Since I was introduced to this wonderful chunk of sculpted ice it has been hard to go back to any rocks drink that doesn't have it. Why? The simple fact is that it lasts far longer than the cubed ice and my drinks are not watered down at the end.
Ice melt is often one of the reasons that your "homemade" drinks do not taste as fresh as bar drinks. The ice served in bars is designed to fill the glass utilizing its maximum capacity, which in turn keeps everything cooler longer and the ice from melting slower. The basic design of ice from classic cube trays does not allow for this efficient use of a glass' shape. However, the ice ball thwarts this melting by giving you one large clump that cools itself and slows the melt. If you enjoy any type of whiskey on the rocks you will want to check out this form of ice because your last sip will be almost as flavorful as your first.
Most ice balls are the size of a handball or racquetball and they fit into most highball and lowball glasses. Depending on the shape of your glass, they may not fit and I have yet to find a collins glass that will work. The key to using an ice ball is to have a glass with a wide rim; those that taper inward at the rim will not work and your ball will just sit on top.
How do you make an ice ball?
There are three ways. One is commonly used in Japan and is an craft that involves a person with an ice pick carving the form of a ball from a solid brick of ice. You can see the technique in action in this YouTube video that was passed onto me by Suntory, a popular Japanese whiskey with the smokiness of a Scotch. Imagine being a barman with that job all night!
The other option, which is far easier and adept to the home bartender, is to get an ice ball mold. These can be quite difficult to find but they're out there and you have basically two options at this moment: an aluminum mold (Tasin is widely available and comes in fun and customizable shapes, but is expensive...one store here) and a plastic double mold (inexpensive at less than $30...store example here). I received the plastic mold as a gift and love it and here are some tricks for using it to make the perfect ice ball.
The last option was passed on to me by Bobby Gleason, Master Mixologist for Beam Global Spirits & Wine. All you need is a bag of balloons, a place in the freezer to hang them when filled with water, and a night to allow the "teardrop-shaped" ice to freeze. Read more about the technique in this interview with Gleason.
How to make an ice ball with a plastic mold:
- Separate the two pieces of the mold.
- Fill the bottom mold to the top of the rim of the mold (not just the sphere shape) with distilled water (please don't use tap).
- Place the top mold over the bottom and push it down. You will want to do this over the sink as water will come out of the two air holes on the top. This is necessary because the water displaced from the bottom tray will fill the top part of the sphere and some will be "left over" and have to come out of the mold.
- Set your ice ball mold on a level surface in your freezer. "Level" is important because if the mold is tilted, water will leak out and you will not have a full ball once it is frozen.
- Allow the mold to set undisturbed (again, tilting unfrozen water factor) for 3-5 hours, or until frozen, depending on how cold your freezer is. I found that this time is about twice as long as a standard ice cube tray and if you can go a little longer, it's better because you want to ensure it is fully frozen.
- Once completely frozen you can separate the two parts of the tray. The ice balls may stick to the mold so you will want to be careful when attempting to remove the ice balls. If they do get stuck, run some cold water over the mold and it should release (hot water will begin the melting process and you want to avoid that).
- Once formed and frozen ice balls can be stored in a freezer bag or bowl in the freezer until needed. I like to keep a cycle going of freezing and will store a dozen or more at a time so they are always available.
How long will an ice ball last?
The answer to this completely depends on the temperature of the room, the glass and the liquids poured over the ice. On a chilly spring evening, pouring warm bourbon and cold cola over an ice ball in a chilled glass, I have made one piece of ice last almost 2 hours, through 3 tall drinks. However, when the temperatures started to rise outside I found one ice ball would sufficiently chill one straight (room-temp) whiskey for 30 minutes without over diluting. That is still a far cry longer than regular cubes in 80 degree weather.
Final thoughts on purchasing an ice ball mold:
I do also have to pass along that, in my attempt to find these trays online, there are numerous ice trays available that are merely a redesign of the standard cube tray - miniature ice balls. These are likely not to have the same effect as the larger ice balls that I am speaking of - those that fit in the palm of your hand - and, while they're cute and unique, their size tells me that they will melt nearly as fast as the ice from the tray you likely already have. If you go looking for "real" ice ball trays that simulate the Japanese craft, check the size and beware if there is more than two in a single tray.