Large format ice are extra large ice cubes used in cocktails and beverages. This can be in the form of spheres, 2x2” large squares or custom cut Collins cubes or even large punch ice blocks.
There are tons of blog posts going into a lot of detail about how to achieve clear ice, but this post is just going to take a look at the pro’s and con’s of various methods so one is able to quickly weigh what the best method is for their restaurant or bar.
There are a number of options and a variety of things to consider when wanting to include Large Format ice into a beverage program.
Ice easily picks up odors of whatever else is around it, so if it’s in a shared freezer space with other foods, it may pick up those aromas if it's not sealed well. If that’s not possible, then make sure the ice is kept in a sealed container. And, be sure to keep it sealed after opening. That’s the worst, you have this beautiful cube, but it stinks of fish and frozen potatoes. Ick.
Many cocktails bars have their own floor freezer (often more than one!) that just stores large format ice. It also allows one to stock-pile ice for special events or occasions.
Cloudy ice vs Clear ice
For some, having clear ice may not be that important, for others, it’s an important distinction and detail. See images below to see the difference.
Definitely the easiest and cheapest way to go. These molds are easy to find and it’s as simple as a bartender filling them up the night before. Depending on how busy your bar gets, you may want to buy a few of them . I would recommend building up an inventory of frozen cubes – dump them in a plastic container and keep sealed (away from other odorous frozen foods.)
These won’t ever produce those super clear cubes. You may get some that are mostly clear or but it won't be consistent. Hot water and filtered water – same results. These cubes also melt faster.
So, taking them from the freezer and putting them into an ice bin will result in shrinkable of about 15-20% in just a few hours.
There are other ways to achieve clear ice, but the direction of how the ice freezes needs to be controlled, also called "Directional Freezing." The “cloudiness” of ice is really impurities and trapped air. The last part of the cube that freezes is where all the air and impurities are.
Rabbit and Tovolo both make a mold that controls the direction the ice is freezing, trapping all of the impurities and air underneath the mold.
But, the big negative is that each mold only makes 4 cubes. For a high volume account, one would need to buy quite a few and start stock-piling them.
Another method is freezing water in commercial kitchen pans and just cutting out the cloudy parts and then cutting them to size. Another option is using a small igloo cooler and leaving the lid slightly open. (While this may seem like an attractive, inexpensive option, it’s enormously labor-intensive. To freeze, cut and prepare, say, 25-40 cubes a day for a night’s service, that equates to about 2-3 hours of labor a day just in ice preparation. And that's assuming there is enough freezer space to hold the containers and cut ice.
Some cocktail bars purchase a 200lb
block of ice from a local ice vendor and
cut it themselves at the bar or
“to order”. It looks sexy, but does
require some specific set-up. (Image from Roku Sushi in Scottsdale, AZ)
Artisanal Ice Vendor
Nowadays, there are craft ice vendors in most major cities that will cut ice to fit an account’s specific glassware and deliver it on a regular basis. I always opt for this option whenever possible. It’s clean (free of odor), it’s consistent and they are super-clear as most use a cline-bell, specifically made for making super clear ice / ice sculptures. Many can also make customized ice, when and if needed. For a 2x2 cube, I’ve seen prices range anywhere from $0.55 / cube to $1 / cube which is well worth the cost, especially if one can charge more for a cocktail that uses artisanal ice.