I know a lot about ice. Like, probably way more than the average person. I spent more than a decade working in bars and learning an alarming amount of information on the subject of ice. I’ve cut huge blocks of crystal clear ice with a band saw, hand carved gems out of ice, and screamed into the abyss of an empty Kold-Draft machine that refused to defrost at seven pm on a busy Friday, just as dinner service was picking up.
Everyone has heard the term “whiskey on the rocks,” but not everyone puts as much thought as I have into those “rocks.” If you use ice in your drink, it should be treated with as much care as any other ingredient.
We whiskey drinkers can be pretty particular, so we want to make ice that works the best with whiskey. If you’re searching for how to find the best whiskey ice makers, who better to ask than a former bartender? I’ll walk you though all the steps of what to look for and why.
Bottom Line Up Front
The best type of ice to use in whiskey is a large, clear ice sphere. It will chill your drink and dilute it slightly without watering it down too much. The best whiskey ice makers to make a large, clear ice sphere are clear sphere molds and sphere ice presses, the latter of which also makes an impressive gift!
I know it sounds nerdy (and trust me, it is), but you really should care about the ice that goes in your drink. Ice is crucial in the world of bartending because it’s both a tool and an ingredient. We use ice to help us mix up your cocktails and cool down your drinks, but the ice is also adding a critical ingredient into your beverages: water.
Depending on what you’re drinking, the introduction of water into it might be a necessary step to enhance your beverage. It opens up the flavors and mellows the “heat” of most spirits. You can even buy water that’s been specifically curated to pair with your favorite whisky. Yes, really. After all, water is still a mixer. If we care about the lime juice that goes into a daiquiri, we should care about the water (or ice) that goes into our whiskey, even if it’s just a few drops at a time.
The secret to diluting your whiskey is to not dilute it too much. When the surface area of your ice comes in contact with your whiskey, it absorbs heat (contrary to popular belief, the whiskey is not absorbing the “cold” from the ice.) This causes the ice to melt and water down your whiskey. The larger the surface area, the faster this process happens. That’s why a handful of ice chips will melt significantly faster than a single block of ice with the same volume.
The Best Ice for Whiskey
Not all ice is created equal.
- Regular Ice Cubes: Regular cubes, like the ones dispensed through your refrigerator door or made in those plastic trays that you have to twist until they crack, are not ideal for whiskey. Sure, they work in a pinch, but they melt far too quickly and leave behind flavors and aromas of whatever’s been lurking in the back of your freezer.
- Pebble Ice: Pebble or crushed ice is really only suitable for something like a whiskey smash unless your goal is whiskey-tinted water. Otherwise, it’s best left for tiki drinks.
- Big Cubes: Big cubes, sometimes called king cubes, are a great choice for whiskey. They’re large enough to cool your drink down and mellow the flavors without overly diluting it.
- Ice Spheres: Spherical ice is ideal for whiskey. It actually dilutes your drink less than a big cube because although they’re roughly the same volume, the sphere has less surface area that comes in contact with the whiskey. They also look really great, especially in a whiskey glass.
Note: Please don’t use ice that’s been sitting in the back of your freezer next to your emergency stash of frozen burritos. It’s going to melt into your drink and make it taste funny.
What About Whiskey Stones?
So here’s the thing; we’ve already established that the real goal of adding ice is often to slowly introduce cool water into your drink. If you really want to open up the flavors of your whiskey, you need to water it down slightly, not just chill it. Ice actually numbs your palette a bit, so making your drink colder will really just make your taste buds less sensitive.
Of course, there are some people who prefer to drink their whiskey “hot” while drinking it cold. Let me rephrase that. Some people like the alcoholic burn of their whiskey just fine the way it is, but they also like to drink their whiskey chilled (perhaps to numb their palate slightly to said burn? You’ll have to ask them.) There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this, and my first rule of drinking (other than drink responsibly) is to drink what you like!
If this is you, you might actually be looking for whiskey stones, not whiskey ice.
Whiskey stones never get as cold as ice, but they also don’t dilute your whiskey. They’re just food-safe stones that you keep chilled and pop into your whiskey whenever you want to cool it down. They’re simple, reusable, and come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Just be careful when you use them; they have the potential to crack glasses and chip teeth if you’re not gentle.
The Difference Is Clear
Before we move on, you should consider one more thing when looking for an ice maker. There’s a reason why craft cocktail bars use crystal clear ice, and it’s not just that it looks pretty. Conventional ice has impurities and air bubbles trapped inside of it, which cause the ice to appear cloudy. This, in turn, causes conventional ice to break apart and melt faster than clear ice and can sometimes lend off flavors to your whiskey.
Air and impurities become trapped in conventional ice because the ice freezes inward from all sides, forcing the air into the cube’s center. You can combat some of this cloudiness by using filtered water, boiling your water before filling your ice trays, and freezing the trays while the water is still warm (to slow the cooling process and allow air more time to escape.)
However, the only way to achieve perfectly clear ice is through directional freezing. You can buy special molds that help ice to freeze in one direction, which pushes air and impurities to one side to be discarded, or you can freeze ice in large blocks in an open, insulated container, like a small cooler.
Pick Your Poison (Chiller): Types of Whiskey Ice Makers
When trying to figure out how to find the best whiskey ice maker for your personal needs, it helps to narrow down your search by thinking about which type of ice maker might best suit your lifestyle.
Ice cube trays, the fancy silicone ones that make large cubes (we’re not animals, people), are a great option if you’re not the kind of person who plans ahead. You can keep a few of them in your fridge and pop out a big cube whenever it’s whiskey o’clock.
They’re great if you like to have friends over for drinks but won’t remember to make and stash a bunch of molded ice in advance. Plus, they’re stackable, so you’re not wasting precious freezer space. Look for one with a lid to keep out residual freezer flavors.
The one major drawback of ice trays is that there’s no good way to make perfectly clear ice in them. Even if you boil your water and let the ice tray freeze slowly over time, your ice will never be as perfectly clear as it will be with directional freezing.
- They’re a “set it and forget it” approach to craft ice. They take just a bit more effort than an automatic ice maker, but that effort is simply “fill with ice, place in freezer.”
- They stack and take up minimal freezer space.
- You can hold ice in them for long periods.
- The ice will come out slightly cloudy.
- The cube shape isn’t as ideal for whiskey as a sphere.
Recommended Ice Trays
This ice cube tray from Viski is similar to the one that I own. It has a lid, is stackable, and makes six cubes at a time. The cubes measure 2”, which is a pretty standard size for big cubes, but not quite large enough to use with an ice sphere press (more on that below!)
I like silicone ice trays because they’re flexible (so you won’t crack them when trying to remove the ice,) they’re dishwasher safe, and they withstand heat and cold better than other materials without breaking down.
This ice cube tray is a similar design to the one from Viski, but it has cavities for four slightly-larger 2.25” cubes. Since it only makes two-thirds the number of cubes as the tray above, you might need to purchase more trays or plan ahead to make enough ice for your party. Also, note that these cubes may actually be too large to fit the mouth of some whiskey glasses. If you’re looking for an ice tray to use alongside an ice sphere press, this is a better option than the six cube tray above.
Ice molds are an inexpensive way to make craft ice at home, but they take a little extra effort and some forethought. Most of them only make one to four pieces of ice at a time, so if you’re having a party, you’ll need to plan ahead and start making ice several days in advance.
Once the ice in your mold freezes, you can unmold it and store the ice in an airtight container in the freezer. Refill the mold and repeat until you have a cache of fancy ice ready to go for your guests. Although this process can take several days, it’s almost entirely passive — the freezer does the work for you while you go about your business. For me, the most challenging part of this system is remembering to unmold and refill the molds. I have to set regular reminders on my phone, or else my guests will be stuck playing rock, paper, scissors to determine who gets custody of the lone fancy ice sphere.
If you are someone who plans ahead, ice molds are a fantastic choice for your whiskey ice. They’re incredibly versatile, relatively straightforward to use, and if you prefer to buck tradition rather than find the perfect dilution-to-chilling ratio for your whiskey, they come in all kinds of fun shapes.
- They come in every shape imaginable.
- Most of them fully close, protecting your ice from residual freezer flavors.
- There are ice molds specifically designed to make clear ice.
- Ice molds tend to be more expensive than ice trays.
- They make fewer pieces of ice per use than ice trays.
- Some of them are difficult to stack
Recommended Ice Molds
For Clear Ice: Viski Clear Ice Maker
This is probably the easiest way to make clear ice at home. You fill the base with a layer of water, then place the cube molds on top and fill them. The mold is designed to freeze slowly from the top down, pushing air and impurities out of the cubes and into the water at the base of the mold.
Sphere Ice Mold: Tovolo Sphere Clear Ice System
There are a lot of ice sphere molds on the market, but I think this one is the best for two reasons. One, it makes clear spheres, while most other sphere molds will result in cloudy spheres; and two, you can make four ice spheres at once, whereas most sphere molds make a single sphere at a time.
Novelty Ice Mold: Hogwarts Ice Mold or Skull Ice Molds
There are novelty ice molds to suit all sorts of hobbies and styles, but I really like both of these. I love how ice molds can create such intricate shapes with minimal effort on your part!
Ice Sphere Presses
This simple machine uses pressure to melt a cube or block of ice and mold it into a sphere shape in a cavity within the ice maker. It doesn’t need batteries or electricity to run and can quickly turn large cubes into perfectly-shaped ice spheres. It doesn’t make ice; it forms existing ice into a sphere shape. You can use either clear or cloudy ice in your ice press.
- It forms perfect ice spheres quickly and with minimal effort.
- It works with conventional or clear ice.
- You can use any ice you have on hand, as long as it’s large enough.
- It looks really impressive and is fun to use!
- It’s considerably more expensive than an ice tray or ice mold.
- Your ice must be large enough in order to create a perfect sphere.
- It doesn’t actually make the ice; it shapes it.
Recommended Ice Press and Product Review: Ice Ball Maker from Viski
I had the opportunity to test out an Ice Ball Maker from Viski.
Nobody needs this ice maker, but I guarantee that even your most pragmatic friends will enjoy using it. It’s simple and quick, and there’s something very satisfying about watching the way it transforms your ice.
The ice maker arrived in a plain cardboard box, but when I opened it up, I was pretty impressed with the packaging. The wooden crate gave it a bespoke feel. I was already thinking that this would make a fantastic gift for a whiskey drinker or cocktail enthusiast!
It was very well packaged, but I didn’t see any instructions in the box. I was surprised at how heavy it was!
The ice maker is made up of two pieces, and the design is relatively simple. Two pegs from one piece fit into holes in the other piece, and they fit together to form a sphere-shaped cavity between them. Each piece has a small drainage hole for excess water; beyond that, there doesn’t seem to be much to it. Once I inspected the ice maker, I had to laugh at myself for initially searching for an instruction manual. It really isn’t necessary.
I placed a large cube from one of my silicone ice trays over the cavity in one half of the ice maker, then fitted the other half on top. It was impressive how quickly it worked! It almost looked like the ice maker was heated — the cube began to melt into the cavity before I even had the chance to fit the second half on top!
The fact that it works so quickly and is so user-friendly means that you could absolutely set this out at parties and allow your guests to make their own ice spheres! The speed of the process does have its drawbacks, though. If you turn your back for too long, you’ll end up with a puddle where your beautiful ice sphere should be!
My biggest complaint about the ice maker was that although there are drainage holes for the melting ice, there’s nowhere to collect the water other than the surface you’re using the press on. The first time I used it, my table was soaked after just a few ice spheres! This is annoying but easily remedied; just set the ice maker on a tray or drainboard.
The ice sphere came out beautifully, though the cubes I used were a bit too small to form a perfect sphere; mine were a little flat on the bottom. I guess an instruction manual would have helped determine the optimal size of ice to use with the press. Next time I’ll use larger cubes (like the ones formed in the Peak tray I mentioned above) or cut my own blocks of clear ice.
I’ve seen other ice sphere makers on sale for double the price of this one, and I can’t imagine they do a better job at making a sphere than this one (though some of them come with a drip tray to catch the meltwater.) As I said, it’s a pretty simple and straightforward design.
- This ice sphere maker is less than half the price of other similar models.
- It’s easy to use.
- It makes perfect ice spheres in seconds.
- It’s beautifully packaged and would make a great gift.
- It doesn’t come with instructions or cube size suggestions.
- It doesn’t come with a drip tray and leaks water all over the table.
Like I said, no one needs this ice sphere maker, but like most home bar gadgets, it’s not about necessity. It’s a quick and impressive-looking way to make perfect ice for your whiskey and would make an excellent gift for your favorite whiskey-lover.
Question: Is there a machine for ice balls?
Answer: There’s currently no countertop machine that automatically makes large ice spheres, but you can use an ice sphere press to quickly and easily turn large cubes or blocks of ice into spheres. However, you can find countertop machines that make smaller ice balls.
LG makes a refrigerator that automatically produces ice spheres, which is always an option if you’ve got it in your budget to spend more than $4,500 on a fridge. Hopefully you’re not shelling out all that money just for the ice maker, but if you are, I admire your commitment to your whiskey. Please invite me to your next cocktail party.
Question: What shape of ice is best for whiskey?
Answer: A large sphere that fits in your whiskey glass (about two inches in diameter) is the best shape of ice for whiskey. It contains less surface area than a cube and won’t dilute your whiskey too quickly.
Question: What kind of water makes the clearest ice?
Answer: Distilled, boiled, or reverse-osmosis water will make relatively clear ice, but the only way to make perfectly clear ice is through directional freezing.
If you’re already picky about your whiskey, you might as well be particular about the ice you put in it. While everything you drink is subject to your personal preferences, generally speaking, large, clear ice spheres are the best ice for whiskey — it’s just science!
If you’re trying to find the best whiskey ice maker, make sure you look for one that suits your needs and lifestyle. I like the convenience and ease of an ice sphere mold or ice sphere press. Whichever you choose, make sure you top that ice with your favorite whiskey!