Perfectly Clear Ice Balls - A Clever Trick
May 15, 2013
One of Alcademics' readers figured out a simple way to make perfectly clear ice balls by using a silicon ice ball mold, a piece of wire, and a pot of water.
His name is Craig Belon and so he calls it the Belon Method. No actual parrots are required.
[update: Check out easier ways to make clear ice balls at the Index of Ice Experiments]
The method is this:
1. Get yourself a silicone ice ball tray like this one that comes in a pack of six.
2. Over a pot of water (or better yet, a cooler as that will produce lots of clear ice) make a wire loop that the ice ball mold will sit on.
3. Fill the pot with water just up to the wire. Also fill ice ball with water. Feel free to fill the ice ball with distilled or filtered water for better taste.
Dunk the filled ice ball mold into the pot of water with the hole FACING DOWN. As you pull the mold up out of the water to set it on the wire. The water should stay inside the ice mold rather than running down into the pot. That's the whole trick.
As I figured out during all the ice experiments, the water freezes directionally from the coldest place to the warmest; and the first parts to freeze are perfectly clear whereas the last area to freeze is cloudy from trapped air, impurities, and pressure cracks.
In a typical ice cube, that's outside-in, with the cloudy part in the center. In the Cooler Method I force that to be top-down. Using this pot the water will freeze from the outside-in, but the big pot creates a big heat sink so the top will be clear until after the ice ball is fully frozen.
So with the hole in the ice ball mold facing the bottom of the pot, as the water in the mold turns to ice and expands, it pushes out the extra air-filled water out the hole into the pot below.
5. Let it freeze, then remove it.
Now that's a sexy ice ball! Thanks for sharing Craig!
For those of you who want to freeze more than one ball at a time, I'm guessing you could simply make multiple loops in the wire to hold multiple ice balls, but suspend it over a cooler (as in the Cooler Method) instead, as that is all freezing from the top-down. And at the end, you'd have a bunch of ice balls plus a slab of clear ice with which to make cubes.
Belon also included a way he likes to drink absinthe using an ice ball.
"Flawless Absinthe" by Craig Belon
1 Ice ball using the Belon Method
1 Absinthe glass (essential due to its shape)
1 Sugar cube
-place just enough absinthe into an absinthe glass to fill the bottom bulb part
-Insert Belon Method ice ball, corking off the absinthe in the bottom
-SLOWLY add water to the top over a sugar cube in the standard absinthe preparation fashion.
Physics: the water is denser than the liquor anyway, but with sugar dissolved especially more so. This water will flow around the miniscule gap between the ice ball and the edge of the glass, further cooling it. It will slip past the ball to the bottom of the glass, forming an absinthe-sugarwater interface in the bulb that slowly rises, producing the characteristic white precipitate.... but only at the interface! The fluids of differing densities will remain mostly unmixed over the course of 5-10 minutes, with a rising line of precipitate, until most of the absinthe is on the TOP of the glass, freezing, (it started at the bottom) and still crystal clear, and the sugar water at the bottom. This process produces a beautiful cascading effect (properly: Schlering lines)
What this means is that the drink actually starts as a pretty stout swig of pure absinthe that is frigid-cold, and as you drink it changes to become sweeter and sweeter.
A cocktail that changes as you drink it, each sip different than the last. Thanks to physics.
An index of all of the ice experiments on Alcademics can be found here.
So, to be clear (pun intended), this requires freezing an entire pot's worth of water that you then discard or break into pieces and use as cloudy ice? If so, seems like the cooler method + some ice carving might be a more efficient solution.
Posted by: Cocktaildemocracy.wordpress.com | May 15, 2013 at 09:05 AM
I'm sure you could construct a jig to hold multiple spheres and replace the pot with something that requires less water.
the Belon method looks brilliant. I don't like big ice in my drinks but I really admire and appreciate the experimentation and problem solving going on here.
Posted by: stephen | May 15, 2013 at 09:28 AM
How simple. You could do the Belon method with a 4" deep perforated hotel pan in an 8" regular hotel pan. This way you can do several at a time.
Posted by: Doug Miller | May 16, 2013 at 06:21 AM
Well it needs to be enough of a heat sink so that all of the ball finishes freezing before the water directly beneath it does. So not sure if shallow hotel pans will work or not- but 8" ones sound like they could be deep enough..
Posted by: Camper English | May 16, 2013 at 08:48 AM
Nope the entire pot doesn't need to freeze; just enough of it that the ball freezes then you can dump the rest. But I believe if you do the Belon method on a cooler you'll get the best of both worlds- clear ice in the ball and hopefully still clear ice in the cooler.
Posted by: Camper English | May 16, 2013 at 08:49 AM
Mr Belon isn't the only one to think of this -- there's a Japanese company that has patended a device that uses this same concept+the cooler method, but in a more compact form:
It also pushes the air-filled water to the bottom, giving you clear ice balls every time. Wasn't cheap at 4000 yen but certainly worth it, since all you have to do is fill it, then throw it in the freezer.
Posted by: Liam | May 20, 2013 at 12:14 AM
I wonder if you could do it with a cheapo plastic egg cooker like this one: http://www.dhgate.com/store/product/japanese-cute-egg-boiler-egg-cooker-no-electricity/14395731-144570119.html
Posted by: troublebunny | May 23, 2013 at 09:48 AM
I wonder if it could be done with a cheapo plastic egg cooker like this one: http://www.dhgate.com/store/product/japanese-cute-egg-boiler-egg-cooker-no-electricity/14395731-144570119.html
Posted by: troublebunny | May 23, 2013 at 09:49 AM
I don't see how you're envisioning that working. Using the egg cooker as a mini-cooler in place of the pot, perhaps?
Posted by: Camper English | May 23, 2013 at 10:04 AM
Ah yes someone posted one of these before. Heard mixed (okay bad) reviews on it, but yeah similar concept.
Posted by: Camper English | May 23, 2013 at 10:05 AM
Exactly! The cooker basically consists of a rack with holes cut out to hold the eggs (or in our scenario the ice molds)suspended over a water reservoir. Seems easier than MacGyvering a rack out of wire, and it's compact enough to be feasible for those of us who don't have a reach-in freezer.
Posted by: troublebunny | May 23, 2013 at 12:22 PM
I think the ice ball molds are a lot bigger than eggs so it might not be the rigt size but I love the concept. But with the size of eggs these days you never know.
Posted by: Camper English | May 23, 2013 at 01:06 PM
I'm going to try this method with an insulated cylinder, which would be more convenient that using a pot or cooler. Maybe a bottle/can in a foam rubber beer cozy. Chop the top off the bottle/can, put in the cozy, fill with water, then put the water filled sphere mold (which would have to be slightly bigger diameter than the cylinder) on top upside down. Or maybe a cylinder shaped commuter coffee mug. Should work, right?
Posted by: westy | May 23, 2013 at 02:18 PM
That's a great idea- sitting it atop a beer can cozy. It might freeze too fast in the ice ball but it might not. And that would be the most awesome simple solution yet.
Would you do it and share your results?
Be cautious of travel mugs - many of them contain glass that can shatter. You want one made out of a substance that can expand when it freezes.
Posted by: Camper English | May 23, 2013 at 02:26 PM
The upside down mold atop a beer can cozy works pretty well. It definitely makes clear ice. Still playing around with it to make spheres rather than eggs though.
Posted by: westy | May 30, 2013 at 10:10 AM
I'm trying this now in my Igloo cooler with two Tovolo ice ball molds. To be honest, tho', the clear ice has been working so well in the Igloo that I've just taken to cutting it and using my Cirrus Ice Ball press to make perfectly clear ice balls. Pricey, tho'.
That said, I've noticed that with the igloo I end up with about half the cooler's worth of ice, and then a big bubble of water in the lower half. Almost as if the bottom of the cooler isn't insulated as well so it's freezing from the bottom up as well, trapping the water in the bubble. No biggie, as I still end up with a slab of ice about 5 inches thick, but unexpected and less ice than I thought I'd yield.
Posted by: Ian Tuck | May 30, 2013 at 12:03 PM
Yeah I would think using an ice ball press would be the way to go if you have one.
I'm guessing your cooler isn't well-insulated (or maybe your freezer is super cold?) if it's freezing from the bottom up as well. Depending on your freezer maybe you could set the cooler on something non-conducting like styrofoam or a slab of wood? Not sure if that would help.
Posted by: Camper English | May 30, 2013 at 01:15 PM
Nice. I'm going to have to try that myself, as it would take up a lot less space in the freezer than other methods.
Posted by: Camper English | May 30, 2013 at 01:16 PM
I'll give 'er a try. Thanks for your yeoman's work on this, Camper. I hope you'll delve a little into flavoured ice as well - I've been experimenting a little with it after a trip to Aviary last year.
Posted by: Ian Tuck | May 31, 2013 at 11:26 AM
I've made flavored ice here and there but it's not easy to do it well: Ice wants to freeze in a clear crystal, so like air bubbles, the color/flavor tends to get pushed around rather than distribute evenly. Even food coloring doesn't evenly distribute, and most additives make the ice mushy as they don't entirely freeze. I suppose if you had a really cold freezer you could take care of the latter problem though.
Posted by: Camper English | May 31, 2013 at 11:34 AM
Check out this fancy version of 'ice ball on a beer cozy'
Posted by: Camper English | June 13, 2013 at 07:08 AM
I think that as long as the volume of water in the reservoir is greater than the combined volume of the water in all the sphere molds, and if you replaced the hotel pan with a plastic container to slow the the freezing of the reservoir, it would be okay. if a perforated hotel pan doesnt fit, a cake rack might be a good way to support all the molds.
Posted by: Alex | June 27, 2013 at 02:56 AM
I'm just curious about what exactly prevents the water in the ball from running out into the water in the container below? Is it something about the fact that you dunk the ball under the water before lifting it out, or what?
Posted by: NN | August 30, 2013 at 03:57 PM
Yes exactly. Like if you put a soda bottle under water then pull it out upside-down, the liquid will stay in up to a certain point.
Posted by: Camper English | August 30, 2013 at 04:01 PM
Try the following... Fill water balloons, and submerge in tub of water .... Use a bit of tape and coins to weight down.... Now the balloons are completely submerged use a pin to put a couple of holes in each one... I have no idea why this works but it does.
Posted by: Mr Sarooty | September 03, 2013 at 05:36 AM
Mr Sarooty - I just attempted this but when I poke holes in the balloon it pops. Any advice? What size balloons are you using - big ones only partially-filled maybe? I was using small ones so perhaps they're under too much pressure...
Posted by: Camper English | September 16, 2013 at 06:09 PM
Clever adaptation of your cooler method for clear ice spheres.
Posted by: westy | November 05, 2013 at 07:14 PM
Cool, thanks for sharing!
Posted by: Camper English | November 06, 2013 at 11:56 AM
Hi all! I just got the new D20 ice mold from ThinkGeek (http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/173a/). It's incredibly sexy, and it would be even more sexy if it came out crystal clear!
I've tried the basic technique outlined in this blog post, but it sadly did not work well. Opaque all throughout, but there did happen to be larger bubbles on the fill hole side, so that is promising. Also, there ended up being a moderate bubble (~0.5 cc, maybe?) at the very top of the mold.
I can think of three possible contributing factors to this: (1) I was using water from the tap, so it probably was a bit gassy to start with, (2) the existence of the trapped air bubble somehow prevented the gas from getting forced downward, and (3) the fill hole in the mold is *very* small, so it may be difficult for the gas to get pushed out of it even under ideal conditions.
Thinking about the premise of this directional method a bit more, I came up with a variant to the method that I just set going in the freezer. I have a heavy (8 qt?) stainless pot with some kind of sandwiched bottom that I will use like a large cold plate to conduct heat away from my ice mold right through the bottom. Then to insulate all the other sides of the sphere, I surround the mold with crumpled dish towels, hoping to minimize heat transfer via air.
I really hope this yields at least some positive results, since the setup was quite straightforward, and not nearly as finicky/precarious as what I had just tried. Pot, mold, towels, done!
Has anyone tried something similar before? What was your setup like? What kind of results did you get?
Posted by: Brandon S | November 28, 2013 at 02:25 PM
Hi- Yeah the corners in this particular mold may make for more trapped air than usual, though taht's a total guess.
Another thing that can cause cloudiness is lots of motion/vibration such as opening the freezer door a lot.
I don't quite get what your proposed model is but if you have any success with it I hope you'll share!
Posted by: Camper English | November 29, 2013 at 01:56 PM
I was writing that a little hastily, I suppose. Take Belon's diagram at the top of the page, remove the water and the wire. Leave the parrot. Place the filled mold *upright* in the bottom of the pot. Surround the mold well with insulating materials (I used dish towels). The premise is to get it to freeze bottom-up.
I've tried this a few times, and it seems to work...ok...ish. Most of the bottom half is clear, so it seems like the bottom-up method is partially working as desired. But most of the surface is clear, as well, so I might not be insulating the mold as well as I hope that I am.
I am usually left with a cloudy core/top, with long bubble streaks that begin ~1cm from the surface and head inward. It looks kind of like this pic:
and reminds me a lot of the green spiky part of the thistle in this image:
Anyone know how these (beautiful, actually) bubble streaks arise? From a fast freezing rate? I am turning up the thermostat on my freezer a bit to try to get it to have a slower freezing rate.
Posted by: Brandon S | November 29, 2013 at 05:32 PM
Well, still no success yet. I know this is impractical, but I feel like the best way to do this would be to have the mold sitting at room temp on top of a way-sub-freezing cold plate. :/
Posted by: Brandon S | November 30, 2013 at 11:59 AM
Other people are also working on a bottom-up method with other insulators and nobody has quite figured it out yet. The best success people have had is with an open top and an aquarium pump at the surface, but then you're just replicating a commercial ice machine.
I'm not sure yet if when you try the bottom-up method if the ice that freezes first on the bottom floats to the top and blocks any escaping air. That would be one of the big flaws in that plan...
Posted by: Camper English | November 30, 2013 at 05:51 PM
Here's my space efficient version of the Belon method that has been working very well for me.
Take an insulated mug like this (I got mine at Walmart), which is a smaller version of a cooler or pot.
Put one of these containers into the mug.
Fill the mug and container with water up to the brim.
Fill up a 2.5 inch silicone sphere mold completely with water. Put your index finger on the fill hole of the mold, turn upside down, and plunge into the mug.
So now you have the filled sphere mold sitting upside down on the filled container, inside the filled mug. If you freeze it like this, you will wind up with a clear egg (because the freezing water will squeeze the bottom of the mold out of shape).
To get a sphere, use a straw to suck out the water in the mug until it is just below the rim of the container. Now you will get a clear sphere in about 24 hours. Doesn't take up much space and the mug keeps you from spilling water all over the freezer.
Posted by: westy | December 17, 2013 at 12:34 PM
Nice one! I attempted something similar using a thick foam beer cozy, but could never find one the right size and the round ice sphere mold dropped into the cozy. Sounds like you found a good solution.
If you feel like sharing this refinement with its own post, feel free to email me some pictures of the set-up and I can put it up. My email address is here:
Posted by: Camper English | December 17, 2013 at 12:44 PM
Or you could just boil that pot of water, pour into the molds, and freeze. The cubes are clear when you do this. Seriously...think this guy has too much time on his hands.
Posted by: to | January 07, 2014 at 12:41 PM
Doesn't work. Give it a try.
Posted by: Camper English | January 07, 2014 at 12:42 PM
I bought this:
Before reading about clear ice methods. Hope I can use it to make four clear balls at one time.
What surprises me given the popularity worldwide of these clear ice balls is why no commercial ice producer has not sold these in bags like the other pretty clear ice cubes. Anyone contacted the various vendors?
Any problem with long-term storage of ice balls, like "freezer burn"?
Also, why not an sphere of aquarium grade, very thin, crystal clear material filled with proper gel, etc. that can be continually refrozen?
What am I missing this is not been done? Goodbye molds, and all the processes, and maybe the "fun"!?
PS. Ice sculptures are crystal clear. Is this the physics/method how these blocks are formed for sculpting?
-AND- Bought this but note sure yet how long the ball keeps drink cold:
Posted by: Jim | February 09, 2014 at 05:40 AM
Actually at least one place sells the finished ice balls - Glace Ice. I think some other ice vendors sell them but in bulk for bars in local regions like NYC.
Storage - Ice absorbs odors all too well, and evaporates in a freezer over time. You can wrap your ice balls in plastic wrap, or store them in a tupperware-type container (that's what i do).
I've tried that whisky rocks and spheres and stuff- wrote a story for Whisky Advocate about them. I don't think I'd want a big clear non-ice ball, but I prefer ice over non-ice (and high-proof whisky so I don't mind the dilution). Also, you can just put your glass in the freezer and it gets whisky just as cold.
Posted by: Camper English | February 10, 2014 at 07:15 PM
hi, i would like to know if you have managed to make a clear ice ball using a mould without the need for 5x the volume of water as per this thread.
Posted by: fishmonger | May 05, 2014 at 11:07 AM
Look at my post a few entries above. My method is more like 1-to-1. For a lower ratio to work, you'll need to use an insulated container.
Posted by: westy | May 14, 2014 at 01:12 PM
yes the key is thermo insulation on the bottom of the mould and not as complicated as the original idea in this posting. Is there any way to post pictures here? I have completed perfect ice balls including tainted ice balls with colour notes. i have since moved on to ice cups used in presentation of cold foods
Posted by: fishmonger | May 17, 2014 at 02:50 AM
Yep there is even a commercial product using insulated chamber with ice balls. If you have a simple solution and want to send pics I can do a new post, giving proper credit of course. Alcademics at gmail is the address..
Posted by: Camper English | May 17, 2014 at 07:30 AM
i have sent a test email but no reply yet, otherwise please send me confirm email to
some of the issues which I wish to address in my disclosure of the method I use involves the lack of information about the chemistry and physics behind the formation of ice crystals. In particular, i was unable to find proper info on how to handle the physical expansion of ice when it forms using directional freezing. The second issue relates to the formation of the white cloud (on solidifying) and the gas bubbles surrounding the cloud. In my view there seems to be a lot of mis-direction on the issues and hence mis-direction on solving the case of making clear ice (spheres in my case)
Let me know when a new posting is ready to start.
Posted by: fishmonger | May 23, 2014 at 11:01 AM
sent email but no reply, perhaps you can send email to me
Posted by: fishmonger | May 23, 2014 at 11:05 AM
sent email but no reply, perhaps you can send email to me
Posted by: fishmonger | May 23, 2014 at 11:07 AM
sent email but no reply, perhaps you can send email to me
Posted by: fishmonger | May 23, 2014 at 11:24 AM
Freezing from the bottom up is unlikely to ever work. As water cools to about 4 deg. C, it becomes more dense like most liquids. However, south of 4C, it actually becomes less dense and "floats" to the top. The coldest thus is at the surface and freezes top down. This is why commercial ice block manufacturers circulate the water with pumps when making huge clear blocks for sculptures.
Posted by: Craig Belon | July 30, 2014 at 06:17 AM
Like English said, this simply doesn't work.
Gasses are extremely soluble in liquid water, much more so the colder the water becomes. Any effect of degassing a solvent (water) will be nearly entirely lost in the time it takes to freeze it at temperature normally accessible in the home.
Posted by: Craig Belon | July 30, 2014 at 06:20 AM
We own Ice Sphere Tech model and love it for commercial hotel use. We want to try this method out when time allows. We may let you know how we made out using Ice Sphere Tech.
Posted by: Russ Card | January 04, 2015 at 07:27 AM
I know this is a very old thread, but big thanks for the Belon method. I've tried many other methods for weeks and this is the one that really works. After several tries at making multiple wire loops to get the molds to sit at the same level I discovered it was well beyond my wire-weaving ability. Used the steamer insert in a big pot, filled just above the bottom of the drain holes, and made six clear ice balls at once. Yes, a big space hog but I love the mass production possibilities for partys.
Posted by: Needausername | May 14, 2016 at 06:11 PM
That's a really smart idea, using a steamer tray - thank you for sharing it!
Posted by: Camper English | May 18, 2016 at 08:56 PM
So here's an obvious question... if the reason there is air / "impurities" in ice, why not remove the impurities? I know, filtering the water doesn't work, but what about putting the water in a container with negative pressure (simple vacuum pump?) and after a while the air migrates out of the water (mostly?) and use that as your ice making water? I'm not chemist, so posting this to see if there are any more well informed opinions.
Posted by: johnnyd | December 04, 2016 at 10:39 AM
Hi - Some people have tried but to my knowledge nobody has been able to remove all the air from water before boiling. Alas!
By the way - I hadn't listed it here before but there are easier tools to use to make clear ice balls - see them here on the index page:
Posted by: Camper English | December 06, 2016 at 10:28 AM
cOULD YOU do this with the Trovolo round ice molds??? I have them.
Posted by: Jason | January 02, 2018 at 11:00 AM