Cocktail Ice Shell

The Ice Shell is one of those lost arts, or perhaps, lost little extras, that went away with cheap labor. I know of only one place I can get a cocktail in an ice shell and that is the venerable Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, FL. If you are lucky, you’ll get your Shark Bite served in one.

I was sure to ask Manager Kern Mattei just how one made this magical wonder on one of my first trips. Here I am 7 years later actually doing it.

Aku-Aku Las Vegas menu with ice shells

Why did it take me so long? I needed the right glass. And I have not searched for it continually. Today Ms. Swanky thought to look while we were at a Goodwill and we lucked upon a few perfect glasses.

The right glass must be round and have a short edge. That is, it can’t come up too far or you can’t make it work.

To make mine I used my go-to fine ice crusher, the Oster Sno-Flake. It makes good fine crushed ice and is detachable from its base so you can put it over an ice bucket and crush up tons at a time. Available for cheap on Ebay and your local antique dealer.

So now you have the proper glass and the fine crushed ice, using the back of a spoon (or a muddler for some glasses), press the ice into a shallow shell around the inside of the glass. Keep building it up on the edges until the inside of the entire glass is covered. Put the glass in the freezer.

After it has time to freeze solid, take it out and go to the final step. I am not sure how the professionals do it. Maybe you can just let it cool on the counter for a while, but I heated the glass with my hands. You need a little warming to get the ice to separate from the glass. A little push will tell you when it is ready. Too much and you will destroy your work.

Once the ice shell is loose from the glass, you push down one edge and back fill more ice with the spoon to get the glass covered again. Then put it back in the freezer until you are ready to serve.

After a few, it gets easier and your final product better. Back in the early days, there were many drinks served with ice sculpture and they had guys back there making the special sculptures all night long. I can count over a dozen with ice sculptures on the vintage Mai-Kai menu.

UPDATE: A small bit of advice to make it all easier. Crush your ice, but let it sit a little while. You want it to be melting a little. “Wet” ice, like wet snow will pack much better and when you freeze it, it will make a stronger block.

Martin Cate credits me for unearthing these instructions in his great book Smuggler’s Cove and has good instructions on the practice.

I suggest the “Shark Tooth” from Beachbum Berry’s “Grog Log”. It will also likely be in his new book coming out soon, Re-Mixed. Or join me at this little event I started called Hukilau in June and we’ll try one at the Mai-Kai.

If you make one of these, be sure to thank the Mai-Kai for keeping the knowledge alive.

3 Replies to “Cocktail Ice Shell”

  1. Thanks for all the SWEET information! It’s always nice to get a bit more in-depth detail than what is usually given in a recipe book.

    Thanks, too, for the info on the Oster Sno-Flake! I’ve a couple of Rival Ice-O-Matics, a Swing-A-Way, an Iona Blender with an Ice Crusher Attachment, a refrigerator with a pathetic excuse for an ice crusher built into the door, and a Back to Basics Ice Shaver that’s shaped like Mickey Mouse’s torso (you don’t even want to know where it looks like the shaved ice is being dispensed from), but it would be nice to have something that I could fill a bucket with.

    Gonna give this a try soon (if I can find a glass that works, that is)!

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