The holidays get me thinking about cocktails and entertaining so, when Arctic Chill reached out and asked me to review their ice ball maker, it seemed like the perfect excuse to make a classic Old-Fashioned to test it out.
If you’ve ordered a drink at a fancy bar (someplace that uses the term “mixology”), you’ve seen the fancy giant ice cubes or balls. The goal is of course to keep the drink cold without diluting it as the ice melts. There are two important elements to fancy ice: surface area to volume ratio and composition.
You probably remember surface area to volume ratio as the answer to every test question in junior high biology. It matters to mixology because the more surface area your ice has, the faster it will melt. As items increase in size their volume grows faster than their surface area so larger is better. The shape with the lowest surface area to volume ratio – which will therefore melt most slowly – is the sphere.
The second important element is the composition or quality of ice. Those of us who like to chew our ice prize the soft, white stuff for mindless munching/ annoying our tablemates. Unfortunately, this stuff isn’t great for cocktails because the same thing that makes it white – trapped air bubbles – also causes it to melt more quickly and break more easily. Air bubbles are trapped in ice when it freezes quickly so a super slow freeze is the way to clear, high quality ice.
Arctic Chill’s ice ball makers seek to improve the first aspect of your ice cubes: the shape. Not only are these balls pretty, they’ll melt more slowly than the ice from your freezer trays. Just how much more slowly? In my case, they lasted about 20% longer than an exactly equal weight of standard ice.
Unfortunately, they can’t control the speed at which your freezer freezes water so these balls almost certainly won’t last as long as the similarly shaped ice at your local fancy schamancy hipster cocktail lounge.
Update: Here’s a tutorial on making clear ice using these balls.
The ice ball makers weren’t foolproof. The instructions say to fill to 1/3” below the top of the spheres to allow ice to expand but it’s difficult to gauge the correct volume. Two of my first four cubes came out cracked and all of them overflowed. The overflow issue didn’t detract from the presentation, however, since it’s pretty darn hard to eyeball a perfect sphere when it’s bobbing with lots of tasty garnish in your drink.
My overall impression is that I probably wouldn’t have bought them at the $19.99 retail price but would definitely consider them at the Amazon price. They’d also make a fun gift for the difficult-to-shop-for cocktail enthusiast in your life.
Speaking of cocktails, these pretty ice balls begged to be put in the original cocktail, the Old-Fashioned. This classic drink of whisky and bitters has regained popularity thanks to it being Don Draper’s drink of choice on Mad Men and the surge of fru-fru bars referenced above.
Don’t use one of those fluorescent red formaldehyde soaked maraschino cherries. Go for homemade or Luxardo brand or skip the cherry completely. An Old-Fashioned loving buddy of mine at work recently turned me on to Luxardo and I’m now desperately searching for more uses for these spicy, delicious cherries. Let me know if you have any other ideas.
Finally, if you’re in doubt about what kind of whiskey to use, I usually stick to something middle of the road. You want something quality enough that you enjoy drinking it on its own but not so fabulous that it demands to be drunk on its own.
- 1 sugar cube
- 2-3 dashes Angostura bitters
- 2 oz (1/4 c) whiskey
- 1 splash club soda or water
- 1 orange twist
- 1 maraschino cherry (I use Luxardo)
Place the sugar cube in an Old Fashioned glass and moisten with Angostura bitters. Add whiskey and a large ice cube. Add a small splash of club soda or water, to taste. Stir with a barspoon until cold, about 30 seconds.
Rub an orange twist around the rim of the glass. Garnish with the orange twist and cherry.
Disclosures: Arctic chill provided the ice ball makers for review. Luxardo has no idea the nice things I’m saying about them. It turns out I still can’t drink whiskey even though it’s been over a decade and a half since that fateful night of Jim Beam in college.