A lot of our home bartending experiments are inspired by what we miss most from in-person experiences at our favorite bars – and usually start with varying degrees of success.
For us, nothing feels quite as special as a block or orb of crystal-clear ice clinking against our glasses. So, we set out to create our own.
Research and conversations with Jill Cockson of Swordfish Tom’s in Kansas City revealed that two things create impurities in ice: impure water and microfractures. In a typical ice cube tray, the water freezes from the outside in, which creates a cloudy center; impurities get trapped in the center of each cube as it freezes, and microfractures form as the still liquid center tries to expand outward against the already frozen water.
In order to make fancy cocktail ice, first we ordered silicone ice cube trays with large holes, so that the water will freeze more slowly, and a bit of flex, so that the ice has more room to expand without fracturing. We tried freezing purified water and then distilled water, but alas, it took more effort than that to yield the best results.
Finally, we made a salt water bath for the ice cube trays to sit in and then placed the bath in the freezer. Salt water has a lower freezing point than fresh water, meaning the water in the ice cube trays will freeze from the bottom (which is closest to the salt water bath) to the top, and you’ll run less risk of impurities affecting the quality of your ice. When we tried this tactic, the result wasn’t perfect – most of the ice cubes bloomed with air bubbles and some had microfractures that spread out from one side, but they were much clearer than just tossing a tray full of tap water into the freezer.
We asked Cockson about other methods to try at home, and she suggested filling a small cooler partially with water and placing it in a deep freezer with the lid off. The cooler’s insulation will keep the water from freezing as fast and allow for a more even expansion. Once the block of ice has formed, you’ll need a saw of some sort to cut it into useable cubes. This approach usually yields the clearest ice, but it could break your cooler!
Once you’ve made your own artisanal ice – whether it’s perfectly crystalline or not – Cockson suggests dropping it in a Negroni. The 1:1:1 ratio of gin, Campari and sweet vermouth is easy to remember, and substitutions and experimentations are fairly simple. Once you’ve mastered the classic cocktail, try replacing the gin with something else exciting. If you’re sticking with gin, however, select one that’s somewhat subtle such as Tom’s Town Botanical Gin to show off the complexity of the Campari.