Precision, perfectionism and quality: Japanese Ice 101

Tokyo is renowned as one of the cocktail capitals of the world for its technical perfection, reverence for the classics and an obsessive attention to detail. One of the country’s biggest contributions to the international cocktail culture is its veneration for ice.

Before the advent of freezers, ice was frozen in man-made ponds in the winter and stored in cellars all year long. This expensive luxury was only accessible to Japanese aristocracy and became a symbol of power.

Ice in Japan is still highly revered and has developed into an art form. Bars rarely create their own ice and instead get it delivered from dedicated companies in order to ensure it has the key components of pristine ice: clarity and density. As ice freezes, air bubbles are trapped inside. When the process is slowed, the air bubbles disperse. This crystal-clear, dense ice is harder and colder than a typical ice cube, resulting in a slower melt that cools rather than dilutes the drink. A number of modern-day machines have perfected the freezing process by churning the water as it freezes, releasing gas for evaporation, such as the Hoshizaki machine.

The Japanese also place an emphasis on the shape of the ice. Many high-end mixologists painstakingly hand-cut larger blocks down to big cubes or sculpt to perfect spheres. The most common ice shapes are the rock which is best for highball-style drinks, the diamond or large cube for adding a striking aesthetic to cocktails such as the Boulevardier and the ice ball for finer whisky.

Bartenders around the world have adapted these Japanese ice practices and to create cocktails showcasing their artisanal ice. If you want to check out the contemporary cocktail bars that sparked the thirst for the cold stuff, check out Bar High Five, Tram Bar, Bar Ben Fidditch, The Royal Bar and Cold Name in Tokyo.

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