Your Favorite Bread Pan Should Be Your Go-To Ice Bucket

Selecting the correct type of ice cube for cocktails is more nuanced than just making a drink cold. Ice cubes impact the look and drinking experience — whether nuggets in soda that are good for chewing or an elegant sphere in a Manhattan.

What you are drinking determines the ideal size of the cube, primarily affecting how quickly it melts and dilutes your drink. Large cubes melt slowly, keeping sipping cocktails cool longer whereas crushed ice is preferred for things like mint juleps. If you have a lot of space, you can purchase different-sized and shaped ice cube trays — or use your favorite bread pan to do it all and entertain your guests in the process.

Loaf pans double as giant ice cube molds when you're entertaining. Fill a metal or silicone pan with water and freeze it overnight. If using a metal loaf pan, place a warm dish towel around it or briefly run the pan under the faucet to remove the ice and put it on a dish towel-lined cutting board to collect the water. 

As guests make a cocktail, break the ice block into shards using a meat tenderizer or ice pick. Keep the pieces large, or give them another whack to fill a large glass. Place another clean dish towel over the ice block to avoid flying bits and pieces. To make ice shards ahead of time, store them in a resealable freezer bag to prevent the ice from absorbing odors in the freezer. 

How to use ice shards from a loaf pan

Hand-chipped ice from a large block is an old-fashioned method that swanky cocktail bars still use to enhance the drinking experience. Some upscale establishments have "ice programs," so bartenders can customize ice to control the dilution rate and create cocktails with balance and precision. Still, home mixologists can turn cocktails into an artistic expression, too.

Standard refrigerator cubes are ideal for chilling a drink quickly in a cocktail shaker. Their small half-moon or square shape dissipates the cold faster than larger cubes without watering down the drink, as crushed ice would. When it comes to presentation, however, ice shards are a step up.

Chipping ice from a large block allows you to customize pieces to fit in any size or shape of glass. Instead of piling half a dozen small cubes into a tall glass, chisel off a large, narrow piece for drinks like a gin and tonic or Tom Collins. A single, jagged-edged ice shard makes for a more remarkable presentation in any beverage.

For cocktails served in shorter glasses, replace spheres with a single angled ice shard that will melt slowly in your drink like a mini glacier. Chip a piece large enough to fill the glass for cocktails you take your time sipping, like scotch or an old fashioned. To further elevate your cocktail game, make your ice crystal clear and serve it straight out of the loaf pan as your go-to ice bucket.

How to make clear ice

Unless you have a fancy restaurant-quality ice machine, what we make in our home freezers is cloudy with tiny air bubbles trapped inside. These features distract from the cocktail's appearance and enable the ice to melt more quickly, which isn't ideal if you want to sip and savor your drink. To make crystal clear ice cubes at home, try these methods.

Water selection is your primary factor. If you're filling up the loaf pan with tap water, it will contain trace amounts of minerals, chemicals, and air that affect the ice's purity and density. To eliminate that obstacle, start with distilled water. Boiling the water first will remove any air and give you clearer results. 

If you have the freezer space or a separate freezer chest, another method delivers even better results called "directional freezing," which concentrates all the impurities into a small section, leaving most of the ice crystal clear. Place the loaf pan in an insulated cooler and fill it with boiled distilled water. Pour enough water into the cooler to come up the pan's sides an inch to slow down the freezing process. Cover the loaf pan and place the cooler without a lid into the freezer until the ice is frozen. Remember that freezing a block of ice will take longer than a traditional ice cube tray, so plan ahead. Cheers!