Ice is both a tool and an ingredient in the world of culinary arts. In its use for chilling cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages, it is molded into almost any shape.
Many people don't realize it, but ice is actually made in different ways to serve very specific purposes. The shapes and textures of an ice cube gives it unique functions that help do much more than just lower the temperature of your favorite drink.
This is the kind of ice that everyone is familiar with. You pour some water in your ice tray, you set it in the freezer for a few hours, and then you have some squareish cubes. Most people simply place these cubes into a glass for their drink, but this is considered by bartenders to be one of the least sophisticated ways of implementing ice into a beverage.
You have most likely seen these shapes come out of someone's ice dispenser attached to their fridge. The pieces are thinner than the literal cubes that come out of an ice tray. They are flat on one side, and curved on the other — a crescent shape. This shape allows for the ice to contour with the curves of the glass so more of it will fit!
The world of "mixology" turns to this shape of ice to add to many different cocktails. Instead of using a tray or ice maker to freeze water, it is frozen in a larger container such as a cooler. From here, the freezing process can be stopped in time to separate the purest ice at the top from the cloudy ice at the bottom.
After some chiseling, smooth, clear ice can be formed into suitable sizes for most cocktails. This freezing process is the way that most true, fancy cocktail ice begins.
When the block of ice has been removed from its container, it can be made into a sphere using a special press tool. These days you can also buy molds to freeze water into this shape at home. This shape is perfect for drinks served in lowball glasses as it perfectly compliments the short stature of its container.
Chemistry lovers out there will recognize that the spherical shape also has the minimum-possible surface area, which allows the ice to keep the drink cool while not melting too fast.
If you have ever been served a mint julep or a sno cone, you know this ice. Crushed ice can take up most of the glass that contains it, and is made most often by blending it.
This is the antithesis of spherical ice. Everyone knows that those small bits of crushed ice are going to melt almost instantly, but this is the genius of crushed ice. Bartenders, over the years, have selected which drinks go best with crushed ice, based on the strength of the spirit. As the crushed ice melts away, it helps to dilute the liquor and make it more palatable.
Just as the ice sphere is designed to be served in a lowball glass, cylindrical ice (AKA Collins Spears ice) is designed to be served in a hi-ball glass. Its long, thin shape helps keep every part the glass's volume chilled. It's more of a novelty ice than the others mentioned on this list, and you have to buy a special mold to make it.
This kind of ice is perfect for simple classics like a gin 'n tonic, or even more complex drinks like the Presbyterian.
This kind of ice goes back to the trusty block ice mentioned earlier. You want the cube shape without the cloudiness that comes as a by-product of freezer ice trays.
By taking the chisel to your block ice once again, you can form these perfect cubes that go great in whiskey drinks. Ice trays that form these two-inch blocks are also widely available for home use, though you won't get that coveted cloud-less quality.
If you thought your sno cone had ice that was still too chunky, shaved ice is what you need. It is made by slowly grinding away at a larger chunk of ice. The shavings are gathered and piled in a cup or cone for serving.
Next, flavored syrup is poured over the shaved ice, and consumed with a spoon or bitten straight off the stack, if you're brave.
For those of you who like sweet drinks, this is an idea for you. Sticking small chunks of fruit like kiwi, strawberry, raspberry, and blackberry in your freezer can turn them into a delightful addition to your glass without watering down the concoction.
Add flare to your daiquiris and Piña Coladas with some frozen berries or pineapple to give these classics an extra sweet twist.
Finally, this is the kind of ice you buy premade, usually to save you the headache of having to prepare or store it. For those bigger parties, your freezer ice tray will simply not be able to chill everyone's beverage. Bagged ice is perfect for large get-togethers, keeping the cooler cool when camping, and servicing remote events.