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

Enjoy the Slow Melt of Ice Balls in Your Cocktails

Making ice balls for drinks using an ice ball tray.
An ice ball mold is one of the easiest ways to make large balls of ice which will melt slowly and not water down your drink. S&C Design Studios

Don't you just hate it when your ice doesn't last as long as your drink? 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 be disappointing to the point 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 the solution is very simple: use a larger piece of ice like an ice ball.

The Solution: Giant Ice Balls

Ice melt is often 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 basic design of ice from the classic cube trays in your home freezer does not allow for this efficient use of a glass' shape. However, the ice ball thwarts this melting 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.

There is one hazard to ice balls, however. If you tip the glass too far and too quickly, the ball can run down the side of the glass and hit your teeth.

It doesn't happen too often and typically doesn't chip a tooth, but if you're not careful, it's could happen.

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.
  • The key is to have a glass with a wide rim, Those that taper inward at the rim will not work and your ball will just sit on top.
  • Ice balls also work perfectly for keeping a party punch ice-cold.

3 Ways to Make an Ice Ball

Ice balls can be very easy to make and there are three ways to create one.

Carving: Carving ice balls is rather common in Japan. It is a craft that involves a very talented person with an ice pick who carves the form of a ball from a solid brick of ice. You can see the technique in action in this YouTube video (notice how it takes him eight minutes to make a single ice ball).

It is a skill that takes a lot of patience (and ice) to master and it is a lot of work. Imagine being a barman with that job all night!

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. Learn how to do this and discover Gleason's Jim Beam Fruit Punch recipe.

Ice Ball Molds: The third option is far easier for the home bartender. It simply uses an ice ball mold. These are becoming easier to find and you generally have two options: an aluminum mold/press and a plastic mold.

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.

These presses are widely available and come in different shapes as well. The drawback is that they are expensive, selling for around $200. Also, the ice balls may not be a full two inches round.

Buy a Taisin Ice Mold at Amazon.com

The plastic molds are far more economical and 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.

I have tried many of these molds and a personal favorite is the Whiskey Rounders Ice Ball Maker which makes six ice balls at one time.

The nice feature with this one is that the top molds are separated and a single ice ball can be removed as needed. The design also allows you to fill the assembled mold.

This technique also has its disadvantages. Chief among them is the amount of time it takes to freeze each set of balls. If you're hosting a party, you'll have to start days in advance in order to have enough ready.

Buy Whiskey Rounders Mold at Amazon.com

How to Fill an Ice Ball Mold

Here are some tricks for using a standard 2-piece ice ball mold (not the Whiskey Rounders-style) 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 ( don't use tap water, you are just downgrading your ice).
  3. Place the top mold over the bottom and push it down. Do this over the sink as water will come out of the two air holes on the top.
    • The water displaced from the bottom tray will fill the top part of the sphere. Naturally, some will be "left over" and have to come out of the mold.
  4. Set your ice ball mold on a level surface in your freezer. "Level" is important because 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 set undisturbed (again, the tilting unfrozen water factor) for 3 to 5 hours, or until completely frozen. The time will depend on how cold your freezer is, specifically where you place the tray.
    • 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 because you want to ensure that each ball is fully frozen.
  6. Once frozen, separate the two parts of the tray. The ice balls may stick to the mold so you will want to be careful when attempting to remove the ice balls.
    • Unlike cube trays, you cannot 'crack' ice balls free from the mold.
    • If they do get stuck, run some cold water over the mold and it should release. Hot water will begin the melting process and you want to avoid that.
  7. Once formed, the frozen ice balls can be stored in a freezer bag or 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.

    How Long Will an Ice Ball Last?

    The answer to this depends on the temperature of the room, the glass, and the liquids poured over the ice.

    • On a chilly evening, pouring a room-temperature bourbon and cold cola over an ice ball in a chilled glass, one ice ball can last almost two hours and through three tall drinks.
    • When the temperatures start to rise outside, one ice ball can sufficiently chill one straight (room-temp) whiskey for 30 minutes without too much dilution. That is considerably longer than regular cubes in 80-degree weather.

    Final Thoughts on Buying an Ice Ball Mold

    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 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.