Dusting Off: The Home Ice Block
Sure, you’ve probably walked into your local revivalist cocktail den to find a mustachioed gent chipping away at a large block of ice for someone’s julep or Old Fashioned recently—but there was a time when every home in America had a block of ice in its cold box this time of year.
And that’s something worthy of dusting off.
While there are plenty of times when just a few cloudy cubes from a tray will suffice, we say this: you can do better. Especially because the virtue of many a summer cocktail depends on its ice. Luckily, ice blocks aren’t that tough to make at home, or break down to cubes, spheres, cones and more as long as you know what you’re doing.
Allow us to show you the way…
Step One: Making Your Ice Block. Back in the day, blocks would be delivered to houses weekly by the iceman from the frozen lakes up north, or an icehouse in Illinois. There are some companies trying to bring back the concept of commercial ice blocks, like HundredWeight Ice (in NYC, naturally). But a few enterprising souls have discovered how to make your own crystal-clear block of ice at home: fill a small cooler (coincidentally, a summer must-have) with water and stick it in your freezer with the top off for a few days. The insulated sides create a top-down freezing process that leaves all the air at the bottom of your block—where the cloudiness happens. Just chip that away—now you’ve got your julep shavings—and you’re left with a big, clear block of ice at the ready.
Step Two: Breaking It Down. You’ll want to invest in an ice chisel. And grab some rubber kitchen gloves. And a hammer (or mallet, if you’re fancy). First, score a line down the middle of your ice block with the hammer and chisel. Then take the chisel to the middle of your scored line and start tapping down, gradually harder, to split the block in two. Break it down into fourths, and now you’ve got four good-sized chunks to work with. Break a few down longways so you’ve got tall cubes to sit in a Collins glass. Break another down to large cubes. You can hammer the rest (using a bag) into crushed ice. And if you’re feeling ambitious, shape some leftovers into spheres, spears, diamonds and more—this tutorial from Saveur should help.
Step Three: Enjoy. This one should be self-explanatory. You ought to have enough ice for a small alfresco gathering—a big hunk of ice is great for keeping a bowl of punch cold while not diluting it too much. Not to mention, being able to tailor someone’s ice to their cocktail on the fly is a nice party trick. Or store your cubes away in the freezer, at the ready for a nightcap. Just don’t use it as an ice luge.
- — Najib Benouar