Why are ice and ice balls important?
Carving Japanese-style ice balls is serious business, it’s not something you can learn overnight, and it should be left to experienced bartenders. Imagine having to cut up a gigantic slab of ice using handsaws, knives and picks, whilst knowing that one slip could mean a trip to the hospital. It’s nail-biting stuff. So why are bartenders risking their fingers to hand-carve ice balls? Find out below!
In a lot of bars, ice is chucked into drinks to serve one purpose and one purpose only, to cool drinks down. It is often viewed as the least important element of a drink, however; this is far from the truth.
Go to any bar in the world and order a drink, 99% of the time the first ingredient the bartender will add to your drink or cocktail is ice. It is a fundamental ingredient of your drink that ultimately contributes to the overall flavour. Bartenders in Japan started to understand this a long time ago and developed a special ice-carving technique that helps you enjoy your drink for longer.
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What’s the Japanese technique to carve ice balls?
Hand-carved ice balls are a form of art in the bartending world. Japanese bartenders are commonly recognised as the people who developed this magnificent technique and then propelled it into popular culture. In Japan, ice balls are usually hand-crafted when a patron orders whisky.
The technique requires specific equipment such as ice knives and saws, and a hell of a lot of practice. Bartenders will usually start with a huge block of ice and cut off a smaller chunk. Then they cut that chunk into a smaller cube and begin to chip away at it until they are left with a sphere. Sounds easy, right? For some bartenders, this simply isn’t dangerous enough already. To take it up a notch, they hand-carve their ice balls without gloves.
So what’s the science behind ice balls?
Bars don’t hand-carve ice balls because it makes them look more professional and elegant (maybe that’s 30% of it), there is actually a science behind it. Spherical ice balls have smaller surface areas therefore they melt slower. This means that an ice ball will provide you with a few, vital extra minutes to savour your whisky on the rocks.
The other reason bartenders like to use large blocks of clear is due to the freedom it gives them. Bartenders don’t only make spherical ice balls; they can craft ice diamonds and many other amazing shapes depending on the drink and glass.
Some people think that hand-carved ice balls are a step too far and that they are just another fad. But think about it for a second, what’s the point in paying top dollar for an exquisitely aged whisky for it to be diluted in seconds by a murky, low-quality ice cube? Treat that whisky with the respect it deserves, and accompany it with a glass-like ice ball. Trust us; your taste buds will thank you.