One of the hardest things for the home bartender is getting your hands on good quality ice for drinks. Unless you are ridiculously weatlhy, the fabulous Kold-Draft machines that are all the rage in bars are both financially and logistically impossible for home bars. While freezing and storing extra ice over the past day to get ready for some home entertaining (unfortunately, I'm not even blessed with an icemaker in my fridge...), I compiled some helpful tips I've remembered from bartenders about those cold and indispensable cubes:
* Forget about those bags of ice cubes you find in the machines outside gas stations and in grocery store freezers. The machines that produce them are designed to eject the cubes as soon as they freeze. If you use them for anything besides keeping your Igloo contents chilled, you will end up with melty, drippy, half frozen ice in cocktails that are watered down but less than properly chilled.
* Small, dense cubes are best. Grab some of those silicone ice cube trays that make small squares. They also eject the cubes very easily.
* If you are using standard ice cube trays, or if your fridge has a built-in ice maker, crack the ice a bit with a long handled cocktail spoon before putting it in the shaker. I observed a bartender at NYC's PDT doing this--it increases the surface area of the ice and leads to a colder cocktail, whether you are shaking or stirring it. (You can also employ one of the manual hand crank ice crushers on the market, but I find these can be a bit awkward to use.)
*You can also freeze water in a plastic rectangular takeout container, and then crack it with a chisel, etc. (This is another tip I got from a different PDT bartender, who noted that if the container cracks in the process, it's no great loss.)
* Freeze leftover mixers to use in drinks that contain club soda or tonic water. This is a great way to use mixers that have gone flat, and will also keep you G&T from getting watered down...
* Try putting herbs, citrus peel or other garnishes in the ice cube trays before freezing. It looks cool and will add to the drink when the cubes melt.
* Don't undershake or understir. Opt for a slow count of 10 if you are shaking, 50 stirs of the spoon if you are stirring with cold, hard ice, and 30 stirs for warmer, meltier ice.
Keep it cold this holiday season!