Cocktail enthusiasts have long appreciated ice as an essential part of a proper drink. I was writing about ice (or the lack thereof) in France a decade ago. But these days, it has become an even more mainstream topic. Sure, we’ve always thrown a few cubes in a drink to make it colder, but now big media is taking a deeper and almost philosophical look at ice.
I won’t go into the science behind your ice or the quest for the perfectly clear cube because there has been a proliferation of articles of late. And if you want to fully geek out over it, I highly recommend you spend some time on Camper English’s blog Alcademics as he’s the recognized expert on the subject.
Ice often makes us think of big parties and celebrations: the tinkle in the glass, the tub full of cubes to keep your bottles cold. But even if you’re not having a huge party this year, you still deserve some nice ice in your life for Christmas (and all year, really).
Ice 101: Basic Tips and Hacks for Better Home Bar Ice
Filter: This may seem like a no-brainer, but if you filter your water, why wouldn’t you filter the water you use for making ice? I prefer the flavor of my water once I’ve run it through the Brita, so that’s what I use for my ice trays on a daily basis. Whether it’s cocktails or just a glass of sparkling water, ice dilutes as well as chills the drink – so it just makes sense to use filtered water.
Improvise: It’s cool to have a bunch of ice molds if you use all the various shapes and sizes. But if space is an issue or you’re not at home with all your gear, improvise. Use what’s available, like a large Tupperware or plastic container to freeze a block that you can break up into chunks. They may not be the beautiful spheres and cubes of the molds, but I can get on board with the rustic look of a big misshapen hunk of ice in a drink. (also, remind me to tell you guys about Lewis bags, if you don’t know about them already)
Temper: If you do get those fun spherical or cube ice molds, let the ice from them sit out at room temperature for ten minutes or so before putting them in your drink. Tempering (bringing to room temp) gives the outside of the ice a chance to raise a few degrees in temperature, meaning it won’t be shocked into cracking and ruining that perfect sphere or large cube when you drop it into a drink.
Accessorize: I don’t go in for freezing things in my ice on a regular basis, but it can be a fun way to dress up a drink. It is something I do for a big ice block going into a punch bowl. So think about what would go with your drink and freeze it in your ice cube: citrus wheels, flowers, berries, etc.
Store: Brittini of the Nice Ice company recently tipped me off about storing their ice in Tupperware/plastic containers to keep it best long term. I store my ice at home in bags made from jean legs. I ask a nice friend who sews to cut a foot long piece of an old jean leg and sew up the bottom. This serves as a great cocktail ice crushing/Lewis bag but also holds ice in the freezer well and it fits into any space and the fabric wicks away the moisture. (Note: i do not put an ice crushing bag in the freezer that I have beaten on the ground – i put a clean one in the freezer for ice because I am not an animal!)
What NOT to Do With Your Ice
Avoid gimmicky shapes: I cringe when I see those little titanic ice cube trays. Not only are they a pain to pop out once frozen, the tiny size and shape make for ice that is too small to sustain and it will end up just melting in your glass, overly diluting your drink and not keeping it cold enough. There’s nothing sadder than a useless little cube just weeping away into your drink.
Skip ice replacements: Those whisky rocks or liquid filled plastic spheres just don’t have what it takes to keep your drink cold or properly dilute your cocktails. Just use the real stuff. Trust me on this one.
Where to Buy Ice in France
Europeans don’t have the same affinity for ice (and lots of it!) that Americans generally do. It took me a while to figure out where I get what I need in Paris, which varies depending on the situation. Looking for the cold stuff? Here’s my hot tips:
Ice for coolers and tubs: If you’re having a large party (or as large as you can manage in a Paris sized apartment) you might need ice for coolers or your tub to keep bottles cool. This is where I turn to my local fishmonger. You can generally buy a very large bag of ice from them for five to ten Euros (or sometimes free if you make nice with your local small business). This is ice they use to keep the seafood cold so it’s not made for putting in your drinks. But it’s a good option if you just want to keep things cold without spending much.
Solid party ice for drinks and cocktails: The cocktail boutique Oogy Wawa sells a selection of bar accessories and spirits for pros and the general public. They also offer a selection of different sizes and styles of ice for pick up from crushed to cubes at great prices. Plus it’s just a fun shop to stop into – and they do cocktail classes as well!
Crème de la crème of ice: For the clearest and nicest ice in town, you want to hit up the Nice Company. They do four different shapes and sizes and once you try their crystal clear cubes you may never want to go back to your standard stuff. Plus they deliver not just in Paris, but all over France.