"Party" Ice Versus from the Home Refrigerator's Ice Machine
I was in Nantucket over the 3rd week of August, and bought 2 bottles of Triple 8 vodka, one unflavored, and the other orange. I had tasted the plain, traditional Triple 8 in the past, on the rocks and straight up and liked it. However, when i drank it on the rocks, it had a funny taste... To make a long story short, I find that liquor, when consumed on the rocks, or even when mixed with tonic or soda, tastes very different when I use commerically produced ice versus the ice that comes from my refrigerator's ice maker. Anyone have a similar experience?
Most refrigerators a) do not have an in-line filtration system*, and b) have a high(er) level of mold, mildew and/or stagnant water sitting in the water line. The ice is "tainted," even in areas where the tap water tastes good.
So-called "party" ice does not have these problems, and (nearly) always tastes better.
* And even if the refrigerator DOES have such an in-line filtration system, when was the last time the catridge was re-charged or replaced?
Our tap water is very good. We have a filter on the ice maker that I change regularly but the ice still has an off taste some times. Mostly the ice that comes out the chute. I usually open the door and grab the top cubes. If I'm having guests though I buy ice it always tastes better.
There's a couple of things at work, depending on what kind of ice you buy. Commercial ice is generally made from very well filtered water. It could also be that the method of freezing will change the rate the ice melts- homemade ice will often melt much faster due to the presence of small air bubbles stuck inside the ice. Ice manufacturers do vary; there's numerous brands available all around here in the Phoenix area. Once you find an ice you really like, stick with it.
Incidentally, if you're in Phoenix, the one to pick up is Crystal Ice in cubes. It's usually sold alongside the store brand ice and will be more expensive, but is very much worth it. The cubes are nice and big, and as crystal clear as the brand name implies.
The icemaker in my fridge's freezer compartment makes perfectly fine, clear, flavorless ice. But I discard the contents of the hopper every few days. Most odors don't come from the water line, but the food stored in the refrigerator compartment, which ice tends to readily absorb. Party ice from supermarkets often has stale flavors, too, if it's old. It's not hard to spot the old stuff: solid masses of cubes or copious amounts of frost in the bag are good hints.
For a big crowd, I buy 30lb bags of cocktail ice from my local ice company (Brookline Ice and Coal), which is economical and very fresh (and ensures I don't run out of ice, a real party-killer).
Hardcore, serious cocktail bars make their ice from various spring waters. It's one more ingredient you can take up a level. I haven't gotten that serious at home. If I were to do that, I'd use conventional ice for chilling glasses, and only use the fancy stuff in the shaker, or in the glass for rocks drinks.
There's also some science around the shape of the cube. For example, I understand that some Japanese barkeeps use larger sizes and spherical shapes in drinks for reduced dilution, and the ability to add flourishes like a flower blossom frozen inside. I don't find the semi-circular "cube" my icemaker produces as attractive as square or rectangular cubes, but I live with it for the convenience. The rule is simple enough: smaller cubes, cracked ice, and shaved ice are progressively faster to melt, which can be desirable or not depending on the drink. I bought an ice shaver (snow cone machine) specifically for its lovely effect on certain Tiki cocktails, like the original Trader Vic's Mai Tai.
The water freezing process is different in the two kinds of ice. Refrigerator ice freezes a fixed volume of water trapping all the impurities in the water-ice. As the water cools the impurities precipitates out into the cloudy material you see when the ice melts. Even filtered water will leave behind some impurities when frozen this way. Party ice is prepared by passing water over a very cold plate surface where only the water molecules freeze and the impurities are carried away with the leftover unfrozen water. When the ice has built up to the desired amount the supply water is turned off and the clean party ice is collected.