How to Make Clear Ice at Home With a 6-Can Cooler

Clear ice sphere made using Wintersmiths Phantom ice mold
Clear ice sphere made using Wintersmiths Phantom ice moldCourtesy Image

When you’re used to clear ice floating in your cocktails at bars and restaurants, the milky-centered cubes deposited from your freezer just doesn’t cut it when bartending at home. But there’s another more villainous reason those cloudy crescents from your freezer should be avoided: They can alter the flavor of your drink. We’re not just talking about odd odors from your freezer either (though you should clean that). Cloudy ice can have impurities that will negatively affect the quality of your drink, whiskey or otherwise.

 

 

Camper English is the American booze world’s ice savant. On his site Alcademics.com, he’s shown the results of countless ice experiments over the years “If you get to the middle of a big cube that’s cloudy, it sort of tastes a little wrong, and you think it’s just because it’s watery, but you actually hit a mineral pocket,” he says. Those minerals are whatever’s found in your tap water—fluoride, chlorine, iron—but that cloudy pocket also traps air and other things you don’t want infusing into the last drops of your drink.

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Unfortunately that’s unavoidable in traditional home ice makers and ice trays due to a key design flaw: The freeze water from all directions. With a cube, the six outer walls freeze first, so those minerals make way for crystal formation and settle in the middle of the cube.

There are misconceptions about how to eliminate these imperfections. “Everyone seems to think you need to boil the water,” English says. “That’s misinformation. It might help clarity a tiny bit, but not compared to directional freezing.”

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What is Directional Freezing?

Remember how we mentioned cubes freeze on all six walls simultaneously? Directional freezing directs the ice to freeze in a single direction, so all those minerals are pushed to one side. There are machines that will solve this problem for you; albeit they run for $5,000 or more, and will take up the same amount of floor space in your home as a twin bed. But there are other ways to get glass-like ice—and some will only cost you $10.

How to Make Clear Ice With Just a Cooler

If you’re on a budget, all you need is a small six-can cooler (English recommends Igloo). Follow these steps:

  1. Fill the cooler with tap or purified water, leaving an inch or two of space at the top to allow for expansion. Place it on a level shelf in the freezer without a lid for 24 hours (freeze time varies from freezer to freezer, so it might need more time). The ice will freeze top to bottom because the cooler acts as an insulator.
  2. After a day, check to see if the ice has fully solidified. If it has, invert onto a clean surface. Wait 5 minutes (or more). As the block melts, the ice will release from the cooler. If you timed it right, that mineral-heavy water shouldn’t have solidified, and it’ll still be in the bottom of the cooler. Be mindful and have towels at the ready. 
  3. Use a serrated knife to divide the block into cubes or columns: Score a line in the ice by using little sawing motions, then use a hammer to lightly tap the top of the knife to release the ice. (If the bottom is fully frozen solid, use a serrated knife to break off this layer.) Pro tip: Start in the center. English says it’s usually easier than chipping cubes off the side, so halve every piece until you get the size you want. And don’t try to break it with one whack. Crack it along the line (along the length of the knife) with firm taps until it splits.
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Don’t worry if your cubes or columns aren’t perfect. “I don’t care that much about perfectly square ice,” he says. It’ll still look good in a glass.

If you’re not keen on trying this experiment, invest in one of our top picks for making clear ice at home: Wintersmiths Phantom Ice Maker. With it, you can make large and small spheres, large and small cubes, collins spears, and prisms. It’s foolproof.

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