I never knew how much ice could matter until I was given the choice of crushed or cubed. After that, my eyes were opened to the possibility that the solid in my drink mattered as much as the liquid.
Bartenders have apparently come to the same conclusion, and a simple thing like an ice machine is starting to seem passe. The Mixoloseum has a guide to ice tools unlike anything I've read, which suggests that artisan ice is the next big trend and you can start experimenting at home to get ahead of the curve.
The first tool on the list is an ice tapper (I've also heard it called an ice cracker), used to crack cubes into smaller pieces. This is useful when you need to cool a drink quickly -- think about how crushed ice works on soda. If you don't have a tapper, the back of a bar spoon (or metal serving spoon) would be just as effective.
An ice crusher is the evolution of the ice tapper, with a drum that can hold more ice and grinds it via a crank or electric motor. Picture a pencil sharpener for ice and you get the idea. This is useful if you've got to make more than one drink, which is almost always going to be the case, or want more uniform ice pieces.
The last item profiled on the Mixoloseum is the Lewis bag (or Tag Bag) -- a canvas bag that holds ice and can withstand pounding from a mallet or meat tenderizer when you need finely crushed ice.
And if shaping or molding your own ice sounds like too much work, silicon molds available to create ice cubes in any shape you like. If you need something classy to set a zen mood, you could opt for the Coldfish ice cube tray, which makes eight cubes shaped like Japanese Koi.
[Image via Flickr: markhillary]