What Bourbon-Swilling Rebels Need to Know About Ice
What Bourbon-Swilling Rebels Need to Know About Ice

Among the extras that accompany a fine glass of Rebel Yell whiskey, ice seems the most basic. We’re talking about frozen water, right? Pour from tap into tray, store in freezer, unpack when your drink needs to chill. How much simpler can it get?

But in the past few years, mixologists have led us through an exploration of this most essential ingredient, delving into chemistry and the strange, powerful nature of water. It turns out there’s such a thing as the “right” ice — and it will improve your drinking experience.

(That said, we don’t sneer at the stuff we get from our freezer’s automatic ice maker. When you just need something chilled, it does suffice.)

Big cubes
Ice melts. Bartenders factor that in as part of their formula. Rebel Yell on the rocks calls for a serious chunk of ice that will cool the drink without watering it down. And the bigger the cube, the slower it melts. Thus, the trend has shifted away from your standard ice cube tray toward larger, single cubes.

Big spheres
A sphere of ice — like the size of a golf ball — works similarly to the big cube, i.e., it melts slower and therefore doesn’t water down your whiskey. You can buy ice molds for spheres and squares online.

For maximum bling, you want your sphere or cube to be clear as glass. Some bartenders swear by filtered or distilled water as the key to keeping your cubes from turning cloudy. One home remedy for clarifying tap recommends boiling the water first and letting it cool before freezing. Another suggests refrigerating first, then freezing.

The block
This is nothing more than a supersized cube best utilized in a supersized vessel such as a punch bowl.

Crushed ice
Also known as cracked or pellet ice, this is your go-to ice when ice is an essential part of the drink, such as a slushee or a frozen margarita. The most famous example of this kind of ice is Sonic, and there are now expensive machines that will duplicate its product. You can also put regular ice in a plastic bag and smash it with your tool of choice.

Collins spears
This long rectangular cube is designed for drinks served in tall glasses, such as the Tom Collins (hence the name). Like other big-size cubes, it does have a practical side in that it melts slower than a smaller cube. It’s a good item for those who insist on having the full arsenal of ice options.