Great balls of ice

February 6th, 2010

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.

Drinksology Ice Ball Maker

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).

Drinksology Ice Ball Maker

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!.

Subcribe using RSS Share this page

Posted in Reviews

If you liked this, the barman recommends...

9 responses to “Great balls of ice”

  1. Frederic Frederic says:

    Pressure also helps to melt ice (best example is under ice skates which helps them work so well). Not sure what percentage of a role it plays in it all, but it probably helps.

  2. Aaron Aaron says:

    Cool stuff! What’s the quality of the ice on the surface immediately after spherification? Is it wet?

  3. Heath Heath says:

    What do you use to make your initial block of ice?

  4. Jay Jay says:

    Frederic – that makes a lot of sense, though I’d never considered it.

    Aaron – While not bone dry, the ice still very cold and not particularly wet. The maker has water outlets at the bottom, and a clever one at the top that takes the water up in to the ball handle then out two small hidden holes, so most of the melt water is carried away rather quickly.

    Heath – At the moment I’m experimenting with a variety of left-over tubs, as I’ve yet to find a silicone mould in the right size. I though I found a bread tin one the perfect size, but it was 1/2 inch too shallow – damn it!

  5. Dominik MJ – opinionated alchemist Dominik MJ - opinionated alchemist says:

    @ Frederic: Obviously it is the pressure, which is applied due to the gravity! More or less it is only this!

    @ Aaron: The ice is wet – also quite logically – because the spherification happens due to melting. However I think, that the effects of “dry” or super-frozen ice are largely exaggerated. It seems that surface [shape] and size of the ice has a much bigger effect as the temperature or if it comes directly out of the freezer or not].
    For me it even looks [and taste] like, that [good] ice directly out of the freezer dilutes my “after duty coke” much more as the one, which has a temperature close to 0 degree C.

    @Heath: I would suggest, that you are using water [H2O] to make the initial block of ice… just kidding… if you are planning to make a very clear ice cube, head over to Darcy of http://www.artofdrink.com – he just explained the painful way, if you would like to make a clear block of ice – good luck!

    @ Jay – and the rest: I want one! Now! I cannot wait! Are they delivering to Dubai?

    Hey Jay, when are you finally coming to Dubai?

  6. Jason Jason says:

    I’m afraid I have to disagree with the idea that pressure is what is causing the melting of the ice. I think it is the high thermal conductivity (and heat capacity) of the aluminium, otherwise it would not be necessary to apply warm water for subsequent uses. Would this work as well if it was made of glass crystal?

  7. Gatto999 Gatto999 says:

    Very Cool !…

    Ciao from Italy
    =^.^=

  8. KC KC says:

    Basically this machine is a low-quality copy of the original Japanese machine. I’ve seen it up close and would recommend spending the extra money on a proper device rather than cut corners. Always go for Japanese quality over copies!

  9. Drinksology Drinksology says:

    Hi KC, Sorry to hear that you were not happy with the quality of one of our Ice Ball Makers. Could you let me know where you spotted the unit as we did have some prototypes floating around the UK in the early days – I think that this may have been the unit you saw? Our manufacturing process is identical in all but colour and shape to the Japanese units and therefore quality should be on a par. We take quality very seriously and would like to follow this up. Speak soon

Leave a Comment

Subscribe without commenting

Get free updates from A dash of Oh Gosh!

Or subscribe to Oh Gosh! using an RSS reader RSS Entries Feed

© 2007-2014 Oh Gosh! – All Rights Reserved

Photography by Jay Hepburn
Artwork by Craig Mrusek

Win an ice ball maker

Plus a bitters travel kit from The Bitter Truth, Miller's 10th Aniversary Gin, Martini Bitter, and a Mozart Dry bartender's set. For a chance to win...

Just subscribe to A dash of Oh Gosh!


Full details & rules

x