Clear Ice: The American Way

Photo by Aaron Job

Photo by Aaron Job

Clear ice isn’t just for looks. Clarity means quality, and clear ice makes your drink colder, more delicious, more consistent, more historically accurate, and more truly American. (What?! Yes. Don’t worry, I’ll feed you, baby birds.)

Clear ice is a staple at Twin Cities cocktail spots, an integral part of global cocktail culture, and easier than ever to buy. You can also make it at home—there are blogs full of ice clarity techniques. For as faddish as cocktail culture can be sometimes, clear ice wouldn’t have taken hold just because it looks better—it actually works better.

Right around the time bartenders in the United States were inventing the cocktail, ice was getting easier to ship and store. The ice in these drinks was cut from lakes and ponds and came out clear as glass because of a natural phenomenon known as directional freezing. A lake is insulated on all sides except the surface, allowing the ice to freeze in only one direction—from the top down. As water freezes, the molecules align in hexagonal patterns and begin to form ice crystals. Ice crystals are less dense than the water around them causing them to float, pushing air and impurities down into the denser water below and leaving the top with solid, clear ice. 

The water in a standard plastic mold freezes from all sides at the same time—pushing all the air and impurities into the center, forming that gray cloud of mystery. Impurities could be minerals or ambient debris—definitely undesirable, but air could be even more problematic. Air pockets can cause ice to enter the drink with more liquid on the surface, making it watery and weird—two adjectives not usually desired in a cocktail. Plus, ice with air in it has less cooling power to keep the drink cold. Who invited Mr. Luke Warm to this cocktail party? No one. 

Clear ice is the clear choice, clearly. Quality, clear ice does not initially add as much water, allowing control of dilution, more consistent flavor, and better regulation of temperature. American cocktails took their first breaths over clear ice, granting it the noble benefit of historical precedence. Finally, while it’s so much more than aesthetics that make clear ice the perfect choice for every occasion, it really does look sexy as hell.

Clear Ice to Buy

Local purveyors Minnesota Ice ( deliver orders and sell their ice by the bag at Surdyk’s and select Kowalski’s locations. 

Clear Ice to Make

For the advanced home bar, Wintersmiths products ( produce clear ice right out of the molds.