Tiki drinks, like this Mai Tai, stay cooler longer with crushed ice, made in this mini ice crusher. Photo by Angie Bryan

Now that summer is officially here, it’s time to talk about one of my all-time favorite cocktail ingredients: ice.

As more and more people get into mixology at home while bars are closed, I am increasingly receiving questions about which type of ice to use in which drink. While I’m sure there are all sorts of additional options if you have access to fancy commercial bar equipment, I’m going to focus on options you have at home during isolation – or should I say ice-olation?

Let’s start with crushed ice, an ingredient most people don’t consider when making drinks at home. Crushed ice is most frequently used in tiki drinks such as Mai Tais, Zombies and Rum Swizzles, but is also popular in drinks like the Mint Julep. (Side note: The best Mai Tai recipe I’ve ever come across is from the Halekulani hotel in Hawaii, and yes, you can find it online. You’re welcome.)

Crushed ice helps thin out the juice in juice-based drinks, but the real advantage is that it keeps your drink constantly chilled in a warm climate (where tiki drinks abound). I got into making crushed ice at home after buying a miniature ice crusher at Vessel and Vine’s vintage glassware store in Brunswick. A few cranks by hand, and I have enough crushed ice for at least two drinks. You can find a hand-crank ice crusher online for under $35, or you can simply wrap some ice cubes in a dish towel and pound them with a mallet or a meat tenderizer. It’s worth the 30 seconds of extra effort.

A single, big cube works best for spirit-forward drinks, like this Negroni. Photo by Angie Bryan

Another fun at-home option is those large ice cubes popular in whiskey bars. An inexpensive silicone mold for making several large ice cubes immediately ups the style of spirit-forward cocktails like Manhattans, Negronis, Old Fashioneds and Vieux Carrés. More importantly, since that category of drinks is meant to be nursed, a large (and therefore slower-melting) ice cube gives you more time to enjoy the drink than using regular-sized cubes would.

Less common but equally fun are Collins spears – long sticks of ice that are perfect for highballs and Collins drinks, which are served in tall skinny glasses. Regular ice cubes can jam up the glass, making it harder for the precious cocktail liquid to reach your mouth. Criminal. I didn’t seek out any special Collins spears molds – instead, I used the silicone molds I had picked up at LeRoux Kitchen in Portland that were designed to make long thin sticks of ice that would fit through the narrow neck of a water bottle and keep your water cold throughout a long exercise session. I can’t believe how long it took me to realize that they’d be just as useful in certain cocktails.


Another fun way to use ice to enhance a cocktail is by freezing something inside your ice cube. I first came across this trick at N to Tail in Portland, where the bartender froze a slice of habanero pepper inside an ice cube that he then floated inside my drink, resulting in a cocktail that slowly got spicier as the ice melted. Visually stunning and a great way to evolve the flavor of a cocktail over time.

If you’re frustrated with how cloudy your home ice is, try using filtered or distilled water and then boiling it twice before freezing it. It might not remove all of the cloudiness, but it results in a much clearer cube.

I’ll wrap this up by sharing my favorite ice-related joke with you. Why did the crowd throw ice cubes at His Majesty?

Someone shouted, “All hail the king.”

Angie Bryan is a former diplomat who is enjoying getting acquainted with her new home in Portland, one cocktail at a time.

Long, thin ice spears – like ones used in water bottles – make drinks in Collins glasses easier to consume. Photo by Angie Bryan

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