Ice, ice baby: all about ice – where to get it and how to make it for perfect drinks all summer long

Though deceptively simple in its composition, any cocktail connoisseur knows that ice is the silent ingredient that truly helps to make a drink sing – be it whiskey, a spritz or fresh-squeezed lemonade. We've given you our favourite ice-making methods, as well as a round up of the best moulds, filters and other ice-related accoutrements for your sipping pleaure
Christopher Horwood

In the summer months, our need for cooling off goes into overdrive. We seek out shade, head to the beach and, of course, at the end of a hot and humid day, reach for ice-cold (and ice-filled) glasses of our favourite cocktails and drinks, all guaranteed to give us the cool down we so desperately need. Of course, ice is not exactly difficult to come by: if you've access to potable water, a plastic tray and a freezer, you can make your own ice without issue – and without spending a penny. However, when you really think about it, it is ice itself that often makes our favourite summertime drinks so refreshing: think of an Aperol spritz, Pimm's or mint Julep without ice – sacrilege, horrific (not to mention rather medicinal tasting). So why then do we so often discount ice when, in reality, it is the drinks ingredient we need the most? To make the most of your summer refreshments, we've created a guide to ice, from the perfect water composition to the best moulds.

What is the best type of ice?

Issy Croker

All water is not created equal; this can also be said for ice. Depending on its origin, ice can alter the flavours and colours of your favourite cocktail or drink. Whilst buying a bag of ice from the freezer section of your local Sainsbury's or making your own from tap water in the freezer is perfectly noble (at the end of the day, it is just frozen water, after all), we believe that, for certain drinks or occasions, paying attention to your ice and its overall composition and look is important. Whilst all ice is see-through, there is one particular kind that tops this cold hierarchy: “clear” or “pure” ice, which maintains a drink's integrity and helps to keep its flavour for longer.

Whiskey lovers know, for example, how important it is to ensure the ice's purity in both taste and appearance. In fact, many high-end bars and whiskey rooms will go to great lengths to maintain the clarity of their ice cubes by making “clear” ice, a process which eradicates all air and impurities from the icy cube or sphere. Whilst this may seem like a faff, we believe that once you have a drink with “clear” ice, you'll never again look at cubes from a plastic sack or freezer tray in the same way.

How do I make “clear” or “pure” ice?

2F3C0PH Glass with Whiskey and Ice Cube on Table with Hard Shadows. Modern Isometric Style. Creative Concept.Svetlana Belozerova / Alamy Stock Photo

Surprisingly, making “clear” or “pure” ice can be quite simple. Whilst some believe that boiling or double-boiling ice will eradicate your ice of all impurities, this is false. The only true way to create clear, blemish-free ice cubes is with directional freezing.

The easiest (and cheapest) way to directionally freeze your ice is to simply fill a small tray or box with about 12cm of purified water (either filtered yourself or purchased in a pre-filtered bottle). Leaving the lid off, leave the vessel of purified water in the freezer for about 20-24 hours. Upon retrieval, you will notice an ice block about eight centimetres thick under the first frozen cube. All air and impurities will be in the unfrozen water; the ice cubes themselves will be crystal clear.

Lékué Ice Cube Box, White
John Lewis
Final Touch Silicone Ice Ball Moulds, Set of 2
John Lewis

The second way is quite similar; however, instead of creating one giant cube in a tray or box, you use silicone moulds, instead. With these moulds – which usually come in spherical or cubic shapes – all air bubbles and impurities are pushed out of the silicone when freezing, leaving perfectly clear cubes ready to cool down your drink. The sizes of these silicone moulds vary, of course, but most create large cubes or spheres – perfect for an elevated whiskey on the rocks or an avant-garde presentation of the Provençal drink of choice, rosé “pisciné”.

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What are the best trays or moulds for elegant or atypical ice?

Whilst ice most usually is served in cube form, there has been a recent renaissance in the world of ice. As bartenders and home mixologists alike have begun to see ice more and more as a cocktail ingredient of equal import to a drink's other ingredients, they also have sought out ways in which to make their ice more elegant or interesting in presentation. There are plenty of great moulds on the market, from trays creating rose, heart (or Dachshund!) shaped ice to simpler trays which will make your clear ice journey a tad prettier. Stamps for large cube or sphere-shaped ice cubes offer a personalised touch to cubes.

Dachshund Dog Shaped Silicone Ice Cube Moulds and Tray
Hay ice cube tray
Rose-shaped ice silicone moulds
Etsy UK
W&P Peak Ice Tray
Jali Extruded Terracotta Blocks, by Patricia Urquiola
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What about ice buckets? What should I get?

DX3T35 Champagne bottle chilling in silver ice bucket on tray with champagne glasses and marcona almonds on sunny patio, high angle viekaryn millet / Alamy Stock Photo

Of course, there are certain drinks (like white wine or champagne) which must be served cold – but (almost) never iced. Whilst the old-school technique of wrapping a wine bottle in a damp paper towel and shoving it in the freezer is a great way to cool down a room temperature bottle, having a great ice bucket on hand is important – and is a surefire way to elevate any dinner at home, be it just with the household or for a larger dinner party. Luckily, there are plenty of excellent options for ice buckets on the market, certain to add a touch of elegance to any setting – and will guarantee crisp, cool glasses of your favourite wines every time.

Cubi ceramic ice bucket, Tina Vaia
Matches Fashion
Rattan ice bucket with tongs, natural
Rebecca Udall
Glass ice bucket
The White Company
Barwell Cut Crystal Ice Bucket
Soho Home
Hilltop Fabric
Boon and Up