The more you grow to love cocktails, and especially making your own cocktails, Ice Obsession Syndrome seems less and less like a mental disorder and more like a reasonable state of mind. The size, temperature, and water quality of your ice all affect the cocktails you make and serve. Further, once you start paying attention to the application of your ice, you naturally start to pay attention to the aesthetics of your ice.
The connoisseur has two desires for his or her ice, especially the ice served in a rocks drink like an Old Fashioned, Big and Clear. Big isn’t so hard, especially these days. But ice tray ice and even some ice maker ice is full of tiny bubbles that cloud the stuff and make it look dirty. And the bigger the chunk of ice floating in a drink, the more obvious that cloudiness is. The Holy Grail of cocktail ice is big chunks that look like melty glass.
Over at Alcademics, Camper English has spent the last year in the quest for clear ice. After a host of mostly failed experiments, he came up with a cool working method of producing clear ice at home. It involves putting a whole igloo cooler in your freezer, however, so it doesn’t really fit under the heading of “Convenient”.
Enter the Polar Ice Tray from Lumiaire. This sleek, small loaf of bread-sized ice tray will make you a slab of nearly crystal clear ice about 6 by 5 by 1.5 inches in around twelve hours, using the same principals that Camper worked out. As you can see from my picture up top, and this one here, it is a lovely little device, too.
I cannot recommend enough how well this little guy works. Once you get the hang of it, it produces a nice supply of serving ice to have fun with and enjoy, without taking up an inordinate amount of your freezer’s limited space.
The one criticism I have of the Polar Ice Tray is the documentation, which less than adequately explains the use of the device. So I’ll give you The Missing Manual here, if you will. This part of the review is fairly in depth, so if you want to skip it for now, just jump down to the results.
Here’s an exploded diagram of each part of the Polar Ice Tray.
Only the three bottom pieces will matter most of the time. The bottom is an insulated holder. Always make sure it is dry inside and out when you get ready to make ice. The two white trays are where the ice will form. Fill the bottom tray with water almost to the top and then nestle the top tray (which has a number of small holes on the bottom) down into it. Press down and it will fit snugly. Then add more water until the level in the top tray comes about a half to a quarter inch from the top. Lift the white trays and nestle them tightly in the bottom cooler.
Place the combined pieces into your freezer. Make sure it is resting flat. The manual spends a lot of time on the temperature you should set your freezer to for optimum results. (0° C is best.) Unless you are in the terminal phases of Ice Geekery, you are unlikely to go changing the temp you like your freezer to be for this gadget, so be assured it will produce nice results at any functional level. The worst that can happen is tiny needles of air along the bottom.
What is important is where in the freezer you place the tray. Do not put it near the freezer element! If you do, you will get a giant, knobbly, frosty, permanent wave climbing out of one side of the tray. It looks weird and makes getting the ice out harder.
One more thing that is never mentioned in the manual: do not use the lid when making ice! If you do, you will not make ice at all.
A word here on how the science of the Polar Ice Tray works. When water freezes, it pushes out any dissolved air into the remaining unfrozen water. In most ice trays, the ice freezes all around the outside first. As the crystallization moves inward, the air is forced inward as well. Soon the air over-saturates the remaining water and begins to form bubbles, which freeze in place. The result is cloudy ice. In the Polar Ice Tray, the insulated container prevents the ice from forming on the sides and bottom. Instead the ice slab forms smoothly from the top down, like pond ice. The air is forced downward instead of inward.
This is where the double-boiler like construction comes in. Bubbles will not really start to form until the ice has frozen down to the bottom of the top tray. The air is forced down through the holes and forms lots of bubbles in the thin lower chamber, but few if any will be present in the big slab formed in the top tray!
When your twelve hours is up, remove the Polar Ice Tray from your freezer and lift out the white inserts. Set them aside on a counter where they can safely drip a bit and walk away for about five minutes. It’s not hard to find something to do in your bar while you wait. Clean up the bitters stains or something. The wait lets the trays come apart easily and will let the ice warm up a bit. Almost none will actually melt however. Carefully remove the lower tray. The upper tray will be filled with clear ice, and there will be a slab of gnarly white ice stuck to the bottom.
Run a thin stream of cold water from the tap and let it flow over the seam between the junk ice and the bottom of the upper tray. Rotate it around until a seam opens. When the seam is deep enough to reach the first holes, turn the tray upside down and gently press on the junk ice. In a few moments, the inner good ice should slip free. Discard the crap ice and you are left with a lovely slab of clear ice.
Did I say lovely? Actually, the bottom will likely have a layer of bubbles and imperfections about a millimeter deep, and the top will be fairly frosty. Don’t worry, as soon as you use the ice, this will all disappear.
I told you to let the ice warm up a bit because if you don’t, the thermal shock of even cold tap water will shatter the slab. It doesn’t fall apart, it just has big fissures everywhere. You can still use the ice, but it won’t look as cool. And in that case, what the heck was the point?
Before you reload the Polar Ice Tray, fill the insulated bottom with warm water and let it rest of a bit. If you don’t, the cold container will let the water in the bottom chamber freeze early, and the air will end up making its last stand in the upper tray, forming bubbles there and ruining the slab.
The blue tray and its inner lid are a special mold which makes a little ice man statue. I haven’t tried it, but if you want a chunk of ice shaped like a little dude, it should be awesome. The top lid combines with the insulated bottom to make a lovely ice bucket, should you wish.
As for using the ice, you’ll probably want to knock the slab down to four or six chunks, each of which should do awesomely for a low or high ball, depending on the shape you make. My aforementioned ice guy, Camper, has a nice post on using an ice pick, and notes that the alternative ice saw is a lot of effort.
He looks like he’s using an Anvil Ice Pick, or similar Sharon Stone approved model. Single prong ice picks like this look awesome and scary, and give you tremendous control while carving ice.
But at fifty bucks, the Anvil is a trifle cher…. Since the only carving I’m doing right now is simply snapping the slab in straight lines, I prefer one of these. $3.25 on Amazon.
If you store your ice in the freezer before serving, be sure to let it warm up again first, or it will shock when you put it in the drink. And as to that frost of surface bubbles that may have been evident as I mentioned above? Once you put your chunk into the drink and give it a good stir (or better, pre-chill the drink in a mixing tin and pour it over the ice) the surface imperfections will disappear, and you will be left with a glorious, clear, giant chunk of diamond keeping the finished libation chilled.
Oh and the cool little ice dude whose mold I mentioned before? Apparently, he is an action hero…
Here are a few more links about U-Cube Creative, the Taiwanese firm which created the Polar Ice Tray. Founder Chu Yulong is apparently quite the cocktail lounge connoisseur. The company’s Taiwanese website (in english) shows some other products they make, including a number of other shaped Polar Ice Trays. The site is worth looking at for some creative ideas they have for using the product.
I’m looking in to whether or not the other ice trays are available on this side of the Pacific. I’ve talked to someone at Lumiere, and he tells me that the Bamboo version of the Polar Ice Tray will be available in the US around the end of March!