Spend any time with a craft bartender or cocktailian and before long the subject of ice will come up. Double frozen cubes, cracked ice, crushed ice, ice carving, clear ice – we could literally go on for hours. One of the holy grails in ice is the ice-ball – a sphere of ice used for keeping straight spirits, and short cocktails like the Old Fashioned, cold for as long as possible. Being one large piece of ice with a smaller overall surface area than several pieces of ice, the ball melts more slowly and keeps the drink cooler, and less diluted, for longer. It also looks really cool.
Popularised by the Japanese who hand-carve them using ice picks or insanely sharp sushi knives (see Ueno-san hand-carve ice balls and diamonds here), a variety of other products have popped up as alternatives for those who value having ten fingers. Silicone moulds are perhaps the cheapest and easiest method but invariably leave an unsightly seam along the ball’s circumference. The best products I’ve seen though are ice-ball machines – large hunks of metal that seemingkly defy all logic by using just thermal capacity and gravity to form a perfectly round sphere in under a minute. They have to be seen to be believed.
Until recently these were only available from Japan, and all but the smallest models (just 30mm diametre) cost well over $1000. However Belfast-based company Drinksology now have an alternative machine available that produces 75mm ice-balls for the relative bargain of £395 (~$600). I’ve encountered the Macallan ice-ball machines at several bars here in London, and the Drinksology machine works in almost entirely the same way – the only real difference is the lack of a lever that lifts the ball after creation.
First step is to pour luke-warm water over the machine, which isn’t entirely necessary but does ensure fast production of the ball, particularly if you’ve already used the machine recently. You then simply place a block of ice in the centre of the machine and place the top section on to the bottom section using the guide rails. Thanks to gravity (the machine is fashioned from solid blocks of metal so is very heavy) the top section forces its way down forming a perfect ice sphere within about 30 seconds (see a video of the machine in action here).
The result is a beautifully smooth sphere that fits perfectly in a double old-fashioned glass. I’ve only had the machine a few days but the balls I’ve produced have lasted a decent amount of time – far longer than the cubes I’d usually use have. I’m a big believer that the visual aspect of a drink has a big effect on how much you enjoy it, and the ice-ball certainly looks striking in the glass. It’s also a big talking point – friends I’ve served ice-balls to have certainly been very impressed. Watching the machine make the balls is hypnotising.
At £395 it’s not the cheapest way to cool your drinks, but compared to the alternative machines it’s a positive bargain and with a little care the machine should keep producing ice balls for many years. Of course a silicone mould or just regular ice would easily suffice, but there is something quite special about serving a drink over an ice-ball and this is by far the easiest method to create a proper ball. In my opinion an ice-ball machine is a great investment for those looking to serve very impressive drinks either at their bar or at home.
The Drinksology Ice Ball Maker can be purchased directly from their site.
Note: In the interests of full disclosure while the ice-ball maker was purchased with my own money I am friends with Steven of Drinksology and Drinksology will be sponsoring a forthcoming competition on Oh Gosh!.
If you liked this, the barman recommends...