Fancy clear ice melts in every corner of the internet these days. TikTok influencers are going all out, trying to outdo each other’s collections of ice balls, clear ice, foam ice and more icy creations. Instagram reels reveal a frozen rainbow of molds, cubes, flowers and fruits—some even set against a soundtrack of cracking and crunching for maximum ASMR satisfaction.
But professional ice nerds know that artisanal ice is about more than just frozen water. Here’s how ice went from the ho-hum crushed stuff to exquisite works of art for your cocktail glass.
The Growth of Artisanal Ice
“The great thing about an icy arts and crafts hobby is that it costs very little,” says Camper English, author of The Ice Book: Cool Cubes, Clear Spheres, and Other Chill Cocktail Crafts. “Also, you can drink both your successes and your failures—or just water the plants with them.”
English is one of many spirit experts excited about the growing ice phenomenon. “I’ve seen more people in the U.S. being creative with ice,” he says. “I don’t know if that’s just because Americans like ice more than any other population of the planet, or if it’s because… we have all that freezer space we dedicate to frozen things in America… we freeze everything.”
Many artisanal ice producers contend it must be crystal clear, and English has spent the better part of a decade developing and sharing a technique, known as directional freezing, for creating gorgeous transparent cubes at home. But, we’ll get to that soon.
Ice enthusiasts on social media have gone as far as to designate the often frigid second week of January as “Clear Ice Week,” although it evidently has year-round appeal. Indeed, the hashtag #cleariceweek has become a hot spot for showing off tricks like ice diamond cocktails and custom-etched cubes from January to December. Miguel Buencamino, a South Carolina-based mixologist who goes by @holycityhandcraft, says he started the hashtag back in 2016 to spotlight his exploration of English’s directional freezing method.
But the artisanal ice trend goes beyond the internet. Real-world bars are getting in on the action, too. For proof, one needs only to consider the experience of mixologist Mille Petrovic, who began selling high-end ice to restaurants in the Washington, D.C., area in 2020. “The first year of business I think we sold like 15,000 cubes,” Petrovic (also known as @theicequeenllc on Instagram) says. “Last year we did 1.2 million cubes.”
For Petrovic and others, strong sales prove that fancy ice isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. That’s why she recently invested in a gadget that utilizes Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) technology to create her incredible frozen artworks, like the miniature custom pineapples she makes for D.C.’s fine dining restaurant Pineapple and Pearls.
“It’s like a 3D printer type of thing,” Petrovic explains. It’s a major shift from the chainsaws preferred by the old-school ice obsessives. “Those things are dead. Now, you program the machine, and it can carve whatever you want it to.”
How to Make Artisanal Ice at Home
Not everyone has a fancy ice sculpting machine in their home, so it’s important to learn a few tips and tricks to making DIY artisanal ice from the comfort of your kitchen. Here’s how to get started.
Directional Freezing Made Easy
To get clear ice, you’ll want to learn English’s method of directional freezing. This is a technique that freezes water from top to bottom. Like a pond that slowly freezes in winter to create a surface smooth enough to skate on, directional freezing creates crystal-clear ice with no bubbles or cloudiness.
“One of the myths when it comes to making clear ice at home is that you must use filtered water or you need to boil the water before freezing,” says Ryan Zullo, the Columbus, Ohio-based Instagram influencer behind the account @reallyicetomeetyou. The account often features photos of remarkable cocktails chilled with, what else, clear ice.
To make a slab of clear ice, Zullo fills a portable drink cooler with tap water and places it in his freezer without the lid. “By insulating all the sides, except for the top, the impurities and bubbles (cloudiness or white hue) have nowhere to go but… down to the bottom of the cooler,” he explains. But Zullo doesn’t allow the water to freeze completely. Instead, he lets only the topmost part turn to ice. This is his final prize: a two-inch slab of clear ice, which he cuts to fit a cocktail glass.
Cutting and Carving
When you’re ready to start cutting ice, Zullo suggests investing in a three-pronged ice pick to help cut away any wayward cloudy bits. He also uses a serrated bread knife to cut the slab into cubes.
To make a slab easier to cut, Zullo suggests tempering it by letting it sit at room temperature for 15 to 20 minutes before slicing. Then, a chisel or small sharp knife is all you need to shape cubes into sparkly faceted diamonds.
Pretty honeycomb patterns and monogrammed ice are all over Instagram and can be easily recreated at home. English advises that there are plenty of cool new tools available to try, but a great way to start is by pressing sealing wax stamps and everyday meat mallets for forming initials and grids. There’s no heat necessary—the weight and room temperature of the stamp do all the work.
Getting the Perfect Shot
A final consideration? How to snap the perfect ‘gram.
Ironically, when ice is so clear, its transparency makes it difficult to capture for Instagram and TikTok. “Like any other photograph, light is important,” Zullo advises. “It’s always nice to get that nice shimmer of light on the cube… [it allows] followers to see how clear your ice is, so [the] contrast is important as well.”
Last Updated: June 6, 2023