The coolest thing at any reception? Ice—whether it's cubed, crushed, or carved into a towering sculpture. While the frozen essential may seem simple, there's a lot behind the drink cooler and art medium. Read on for the briefing you never knew you needed for your wedding.
While all ice is (literally) created equal—by chilling water to below 32 degrees—that doesn't mean it's all the same, particularly when it comes to cocktails. Richard Swan, national beverage director of event bartending service the Grand Bevy, explains that the type of ice you can expect to see in your glass depends on the drink.
Cubed ice is best for highballs and cocktails, this traditional shape chills drinks quickly but melts slowly enough that drinks don't get overly watered down. Sonic or nugget ice, which is made up of lots of tiny shards thrown together to create nuggets, melts quickly which makes it ideal for slushy tropical drinks or muddled cocktails like mojitos. "This sort of ice helps to keep crushed ingredients like mint and berries suspended in the drink, which prevents them from clogging up your straw," says Swan.
Large-format ice is typically cut from large solid blocks into a variety of separate one-to-two-inch shapes, such as squares or spheres. "Because they're larger, they melt more slowly—ideal for single-spirit sippers who want to control dilution and take their time drinking." For other types of cocktails, you may want the cylindrical ice. "Tubular, or 'Collins,' cubes are long, narrow pieces of ice designed to fit tall highball or Collins glasses." Shaved ice is "brilliant for dessert but tricky to use in alcoholic cocktails; it waters down a normal drink too much," says Swan. "A shaved-ice cone is flavored with extra-concentrated ingredients to account for the extra water."
Mix It Up
If you like the idea of serving craft cocktails but don't want to purchase and prepare all the ingredients, try Herb & Lou's Infused Ice Cubes. These cocktail starters come premixed and packaged in cube form, with flavor combos like cucumber and watermelon with honey and thyme, so all you have to do is freeze them, add one to your favorite liquor, shake, and serve.
All About Ice Sculptures
If the first thing that pops into your head when you hear "ice sculpture" is a frosted swan, you should know there's much more to ice carving these days. "Couples are requesting interactive designs so guests are in direct contact with the ice, from photo-op frames to graffiti 'walls,'" says Shintaro Okamoto, founder and creative director of New York City's Okamoto Studio Custom Ice, the team behind Central Park's Ice Festival. Sculptors use tools including chisels and chainsaws to shape ice blocks into art. Most of the work is done outside the freezer in a cold-but-not-freezing space (ice is less brittle and prone to breakage when it's slightly warmer), so artists work against time to create a design in just a few hours before packing it in shrink-wrap and insulation blankets for transport and setup. Once at an event, pieces remain intact for around four to six hours, after which they slowly start to lose detail. Given the labor-intensive nature of the work, ice sculptures can be pricey. Okamoto's most popular designs (three feet by three feet) start at $580; the cost goes up as the size increases.
Artisanal ice is all the rage, but what's the difference between your standard freezer cubes and the gourmet upgrade? Simple aesthetics—artisanal ice is completely transparent and thus a little prettier than "normal" ice. "The secret to completely clear cubes is that the air's forced out of the water during the freezing process," says Swan. Artisanal ice suppliers use a specialized machine to chill water from the bottom up, which eliminates air bubbles and keeps ice clear.