Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Spirits >
Jul 31, 2014 01:32 PM

"Gourmet" ice cubes

We were meeting friends for lunch yesterday and decided to go early and have a real cocktail. When we first arrived, we were the only ones in the bar area so were able to chat up the bartender. These ice cubes begin life as a 50# block of really clear ice. They first cut them with a chainsaw and then carve them down to about 2-1/1" square and shave off the edges. He said that it takes three hours for one to completely melt. I think this is brilliant. If I'm paying $12 for a drink I want it to taste pretty much the same all the way through the drinking process. And HE wants his craft to remain the same.

    Image Title (Optional)
    Caption (Optional)
    Image Credit (Optional)
    Copy to all
    Image Title (Optional)
    Caption (Optional)
    Image Credit (Optional)
    Copy to all
  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I've been breaking down ice blocks for around seven years. I even have an electric chainsaw and sashimi knife only used for ice, several pairs of kevlar gloves with rubber palms for grip, cut protection, and to keep hands warm, several razor sharp 1" and 2" wood chisels, Japanese ice picks, and two different Japanese razor cut fine woodworking saws for cutting and shaping ice.

    Once a week I pick up a 25 lb. block of ice, and 10 lbs. of dry ice, for home use in cocktails.

    With a knife I can carve ice balls, cubes, emeralds, and am working on faceted hearts and "brilliant cut" diamonds.

    I teach this to many of the bars and bartenders I train.

    In the photos there is a barrel aged Manhattan sitting on top of a clear 10 lb. block of ice. Several cocktails (Two Gin Quince Old Fashioneds. The Violette's Dream has no ice) with large clear hand carved ice chunks. And a punch bowl with large hand carved ice chunks and some dry ice pebbles making smoke. The pics aren't great. They're all from magazine and newspaper articles about my cocktails and punch.

    4 Replies
    1. re: JMF

      In this article, which is poorly written and researched blog post, you can go to the bottom and see a pic of me carving ice with a Kuhn Rikon paring knife, wearing the kevlar/latex gloves I mentioned. By the way, Kuhn Ricon is my favorite brand of paring knives, veggie/citrus peelers, and zesters. Amazingly sharp, inexpensive, and easy to re-sharpen when needed. They come from the factory literally razor sharp. The cocktail pics are the Gin Quince Old fashioned and the Reverie (with a mint leaf floating on top.) Some of my popular specialty cocktails.

      The article mistakenly states, " The (ice) process is laborious: in order to keep the cloudiness away, the water must be boiled before being poured into 3 inch deep hotel pans and then frozen into a slab." Total nonsense provided by a clueless PR flack. It was commercial block ice from Arctic Glacier Ice Co.

      1. re: JMF

        ohhhhh - I'd LOVE to come to your house for cocktails! I promise to bring yummy hors doeuvres! I bought this ice cube maker that makes large round balls and gave my son one that makes large squares. Problem being that I can make two at a time, but they keep in a freezer bag - just not clear looking.

        1. re: smilingal

          Wouldn't we all like to have cocktails @ JMF's. I can bring dessert or pretty much anything else to get this started.

          1. re: tanker64

            True expert in his craft, definitely good to have his knowledge on chowhound.

      2. One problem with ice programs like this is that the base ice (not including the time taken in rendering it down and shaping it) adds substantially to the drink's cost. I remember hearing one bartender at the Hawthorne here at Boston reply to a guest who asked if he was concerned if someone stole a glass; he replied that the ice used to make the sphere cost almost as much as the glass itself, so no.

        Kevin Liu's Craft Cocktails at Home book addresses the difference between crystal clear and air-bubbled ice (besides appearance), and while the clear ice lasts longer, it is not substantially longer.

        6 Replies
        1. re: yarm

          Fred- I can break down ice quickly and cheaply. 25 lbs. is $6, and sold in 25 lb increments (25, 50, etc. up to 300) at that $6 per 25 lbs. With 25 lbs I can make around 150-200 2" cubes in less than five minutes using a chainsaw for all of it. A 25 lb block is a little larger than 12"x12"x12".

          I don't use professional ice statue carving ice, but the blocks I get are pretty darn close to perfect. You can see in the pic with the large block how clear it is.

          1. re: JMF

            Perhaps this was specific to the ice that the Hawthorne got. It was packaged as crysta clear cubes, perhaps 2x2 or so. They used it for their ice ball maker.

            1. re: yarm

              If you buy pre-cut ice, you pay through the nose. See below.


              1. re: JMF

                That's theft.

                I've been screaming about quality (or,as we say in my family "real") ice for almost 50 years. In New Orleans we used to have it in some restaurnats. There was a place that made the old huge walls of it, using an ammonia refrigeration system. The tanks made walls of ice about five or so feet high, maybe twelve feet long and about a foot thick. You could read a newspaper through them. Hard, clear ice. Some years ago an ice house was sold to new people(who now no longer sell to the public) and I went to get block ice. It was made from "snow" and compressed. They said it was "snowball ice." Ernest Hansen would have left it in the street to melt. I realized that, sadly, I knew more about ice and making it than the owner of the ice house.

                I am glad to see some people are paying attention to it again. It is not rocket science and it makes a HUGE difference.

                1. re: hazelhurst

                  I refuse to use that blue heart thing. Sooo, Thank You for your comment, from the bottom of my heart to the top of my head.

            2. re: JMF

              That was the visual appeal. That clear block/cube of ice.

          2. I love me some large clear ice cubes! I make my own at home because I don't know where I would store 150-200 of them...

            16 Replies
            1. re: cobpdx

              Great pic!

              I store my ice in a cooler with dry ice on top, since my freezer is full.

              1. re: JMF

                How long do they stay frozen with dry ice (i.e. how long does the dry ice last)?

                1. re: cobpdx

                  Depends upon how much dry ice. $5 worth last around 2-3 days, and the ice is then good for 1-2 after that before it starts to melt too much. Basically for $11-12 a week I have a cooler full of hand cut ice. But if you are opening the cooler more than 4-5 times a day the time drops by 25-40%. I actually did some experiments on this a few weeks ago for a bar I work with.

                  1. re: JMF

                    I'll admit to really enjoying a good cocktail out in a bar but also making snarky comments about which facet of the process folks will next find to obsess about.

                    So, I can't help but wonder how much the eventual Yeti (cooler) program will add to the cost. ;-)

                    I have one of the silicon trays that makes 2x2-ish cubes. I like the ice a lot, but I find that, by the time I'm ready for a drink with one, I'm not pouring the super-size serving seen in the photo above. I suspect that means I'm not taking full advantage of the surface area of my ice program.

                    1. re: ted

                      Here's the cocktail that I got. The bartender said it has 1.5oz of bourbon in it so quite modest.

                      1. re: c oliver

                        So, what you're saying is that I need smaller glasses. Here comes the home glassware program.

                        1. re: ted

                          I find great, ealy 1900's style cocktail glasses at tag sales, consignment shops, and antique stores. I have waaaaay too many.

                      2. re: ted

                        I, too, have one of those 2"x2"x2" silicon cube ice trays, and have had good luck with it -- more so than the silicon-and-plastic spheres . . . then again, I *really* do like the ice spheres used by Jaleo in Las Vegas

                        1. re: zin1953

                 occasionally has the ice ball makers that are blemished for half normal price. So far I've only seen this with the smaller, 55mm / 2.16" ones. But if the larger, 70 mm / 2.75" ones ever are like that I'm going to get one. They have the best price on them.


                        2. re: ted

                          And if you are referring to MY photo, ted, that was a 3 oz Manhattan with a 2x2" cube. It does look huge, though...

                          1. re: cobpdx

                            File under "optical illusion." ;-)

                            1. re: ted

                              Seriously! My hands are not small and the cube in my hand looks like it is about 4x4"!

                        3. re: JMF

                          Thanks, JMF. How do you keep the cubes from sticking to one another when you first cut them off the block? I'm assuming they are a little "wet" at that point unless you are working in a very cold room.

                          1. re: cobpdx

                            The fresh cut ice doesn't stick together because you temper it.

                            Tempering the ice means the ice has to warm up to 32F internal before you work it to keep it from shattering, and also sticking together. When I buy a 25 or 50 pound block cut off a 300 lb block I stick it in my cooler for the ride home. Then I take a deep, full size hotel pan, and a deep, full size hotel strainer pan and put the strainer in the regular pan. I put the ice in this and let it sit for 30-45 minutes at room temp.

                            Not much of the ice melts, but it gets slippery. i put a moist bar towel down on the counter. A large cutting board on top. And another bar towel on top of that. Then the ice on top of that. The bar towels prevent slipping. I wear kevlar gloves with latex coated palms/fingers for grip and to keep hands safe, and warm. See link.


                            So now you have a safe work space, and warm ice. I then use the electric chainsaw, or a 2" wide wood chisel and rubber mallet, to break the ice down. First into 2"x12"x12" slices. Then into 2"x2"x12 slices. Then into 2"x2". Or into 1"x1"x8" "Spears" With a chainsaw you can get very even cuts. With chisel you get less even, but more attractive, hand cut "icebergs."

                            You have to be careful with a chainsaw because you do not want to cut all the way through the ice and into the towel or cutting board underneath. This can make the chainsaw grab on and you end up with all kinds of heavy block ice and sharp chainsaw, wanting to move elsewhere in a hurry. You stop the cut about 1/2" from all the way through. A quick insert and twist of the chisel, or tap on the chisel with the mallet will easily break in pretty clean.

                            Also, the chainsaw will spit a storm of snow directly in front of you when you are cutting. Make sure no one is in that area. For a multitude of safety and etiquette reasons.

                            Using a chainsaw is very quick, and once you've done it, easy. Using a chisel and mallet is very mentally and spiritually rewarding. Almost meditative. But you have to let things like perfection wash away and not hold you back at this stage. Just go with the flow.

                            Perfection is for when you start taking broken down ice and carving balls, jewels, etc.

                            I put the ice cubes into a the strainer pan so water drops off. I then put into another strainer pan and put into a freezer to chill the ice back down and "dry" it. Or into a cooler and lay dry ice in a brown paper bag on top of the ice and close it for an hour. Then once it is dry it can be vac packed or just left in a container. As long as they don't warm up, then cool down, they don't stick together. They may get cloudy on the outside as they cool down, but clear up as soon as they get wet on the outside, from melt, or spirits/liquids, in a glass.

                            1. re: JMF

                              This is great, JMF, thanks! I'm not sure a chainsaw operation is in my future, though. I am just a home cocktail enthusiast who loves clear ice and makes 6 cubes at a time. From my own process (obtained from Camper English's technique), I am familiar with what tempering adds, but I stumbled upon it by accident.

                              But my cubes do stick together if I get them too close to each other before they dry, so I was envisioning you sticking a bunch of them in a cooler on top of each other and basically reforming your block :-).

                              I may try some other shapes soon. Just out of curiosity, if I wanted to try my hand at a larger block, what kind of business sells them? I can only think of an ice carving business.

                              1. re: cobpdx

                                I don't use ice carving quality ice. i just buy regular block ice from the local ice company. Arctic Glacier, which is all over North America. There's one in Portland.

                                Arctic Glacier Ice
                                909 North Columbia Blvd
                                Portland, OR 97217
                                Tel: 503.285.2800
                                Fax: 503.283.3904