cobblers.

"A very refreshing summer drink when the berries are in season," says Lorem Ipsum. "Probably invented in the 1830s when the 'frozen water trade' was just hitting its stride."

Photo by Lorem Ipsum

"Sit on the front porch in your rocking chair on a sultry afternoon and sip on one or two of these," says jenn. "The proper way to serve a mint julep is in a frozen silver goblet, but you can use glasses instead -- just use the most elegant ones you have! You can make the syrup ahead of time and store it in the refrigerator for whenever the julep mood strikes you.";

Photo by The Gruntled Gourmand

"Fresh ingredients and the use of sugar, instead of simple syrup, muddled together make this cocktail refreshing and delicious," says malgal. "It takes a little bit of work but the results are well worth it."

Or do nothing of the sort, and leave the large cubes or globes of ice whole.

This is a good way to drink straight whiskey if you don't want shards of ice (with more surface area) melting and diluting your drink. (Or leave the ice in the freezer and drink your whiskey neat.)

Photo by Carl Hanson

And if you think the recipe for cocktail ice is ridiculous, get a load of this.

How to Make Ice with a Chainsaw

A few years ago, I watched a bartender, who was more than a little serious about his ice, cut cubes from a 300-pound block of crystal-clear ice. It went something like this:

Making chainsaw ice at home is easy! 

All you need are a few simple tools:

1. A chainsaw with a very, very clean chain. (Run it through an industrial dish washer before use.)

2. A band saw for slicing large blocks into cubes.

3. A Kold-Draft machine with inverted evaporator, a pressurized system that locks out air and impurities.

4. Or some kind of commercial ice-block delivery service that will bring a 300-pound chunk of purified, deoxygenated ice to your door.

5. Protective eyewear. People, the chips fly where they may!

Check out our collection of Cocktail Recipes.