Your Drink Menu Deserves an Ice Program
by David Klemt
All ice is not created equal—there’s a reason behind their shapes and sizes.
Taking the time to consider your ice and build a dedicated program that includes it is crucial for your beverage program and the guest experience.
Remember that just like there are rules for building cocktails, there are rules for using ice:
- Dilution is your friend. Water is a crucial component for cocktails.
- Is your ice floating? Your build balance is off.
- Store ice in plastic bags if it’s not being used right away.
- Don’t use ice that’s two weeks old or older.
Types of Ice
Standard Cube (1 inch x 1 inch): These absolutely have a place in the cocktail glass. Just adhere to this standard when using standard ice cubes: Never use a water source you wouldn’t drink.
King Cubes (2 inches x 2 inches): Use these for spirit-forward drinks for consistent temperature and dilution. Examples: Manhattan, Negroni, Old Fashioned, Vieux Carré.
Collins Spear/Shard/Cylinder: For highballs. These make a Tom Collins or G&T look elegant and cool.
Ice Block: Use blocks in punches to keep large-format cocktails cold and control dilution over time.
Ice Slab: These are impressive blocks of ice bars and restaurants use to cut and shape their own cubes and spheres, often providing guests with entertainment (see below). Operators either form slabs in-house or retain the services of producers who drop them off. (In fact, there are services out there that will provide perfect and bespoke cubes, spheres and spheres.)
Sphere: Ice spheres are ideal for stirred cocktails and enjoying spirits straight. They melt very slowly in comparison to other shapes and deliver an impressive visual impact, so they often wind up in cocktails that call for king cubes.
Pebble/Crushed: Use in drinks that are heavy on syrup and/or juice, tiki drinks, and drinks served in hot climates. Examples: Frozen Daiquiri, Margarita, Mint Julep, Moscow Mule, Swizzle.
According to many well-known bartenders, mixologists and operators, the best method for perfectly clear ice is “directional freezing.” Camper English outlined the process on the Alcademics site in 2009. But what do you do to turn a single slab into several cubes?
You’ll need an ice saw to get through the slab, a traditional single-prong ice pick to break off smaller cubes, a three-prong ice pick to break off smaller cubes and shape them into spheres if you prefer (be careful!), and an ice mallet to help the ice picks do their jobs.
Treat this process as a show for the guests. For a real-world example, the bars inside Zuma restaurants have ice stations dedicated to turning an ice slab into ice cubes. These stations are an experiential feature of the cocktail program.
An aluminum ice sphere mold is a type of “set it and forget it” device.
It may seem like these would be time-consuming to use and low-yield, but most take just a minute to form a ready-to-use sphere. Most manufacturers claim their molds can produce 30 to 40 spheres per hour.
While the mold is creating a perfect sphere of ice, the bartender grabs a glass and builds the cocktail. The guest, meanwhile, enjoys the “drama” of drink production versus ice sphere production: Will the drink and ice be ready at the same time?
Ice sphere molds range in price from under $200 to $800 (and beyond). The molds themselves are appealing to the eye, simple to use, and justify higher cocktail prices. Yes, there are bars that successfully charge more for large ice spheres, often offering different types of ice for at additional charge.
Molds make spheres in a range of diameters, normally from 1.2 inches to 2.8 inches. Higher-end models also offer shapes, such as perfect spheres, diamonds or snowflakes. Several bars that use these molds utilize custom versions that “brand” the ice with their logo.
There are multiple manufacturers of commercial-grade icemakers. However, there are two that are considered top of the food chain.
Hoshizaki America’s headquarters is in Georgia and the company makes dozens of icemakers. People can choose from ice shape and the pounds of ice a machine produces in a day. We’re fans of Hoshizaki for their quality and the pandemic information they added to their FAQs last year.
Manitowoc operates out of Wisconsin and manufactures several models. There are cubers, flakers, nugget producers, and there are several solutions that work for an array of venue types, layouts and service volumes.
To learn even more about creating an epic beverage program, click here for our latest download.