Cocktail Ice: 3 Basic Types

standard May 26, 2015 2 responses
Ice Cube Basics

No matter your level of expertise, cocktail ice is the one ingredient that home bartenders most often overlook. Sure, we all focus on our special liquors, mixers and garnishes, but cocktail ice performs more than one function; it chills, it dilutes, brings different flavors together and mellows an otherwise strong alcoholic base..

So if you want to up your home bartending game, dramatically improve your drinks and maybe even impress your friends, let me show you what I’ve learned about cocktail ice. By the time we’re done, you may be an ice expert (at least to your guests, anyway…)

Cocktail Ice Video Tutorial

To best understand the different types of ice, I uncovered this great video from Speakeasy Cocktails that offers a good explanation of cocktail ice. I’ll cover each type of ice in this post except the Double Old Fashioned, which the host hand cuts …. Frankly I don’t think hand cutting ice cubes at home makes a lot of sense …

Cocktail Ice and Its Many Forms

Believe it or not cocktail ice comes in many forms; however most don’t realize that most drinks call for a specific type. Whether intended for a particular type of glassware, a level of dilution or just appearance, cocktail ice is a critical component to any mixed drink.

For the contemporary home bartender, there are essentially three types: ice cubes, cracked ice and crushed ice. Let’s take a look at each.

Ice Cubes

The basic ice cube is perhaps the most common form of ice for the budding mixologist and the standard go-to for chilling cocktails. Easy to make, they can be made manually using ice trays or automatically using ice makers. Cubes generally melt slowly and provide the least amount of dilution.

Of course quick and easy is something that everyone can get behind, but should you choose to get advanced, there are several different types of ice cubes better suited to some drinks.

Mixing Cubes

Beyond the basic ice cube, mixing cubes are probably the first thing that that pop into mind when thinking about cocktail ice. Used for shaking and stirring, mixing cubes are exactly that: cubes. Generally they are 1” square and can be created using a simple ice tray or mold.

Best Uses: Cocktail Preparation, Shaking & Stirring.

Cocktail Ice Basics: Mixing Ice Cubes

Rocks Ice

When you’re making a drink “on the rocks,” this is the way to go. Often a large ice cube or sphere, Rocks Ice is used for drinks that are primarily spirits based where dilution should be minimized. Since larger pieces of ice melt more slowly due to less surface area your beautifully crafted drink is likely to retain its consistency and flavor.

Best Uses: Drink Requiring Minimal Dilution (e.g.Straight Liquor)

Cocktail Ice Basics: Rocks Ice Cube

Collins Ice

Also known as Shard Ice or Highball ice, Collins ice is a large piece of ice intended for use in a taller glass. Resembling the size of a large pickle spear, it’s intended to melt slowly.

Best Uses: Collins drinks (duh…), Highball drinks (e.g Greyhound, Dark ‘n Stormy)

Cocktail Ice Basics: Collins Ice

Special & Novelty Ice Cubes

Since ice can be formed into many different shapes, there are a number of special uses in which ice can be adapted. Here are just a couple:

Ice Rings for Punch

When serving an alcoholic punch, an ice ring is the customary method used to keep the punch chilled without too much dilution. Essentially a large, donut shaped ice cube, a punch ring is only slightly smaller than the punch bowl and can be decorated or even infused with various ingredients.

Best Uses: Punch Bowls

Cocktail Ice Basics: Ice Ring for Punch

Novelty Ice Cubes

Sometimes form overrides function and novelty ice cubes are the perfect way to do it. Created using silicon molds, novelty ice cubes can add a light-hearted twist to almost any cocktail. From simple shapes to Star Wars characters, you can find almost any shape you want.

Best Uses: Themed Cocktails

Cocktail Ice Basics: Novelty Ice

Cracked Ice

When ice cubes aren’t getting the job done and you need smaller pieces of ice, cracked ice is the next step. If cubes are difficult to use, are too bulky, or you simply prefer the texture of smaller pieces of ice in your drink, cracked ice is a good option.

Created simply by cracking cubes, cracked ice consists of many smaller pieces that chill beverages more quickly. However despite this benefit, its increase surface area will result in a greater amount of dilution. So you may need to experiment with using cracked ice to find the right balance between temperature and dilution.

Best Uses: Warm Weather Drinks, Drinks that Require Modest Dilution

Cocktail Ice Basics: Cracked Ice

Crushed Ice

Along the ice spectrum, crushed ice possesses the smallest pieces. Ideal for frozen drinks, crushed cocktail ice can range in size from large crystals reminiscent of a snow cone to the very fine crystals you might find in a Slurpee.

Here are a couple different types of commonly used crushed ice:

Pebble Ice

Smaller-sized pieces that give cocktails a slushy texture, pebble ice is uniformly sized and can range from the size of a typical jelly bean to just a bit larger. Also known as nugget or chewable ice, pebble ice is often created using a specialized machine however this can be done at home too.

Best Uses: Warm Weather Drinks, Tiki Drinks, Drinks Requiring Modest Dilution

Cocktail Ice Basics: Pebble Ice

Julep Ice

Julep ice consists of very small pieces that are similar to a snow cone. Ideal for quickly chilling a cocktail, Julep Ice can be easily molded and will also quickly dilute most drinks. Ranging in size from fine slurpee to large snow cone (my own scientific ice size scale), Julep Ice is often consider the same as shaved ice.

To give you a better taste about how we’ve made Julep Ice in the past, check out our post: How to Make a Mint Julep post.

Best Uses: Juleps, Smashes, Frozen Drinks, Drinks Requiring Maximum Dilution

Cocktail Ice Basics: Crushed Ice


So who would have ever thought that there are so many different types of cocktail ice?
Now that you have a basic understanding of the 3 different types of cocktail ice, keep it in mind when creating your next cocktail. You’ll be sure to improve your home bartending skills, not to mention craft a better cocktail.

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