I first saw these clear ice cubes at fancy cocktail bars, and some where they are even chiseling them on the spot from cubes into balls and was WOWED. I had to figure out how to make these at home and thankfully, it is super easy to make clear ice cubes or clear ice balls/spheres at home.
In this article, we’ll cover three methods:
- A ~$11 cooler, and hand chiseling to custom sized cubes.
- This freezer mold for clear ice cubes (not cheap!)
- This freezer mold for clear ice spheres / balls (also not cheap!)
Clear ice is a beautiful visual addition to cocktails or glasses of whiskey, but these clear cubes provide functional benefit. Two main reasons are they are denser from not having air bubbles, so they have more cooling mass.
Second, there’s less surface area compared to crushed ice, so the ice will melt slower, allowing you to enjoy your drink over a longer span of time before it becomes too watered down.
The secret to clear ice: directional freezing
The main thing you need to control to make crystal clear ice at home in your freezer is the direction in which the water freezes. This means you’ll have to insulate all the sides it freezes from except one–the top.
This will force the water to freeze from the top first, working its way down and pushing down air bubbles downward, leaving you with clear ice. The reason this doesn’t occur with regular ice trays or the freezer’s built in ice maker is that there is little to no insulation from the molds that hold and surround the water.
With normal plastic or silicone ice molds, the walls are so thin that the water freezes from all directions freezeing air bubbles in a mixed formation making it look cloudy.
What type of water should you use?
Simple, good ol’ tap water is all you need. Since I’m going to drink the water that melts from this, I used filtered tap water–but this makes 0 difference in how clear or tranpsarent the ice looks.
Some folks will tell you that you have to use distilled or boiled water, but this is absolutely not what’s preventing most folks from achieving clear ice. I used room temperature tap water for this and the results were crystal clear ice.
The cloudiness comes from bubble formations when you freeze it, so as long as you directionally freeze, you’re golden. Only if you happen to have really bad and cloudy tap water, you will see a benefit from using distilled water.
Method 1: a small, cheap cooler
Make sure the cooler you choose lets you remove the lid and that it will fit insize your freezer. Fill the cooler (I used this one) about 3/4 of the way full, remove the lid and put it in the freezer for 18-20 hours. The timing is important because it freezes the top part, but not all the way through.
It leaves the bottom, bubbly part we don’t want not fully frozen so it’s easier to to chisel away. If you freeze it over the specified time, it will still work, you just have to spend more effort chiseling.
When the timer’s up, remove your cooler from the freezer and let it thaw for about 10 minutes, or whenever its easy enough to slide the block out. It may be a watery mess underneath, so do this near the sink!
Shaping ice from a cooler
If you go the cooler route, its by far the cheapest route given you have a mallet and knife also handy to cut off the hazier, less clear ice parts.
Be warned this can be very dangerous! You’d be best off wearing protective eyewear and maybe some gloves if you aren’t comfortable with these tools. If you are so inclined, I personally found it relatively safe and easy.
All you need to do is place the knife where you want the cut, then slowly tap at the back of the knife with your plastic mallet.
You don’t want to hit it too hard because the ice will split before the knife even gets half way through the block. The goal is just short taps until you find the right amount of force the ice needs to break apart.
You want to avoid having the knife flying into your board or tray too. A controlled mallet hit and anticipation of the break will keep the knife from hitting the board. I was just trying to not damage the blade, which seems crazy given hammering on a block of ice, ha!
A cutting board would work too, but the lip of this halfsheet pan gave me a stopper for the slippery ice.
Just keep chopping the blocks down to the size of your favorite whiskey glass, or whatever size you please! The bottom will always have bubbles that needs to be chopped away since this is just the nature of how clear ice is made.
Method 2: a freezer mold for clear ice cubes
I tried out this freezer mold to try to make clear ice cubes without having to do any potentially dangerous chiseling. I did multiple attemps, following directions exactly and each time the results were similar–there were still some bubbles at the bottom so it was about 95% clear.
To be fair the cooler method has bubbles at the bottom too, but there’s just so much more clear ice with that method, that it’s easier to chip away at the bottom at the hazier, bubbly part. With this mold, the bubbly area is too small to chisel. If you were really set on 100% clarity, you could perhaps dip it in a plate of water til the bottom melted off.
All you have to do is fill it up to the fill line (almost to the brim), freezer for about 18-20 hours, slightly thaw, then just like the cooler method, break off the frozen bubbly bottom (I used a plastic mallet or a wooden spoon) and then pop your cubes out.
Silicone molds with this product may be somewhat healthier since you aren’t freezer water on a potentially BPA-filled plastic cooler. There are multiple brands selling very similar products, but I went with the cheapest one (which is not cheap). It worked well and seems like a pretty high quality product.
Method 3: a freezer mold for ice balls / spheres
I’ve seen bartenders chisel away at blocks of ice to get rustic looking clear ice balls but I’m not ready for that avenue yet.
I used this freezer mold to try to achieve clear spheres, and again these molds are not cheap. This product didn’t come with instructions, so I winged it with the same process as the other two above and it turned out much more bubbly, and less clear than expected.
I used tap water on all of these experiments since it is not a factor in clarity, and froze, thawed, etc. with all the same methods. This one turned out much more bubbly than the cube mold for some reason.
For subsequent trials, I pulled this a few hours earlier and the clarity was much better, but the sphere was not fully formed at the bottom–there was still a flat part. So with enough tinkering based on your freezer placement and temperature level, you can probably get a sphere almost if not 100% clear with this mold.
I’m going to keep on trying with the same freezer placement and narrowing the exact timing to get this right. It’s quite a hassle to do this since you kinda have to babysit it and make sure you’re home at the right hour it’s done.
The best method?
If all you want is consistent 2″ cubes, then the cube mold will suit you just fine. It takes up much more space to make fewer cubes than the cooler method.
If you want more rustic looking cubes and want to make as many as possible in a shorter amount of time–the cheap cooler method is great and allows you to cut custom sizes of clear ice cubes too. The cooler method yields much more ice per cu. ft. of freezer space used though, which can be preferable if you’re trying to knock out a ton of these at once.