The legendary Wild West law officer, gambler and sports columnist Bat Masterson once spoofed the Pollyannaish notion that things always break even in life, saying, “We all get the same amount of ice. The rich get it in the summertime and the poor get it in the winter.” You’d think modern refrigeration would have ended that class distinction, but today’s cocktail set confers a new type of ice status. It’s not defined by having ice in the summer, but by having the right kind.
The formula hasn’t changed, but the form has. It used to be you settled for whatever ice solidified in your freezer trays, spit out of your icemaker or came in the bags that the gas station sold. The problem with that is that cocktails call for different sizes and shapes. A drink that should be nursed from an Old Fashioned glass is best served with large format ice that will melt slowly, allowing you to nurse it. A Highball (whiskey and soda), which goes down quicker, can take a cube small enough to fit the narrow glass, but large enough that it won’t quickly dilute the drink. Ice used in a shaker should be a bit smaller to quickly chill the contents. On the other end of the spectrum is crushed ice. Often avoided, it makes perfect sense in a Mint Julep, a drink made almost purely of whiskey.
Happily, the ice-tray biz has kept up with the times, making forms from food-grade rubber that cover most any drink. As well as large-format trays intended for rocks glasses (cubes shown were made in Cocktail Kingdom’s square-cube tray, $7.99, and the Ice Ball 2.5, set of two for $24.95), they come in long prism-shaped molds intended for Tom Collins glasses. Sorry crushed icers, you’ll need a blender or have to go to work with a hammer—like Cocktail Kingdom’s Schmallet (shown, $15.99).
Of course, the true drinks artisan carefully shapes his cubes by hand (a time-honored tradition in Japan). For that you’ll need tongs and the Anvil Ice Pick (both Cocktail Kingdom, $11.99 and $19.99). But remember: work fast, your art is melting.