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Junie Kim’s TikTok is part of a larger trend toward ice cube innovation that started about 15 years ago in cocktail bars.The Globe and Mail

Junie Kim didn’t mean to become an ice cube influencer.

In September, when the Los Angeles-based fashion merchandiser made a TikTok that showed her very organized freezer, stocked with nine different types of ice cubes, it was just the latest video she’d filmed in a series about elevating your home and routines.

But the video quickly went viral, racking up 14 million views and 2 million likes in just one day. It now has about 31 million views. Clearly, people wanted to know more about the fancy ice cubes.

“I think the reason my TikTok went viral is because people use ice every day and never think much of it, but the video shows them how easy it is to spice up such a simple part of their lives in both an aesthetic and practical manner,” Kim says.

”You might go to a fancy cocktail bar and see an ice cube infused with mint and never think how easy it is to actually make yourself. It’s literally freezing water with some ingredients in an ice mould, so it’s something anyone can do to elevate little moments of their day.”

Kim’s TikTok is part of a larger trend toward ice cube innovation that started about 15 years ago in cocktail bars.

When Toronto mixologist Frankie Solarik was creating the initial menu for his innovation-forward Queen West bar, BarChef, in 2008, he took inspiration from Japanese cocktail programs, where attention to detail reigns. When the bar opened, the signature cocktail – a vanilla and hickory-smoked Manhattan – was served with a hand-chipped sphere of ice.

Since then, interest in fancy ice cubes has filtered into our at-home habits.

“With people having access to social media, cocktail books, increased volumes of cocktail bars and cocktail culture growing as a whole, people started to prepare cocktails at home and started to research the benefits of various ice shapes,” he says.

According to Google Trends, the search term “fancy ice cubes” has regularly spiked since the mid 2000s, most recently in spring 2021 and winter 2022. And what are all those ice cube enthusiasts learning? That ice does much more than just cool a drink down.

”There are absolutely functional advantages to various shapes and sizes of ice, all based on the surface area contact of the ice with the liquid,” Solarik explains.

“For example, spherical ice is used for higher proof cocktails and spirits due to its slower rate of melting and additional dilution. Spherical ice has less surface area of the ice in direct contact with the liquid, therefore it melts at a slower rate than cubed ice. Large ‘King Cubes’ are also used for this reason.”

On the flip side, water can help release aromatics and flavours, so in some recipes, smaller, faster-melting ice cubes are actually preferred.

Kim is also a big believer in different ice cubes for different purposes; her ice cube innovation journey began in 2020, when she started making coffee ice to avoid diluting her iced coffee.

“If you make the ice with cold brew, it can easily last up to 6 months. I also sometimes freeze flavoured creamers to add into my coffee,” she says.

Like Solarik, she keeps different shapes and sizes of ice on-hand for use in cocktails, as well as long, slim ice rectangles to use in her water bottles. She’ll even make ice cubes that contain sliced fruit – think blood orange, lemon, lime and strawberries – for refreshing fruit-infused water.

Of course, it’s also about the aesthetics. Ice that goes beyond the usual one-ounce cube looks cool, whether it’s in a cocktail or in your water bottle. As Kim pointed out, it’s an easy way to add a bit of beauty to your every day.

That’s why Solarik believes fancy ice is here to stay.

At his next project, an apothecary-themed cocktail bar called Prequel & Co. Apothecary, mixologists will look to the past for menu inspiration, with cocktails prepared using traditional methodology and using spices, botanicals, herbs and florals.

And yes, some will contain hand-chipped ice spheres.

“The aesthetic, skill and care it takes [to make an ice sphere] is [integral] to the overall guest experience,” he says.

Meanwhile, Kim’s freezer is now stocked with 13 different types of ice cubes – and she thinks we should all embrace ice options.

”I think the theme of this fancy ice cube trend is taking something so ordinary and turning it into something that is exciting and joyful into your life. It’s something so simple that anyone can do,” she says.

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