Explorations in Mixology Cocktails Drinking


Just last week, we received word from Bill Samuels, Jr., President of Maker’s Mark Distillery that our barrel has been moved to it’s new resting place in the warehouse for some nice, Kentucky aging. It’s true, that as an Ambassador, we get our name on a barrel with the privilege of buying bourbon from it when the time is right. Actually, there are all kinds of perks that come with joining this program. Sure, we have to “endure” an occasional email from Mr. Samuels regarding “obligations” that come up, such as the recent Maker’s 46 release party at Prohibition in the Foshay Tower. Yeah, the demands of bourbon ambassadorship are tough.

This week, Bill a surprise, as you can see in the images. He must be reading Summit Sips and enjoying our adventures with ice spheres, because inside the box was a two-part spherical ice making tray with a nice holiday card wishing us the best. What a nice guy! Naturally, we wasted no time putting this tray to good use. We decided to type up a quick review and remind you all that ambassadorship is free just for signing up on their website, and as far as we know, every Ambassador received the free ice tray. They aren’t paying us or anything to write this.—we are just sharing, like every good Ambassador should.

As Burgess Meredith said to Harry Hamlin (Ammon to Perseus in Clash of the Titans, the original 1981 version), “A fine gift should never be questioned—simply accepted.” Well, we generally agree with that sentiment, but since we’ve been messing around with ice spheres for a while, we figured a comparison was in order, even if some folks think of Mr. Samuels as the Zeus of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail™. Besides, this is a different configuration than we have seen before and we wanted to see if it was any easier to get perfect ice spheres with this tray than with some of the others we have used.

The first thing to noticed is that the spheres are a little smaller than the Muji silicone molds. That’s not necessarily a problem if you use them to sip bourbon, but they may seem a little small for use in cocktails with more volume. We also noticed that one side of the tray says “kraM s’rekaM” (in reverse lettering) presumably to imprint the name upon the surface of the ice. We have no problem with that, but wonder how well it will work when removing the ice. We filled it up with water following the instructions and placed it into the freezer.

A day later, the tray halves had separated under the pressure of ice expansion. We expected this, as the same thing happened with our Japanese plastic ice tray. The resulting spheres were elongated like eggs. The expansion had created a gap letting water seep into the void. As it did, it also left cavities in the spheres. But that wasn’t the worst problem. The lettering which was designed to imprint the spheres with the name gripped the ice and prevented it from being extracted from one half. It took ten minutes of messing around with warm water to release them. In all fairness, the instructions do mention using water to help release the ice, but it was more troublesome than we expected.

EDIT: We have since come up with a trick it improve the experience of ice trays like this. If you first add a large ice cube, then fill with cold water right before freezing, you will experience less expansion and deformation. Since much of the volume is already ice, at least that much is already expanded. The bigger initial ice cube the better.

We want to pass along a big thanks to Bill Samuels for thinking of us (and all of the Ambassadors) and sending this ice tray. We are certain that a more patient person would make good use of the tray and enjoy the spheres it creates (along with plenty of Maker’s Mark) but given some of the other ways we have found to make bigger and better ice balls, this one will probably go unused. Still, you gotta admire the marketing!

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13 years ago

I have similar ice ball trays (from the MOMA store) and the difficulty in extracting the balls is the same. I switched to Tovolo King Cubes for my rocks glass ice of choice — albeit not as visually stunning but less frustrating.

Randy Hanson
Randy Hanson
13 years ago

Frederic, have you tried the Muji molds? I get very good, consistent results from them and they unmold as easily as can be since they are flexible. I have also made some pretty good larger (3+ inches) using a spherical metal candle mold. The pieces come together with a neoprene washer, held by paper spring clips, and yield the largest successful spheres I have made so far. These I need to melt a bit just to fit them into my glass. I am also considering another mold to try like the Taisin process using this: