Sitting recently at The Breslin bar in New York City (waiting for my Manhattan), I was transfixed by the sight of my bartender as she tailored each ice cube to each glass. Holding a large cube in her left hand, she deftly flipped her long, spiral-necked barspoon in her right hand and used its spoon tip as though it were a long-handled mallet. Whack! Whack! The ice flakes flew as she turned the cube in her hand, sculpting each facet. When her gemlike creation was perfect and light glinted off the flat facets just so, she’d drop the ice into a glass and continue to make the drink. I have to admit that I wanted to inform the recipient of that drink—whose back was to the bar during this whole process—how special this cube was and that he should pause to admire it.
With the advent of mixology and the fetishization of all things bar, it was only a matter of time before ice enjoyed its own moment in the sun. First came the monolith. You’ve seen these cubes: They are perfect two-inch cubes that barely fit into the mouths of rocks glasses. At the risk of sounding like a fanatic, I’ll assert that the Big Cube signaled a revolution; no longer were cocktails marred by the rapidly slushy, vaguely chlorine-tasting produce of ice machines. Besides looking so fabulous, the Big Cube made aesthetic sense—with smaller surface area paired with large cooling power, they preserved the cocktail’s integrity by chilling it with minimal dilution.
Faddishness being what it is, the Big Cube was soon joined by its more spectacular, more elite cousin, the Big Sphere. It’s a showstopper, a veritable Spaldeen of ice that offers several advantages over the cube. First, its rounded, fluid dynamic contours mean that it’s easy to sip around; no more awkwardly trying to suck your drink from around the unyielding, Modernist edges of a Big Cube. Plus—because the Big Sphere is a pain in the neck to make (requiring a multi-part mold and loads of time)—it is a rarity on the scene and therefore signals laudable mixological commitment.
But now, as summer approaches, there is a new cube on the scene: it’s a perfectly clear, perfectly sharp-edged, one-inch cube. These stack, one over the other, in tall, narrow Zombie glasses to descend through a drink’s center like a crystalline daisy chain. Happily, you can make all of these cubes at home. Look for the one-inch, two-inch, and spherical silicone ice trays by ICI Tovolo at Chef Central (419 Tarrytown Rd, White Plains 914-328-1376; www.chefcentral.com).