Tuesday 9 November 2010

Goodness gracious, great balls of ice

Any ideas?

At Phil Duff’s erudite seminar on “The Prehistory and Evolution of Gin” during London Cocktail Week we were given a complimentary object courtesy of sponsors G’Vine. It looks like it’s got something to do with silicon breast implants for toddlers (only a matter of time, you mark my words) but in fact it’s for making ice balls.

An invention of the Japanese, who take the diligent art of bartending to almost penitent levels, the ice ball is a single lump of ice that is only just small enough to fit into a glass. The point of them—aside from looking rather cool—is that the lower surface area, compared to a similar amount of ice in normal cube form, means the ice melts more slowly, so it doesn’t dilute your drink as much. It’s intended for a beverage like an exquisite whisky that might be served on the rocks and nursed thoughtfully over a period of time, which you might otherwise find gets rather watery before you’ve finished it.

In Japan they were originally carved by hand (see video above), an incredibly labour-intensive process that produces a ball with an interesting rough-hewn texture. Someone invented an impressive bar-top device that looks like an evil robot from an 80s movie, made from blocks of aluminium, which uses pressure and thermal conductivity to shape a rough chunk of ice into a neat sphere in about 30 seconds. They now come with cheesy mould shapes, such as diamonds, footballs, baseballs, etc (see video below).

The two halves, with G'vine logo sunk into one
It’s pretty amazing to watch—but from a domestic perspective you would need a source of big blocks of ice in the first place—and the machine would set you back about £650. So this green silicon mould is a more accessible alternative.

It came with no instructions but you can see roughly how the two halves nest together to form a sphere. I initially tried pouring water through the small holes (which leaves you with as much water on the outside of the sphere as inside it), until I read somewhere that you should start by filling the bottom tray all the way up to the top of the skirt, then push the upper half of the mould down on top, displacing some of the water over the side but also up into the top dome, with the small holes just being there to allow air out. Once it’s frozen you just peel away the silicone halves of the mould.

A finished ball (made with tap water, I'm afraid).
You can just see the G'vine logo on the top
I tried it in a Negroni and I can vouch that even by the time I’d finished the drink (and I did take a decorous time over it, honest) the ball was still substantially intact. My only observation would be that, while it doesn’t melt as quickly as cube ice, by the same token it doesn’t actually chill the drink as quickly either, if you’re starting with ingredients at room temperature, but it does get there—and keeps your drink at the right temperature for longer.

Where can you get one of these moulds? I’m not really sure. The only reference I can find is that MOMA in New York apparently sold an identical thing in their gift shop. MUJI sell a different design that seems to do the same sort of job.

With the addition of whisky


  1. I do think these are excellent and work quite well in a Gin & Tonic. I might try filling them with boiled water next time, perhaps that will make them clear?

  2. I did try making a batch with mineral water but at the time of writing I had been unsuccessful; I peeled them out as soon as the outside was frozen, though I could see there was water still in the middle. I left them loose in the freezer to finish and when I looked again they had both shattered. Is this because the liquid water inside expanded when it froze and cracked the shape? But why would sitting in a silicon mould stop this happening..?

  3. Amusingly I tried it with boiled water and did the exact same thing, the middle was still watery. The outside was pretty clear (similar to the video) but the liquid centre had turned cloudy. I'll try again.

  4. I read somewhere, and used that idea of filling up water ballons and freezing them. Works a treat.