Make Your Cocktail As Impressive As A $20 Drink With Fancy Ice

If you're on a budget, there are only so many ways to mix together cocktails that feel fancy, but if you're willing to get creative, making your own unique ice cubes can be incredibly inexpensive. It only takes a few hours to freeze ice cubes before they're ready to serve, and your guests will notice the extra flavor in their drinks even if they aren't sure exactly where it's coming from. 

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Bryan Schneider, creative director at restaurant group Quality Branded, has a long history of working behind the bar at restaurants and plenty of experience zhuzhing up drinks with unique cocktail ice. He created the Pride Cube Margarita at New York City restaurants Quality Italian and Zou Zou's. This drink includes a special touch: an ice cube made with six layers of fruit juices to emulate the rainbow of the Pride flag. 

For an even more special touch, this margarita is only available during NYC Pride weekend (from June 29 until June 30, 2024), and Quality Italian and Zou Zou's will donate all sales from the drink to The Center to support the LGBTQ+ community. But if you're curious about how to recreate the Pride Cube Margarita yourself, we asked Schneider how readers can craft their own impressive ice cubes like this at home. Here are his tips for amping up the flavor and the presentation of a standard cocktail.

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Spicing up your ice cubes

Any drink served on the rocks is going to taste more watery as time passes and the ice cubes melt. While you can't prevent that ice from melting, adding additional flavors to your ice cubes means the ice will transform the drink instead of diluting it. Spiciness is one way to incorporate unforgettable flavor into a homemade cocktail. "I like experimenting with flavors that dramatically change a cocktail as the ice melts and change it over time," says Bryan Schneider. "Spicy ice cubes are a fun thing to play with because the cocktail gets more and more spicy as the ice melts."

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However, dilution is important during this process. Spicy ice cubes can pack a strong punch for how small they are, and he recommends watering them down before you freeze them to avoid making them too hot. "I've made cocktails with ice made from jalapeño and habanero juices, which would be extremely spicy if they were not diluted," Schneider says.

You could double-down on the heat, pairing these ice cubes with a spicy margarita or a classic Clamato michelada, which combines Clamato, beer, lime, and hot sauce. If you add them to a normally non-spicy drink, then your ice can play off the sweet or tangy flavors in your cocktail, creating an even more dynamic drink. But don't forget to warn your guests, just in case they can't handle the heat!

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Freezing fruit juice in ice

On the other hand, rather than spicy ice cubes, you could go sweet and opt for fruit juice instead. Similar to how coffee ice cubes prevent watery iced coffee, freezing fruit juice is one of the easiest ways to enhance the flavor in your cocktail.

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"Shaking a cocktail with ice cubes made from frozen juice instead of water is a great way to add flavor without diluting a drink," says Bryan Schneider. "For instance, a daiquiri or margarita shaken with pineapple juice instead of [traditional] ice is delicious." Again Schneider notes that you should dilute the juice with a little bit of water to help with the freezing process and to ensure that the fruit flavor isn't too overpowering. 

To go a step further, you can even add solid chunks of fruit into the ice cubes for more texture after the ice melts. Try pairing orange juice ice cubes with a classic hurricane cocktail, or adding ice cubes with fresh fruit to your sangria.

Creating layered ice cube art

If you're up for a challenge, recreating Bryan Schneider's layered Pride ice is a surefire way to impress your guests. You'll just need to freeze several different types of juices separately. It's not as difficult as it sounds, but it does require some extra time. "Each layer has to be frozen solid before the next can be layered on, so it's a time-consuming process that takes about 48 hours," Schneider says.

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Depending on how many layers you're willing to work with, you can make a wide range of colorful ice cubes from simple dual color ice cubes to purposeful designs like the tricolor Italian flag ice cubes served at Quality Italian, red and white stripes to mimic candy canes for a holiday party, or the particularly ambitious Pride rainbow ice cube.

Really, colorful ice cubes are the perfect time to flex your creativity, but you should be mindful of how you create all those hues. "I tend to stay away from food coloring in general," Schneider says. "Frozen juices are a great way to add color." With that in mind you should also consider how these additional flavors will interact with your drink. A lime and cranberry ice cube could complement a cosmopolitan, for example. But in general, you might opt for simpler drinks like a margarita that can handle the additional fruity flavors. Regardless of your choice, the results will be worth it when your guests admire the extra colors and flavors melting into their cocktails.

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