The Ice Ball: An Easy Way to Avoid Watered-Down Drinks

Cocktail Ice Cube Balls
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Watered-down drinks are a disappointment. By the end of a scotch on the rocks, a Jack and Coke, or a gin and tonic, you taste more water than the drink you mixed. It can get so bad that those last few sips get tossed and a fresh round is poured. 

The problem is not with your drink. The issue is the size of your ice and there's a very simple solution. You simply need a larger piece of ice and an ice ball is perfect.

The Solution: Giant Ice Balls

Ice melt is one of the reasons why your "homemade" drinks do not taste as fresh as bar drinks. The ice served in bars is designed to fill the glass, utilizing its maximum capacity. This, in turn, keeps everything cooler longer and prevents the ice from melting too soon.

The classic cube design that is common in home freezers does not allow for that efficient use of a glass' shape, so your ice melts faster. The ice ball prevents this issue by giving you one large clump that naturally cools itself and slows the melt.

Ice balls are perfect when drinking straight liquor on the rocks and for lowball mixed drinks like the black Russian. It's also nice to use ice balls in iced coffee and milk or cream drinks that you want to keep cold and free of excess water.

Most ice balls are just under 2-inches in diameter (the size of a handball or racquetball) and they fit into most highball and lowball glasses.

  • Depending on the shape, the ice ball may not fit into a collins glass.
  • It helps if your glass has a wide rim. Those that taper inward at the rim will not work and your ball may just sit on top.
  • Ice balls also work perfectly for keeping a party punch ice-cold.

3 Ways to Make an Ice Ball

Carving: Carving ice balls is rather common in Japan.

It is a craft and it can take an expert ice ball carver eight minutes to form a ball from a solid brick of ice. It is a skill that takes a lot of patience (and ice) to master, so it's not ideal for most home bartenders.

Balloons: This easy trick came from Bobby "G" Gleason, Master Mixologist for Beam Global Spirits. All you need is a bag of balloons, a place in the freezer to hang them when filled with water, and a night to allow the "teardrop-shaped" ice to freeze.

Ice Ball Molds: The third option is far easier for the home bartender because it simply uses an ice ball mold. These are popular and easy to find. Generally, you have the option between an aluminum mold/press and a plastic mold.

Ice Ball Press

The aluminum or metal molds will actually break down a large piece of ice to form the ball. The force of the mold presses the ice block into the ball mold and creates a perfectly rounded piece of ice in minutes with little to no effort. Once you get rolling, you can make over 30 balls per hour, though you do need to have a stock of ice blocks at the ready.

These presses are widely available and come in different shapes as well. The drawback is that they are expensive, selling for $100 or more.

Also, the ice balls may not be a full two inches round.

Plastic Ice Ball Molds

The plastic molds are far more economical and often sell for less than $30. The basic design is the same—a two-part mold that you fill with water—and they can make two, four, or six balls at a time.

The Whiskey Rounders Ice Ball Maker is a great choice and it makes six ice balls at once. The nice feature with this one is that the top molds are separate and a single ice ball can be removed as needed. Other two-piece molds, such as the Charmed Ice Ball Maker, have a top that is connected to every ice ball. You will want to remove all of them at the same time.

The main disadvantage to the plastic ice ball molds is the amount of time it takes to freeze each set of balls. You will want to keep a good stock and store finished ice balls in a separate container to ensure you don't run out.

Also, if you're hosting a party, you'll have to start days in advance in order to have enough ready.

Small Ice Balls

If you're shopping online for an ice ball mold, pay attention to the size of the mold itself. There are numerous ice trays, molds, and presses that are merely a redesign of the standard cube tray. These will essentially make miniature ice balls.

While the small ice balls are nice (particularly for those collins glasses) and they're cute for parties, they will melt just as fast as your standard ice cube. The larger ice balls—those that are about 2-inches and fit in the palm of your hand—are the ones you want to prevent over dilution of your drinks.

How to Fill an Ice Ball Mold

Here are some tricks for using a standard two-piece ice ball mold to make perfect ice balls:

  1. Separate the two pieces of the mold.
  2. Fill the bottom mold to the top of the rim (not just the sphere shape) with distilled water.
  3. Over the sink, place the top mold over the bottom and push it down. The water displaced from the bottom tray will fill the top part of the sphere. Any excess water will come out of the two air holes on the top.
  4. Set your ice ball mold on a level surface in your freezer. If the mold is tilted, water will leak out and you will not have a full ball once it is frozen.
  5. Allow the mold to sit undisturbed for three to five hours, or until completely frozen. The time will depend on how cold your freezer is and where you place the tray within it.
    • This time is about twice as long as a standard ice cube tray. You'll be better off if you can go a little longer to ensure that each ball is fully frozen.
  6. Once frozen, separate the two parts of the tray. If any of the ice balls stick to the mold, run cold water over the bottom of the mold and the ice should release.
  7. Once formed, the frozen ice balls can be stored in a freezer bag or a bowl in the freezer until needed. If you keep up on the freezing cycle, you can easily have a dozen or more ice balls available at any time.

Longevity

An ice ball's longevity depends on the temperature of the room, the glass, and the liquids poured over the ice.

Using a chilled glass and cold ingredients will help increase the ice ball's effectiveness.

In general, you might get a couple hours out of a single ball and be able to use it for two or three drinks. If you take a drink outside on a warm summer day, you may get less than an hour out of it. Yet, that's significantly better than the 15 minutes you may get out of your standard kitchen ice cubes.