Sometimes it's fun to challenge ourselves. I'm in Aspen covering the Winter X Games, so I've got ice on the brain. I've never made an ice luge before, but I started thinking, "How could I make one in my hotel room with basically no tools?"
Challenge accepted, brain.
It's Friday afternoon, you've made it through the long week, and it's time for Happy Hour, Gizmodo's weekly booze column. A cocktail shaker full of innovation, science, and alcohol. Your hooch wants to shred some slopes, too.
What Is an Ice Luge?
No, it's not an Olympic event (yet). It's for drinking. It's a solid block of ice with some channels in it that zigzag back and forth. It's stood up on a table at an angle of 45 to 90 degrees. A person puts his or her mouth at the bottom of the luge. A shot is poured in at the top. The booze snakes its way down through the block and by the time it gets to the imbiber's gaping maw, it's icy cold.
It's a fun way to take a drink (as long as you're not bothered that's it's been co-opted by frats), and you can buy them from a lot of high-end ice distributors. But say you're in a strange town with a couple of friends, it's 10pm, and for whatever reason, you simply must drink via ice luge in your hotel room. Using only supplies I could find at a grocery store or gas station, I tried three methods. But first...
So, in a perfect world, you would make the block of ice yourself. You'd get a plastic cooler and you'd let it freeze nice and slowly. As we learned not so long ago, freezing ice slowly is how you get it perfectly clear. Clear ice is the hardest and most resilient, which makes it perfect for this application. That said, you probably don't have 24-48 hours to spare, and even if you did most hotel rooms don't have a freezer that's big enough. That means you need to run to a grocery store and grab a ten (or twenty) pound block of ice. That'll do just fine. While you're there, get something that you can stand the ice up in so it doesn't slip or melt all over everything. The $0.99 aluminum roasting pan I got worked great.
NOTE: The ice you see in the following demonstrations is the worst quality block ice I have ever seen in my entire life. It's not even ice, it's more like hard-packed snow. In other words, it's not really solid. It melts unevenly and even absorbs a fair amount of your drink. If this is all you can get, don't bother. Seriously. Give up your lugey dreams for the night. I went to four different stores and they all had the same horrible brand. Maybe it's an Aspen thing. I dunno. But it meant that the results of these experiments could only be a proof-of-concept at best. That said, I am confident that the results would only improve with a solid block of ice.
Method 1: Fire
This was the coolest, but ultimately least effective method. To start out, I etched the path I wanted into the ice with my hotel room key. Then I started tracing that path with a flame. I really wanted to use one of those butane jet lighters, but I couldn't find one. Instead I settled for a BBQ/candle lighter. Because the flame wasn't so direct, it would just kind of kiss the surface of the ice. It worked a little, but not much. This led to a better/worse idea.
I took a bottle of hand sanitizer I had in my travel bag, and squirted it into the groove I'd made with my keys. Then I set it on fire. Now be careful here. Because alcohol generally burns blue, I couldn't see it at all with the lights on. With the lights out, it looked really cool. Unfortunately, it really didn't make the groove much deeper. The hand sanitizer would run and pool up in a spot, then that place would get deeper while the rest stayed shallow. Ultimately not worth it. However, you can buy a butane pencil torch at your local hardware store for about $30, and I guarantee you you'll be able to carved deep and with a fair amount of control. I decided not to buy it, though, to keep with the premise of easily accessible nighttime items.
Method 2: Salt
This one worked like gangbusters (sort of). Grab a cheap container of salt from the store. Again, start by etching the path you want in the ice with a sharp key. Now somewhat carefully fill in that gap with salt and let it sit for about 15 minutes. Use the key to dig out the salt that's in there. You'll see it's already much deeper. Fill it in again, let it sit for another fifteen minutes, then dig it out again. Repeat until you get to the desired depth. Run a few glasses of cold water down it to remove the salty taste (unless you're drinking tequila, I suppose). This technique easily made the the smoothest lines and it required the least amount of effort.
Sadly, the experiment was a bust, but I am convinced it's just because of the crappy, air-filled snow-cone they were calling ice. Because it was so soft and porous, the salt-water seeped into all the little cracks, causing even more melt. When I poured the test shot down the luge, most of it was absorbed by the block. I do not believe that this would be the case with a block of solid ice. The salt would melt the groove, and when you wash it out with fresh water, that would be the end of the rapid spread. With a real block of ice, this would probably be the way that I would go.
Method 3: Brute Force
I went down to the front desk and asked If I could borrow a standard screwdriver so I could fix something on my tripod. I didn't even bring a tripod, but that's not important. What's important is that it's really easy to get your hands on a little chisel like this. You could also buy one a the grocery store for a few bucks. Repeat the etching process with the key, if you like, and then go all Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct on that block. Just start chipping away at the path you want, pausing here and there to brush off the ice dust. I'd recommend putting the block on a couple of towels so the people under you don't call the front desk.
There's no romance in this, it's just work. It took me about 15 minutes of solid chiseling to get it as deep as I wanted. For real ice (which would be much more dense), expect it to take longer. The upshot is that you have a tremendous amount of control. If you feel in the groove that there's a chunk in your way, you can just go after that chunk. Once it feels about right, run some warm water down it until the edges are smoother. Of the three methods, this one worked best in my testing because I could dial it in, so technically it won, but with a real block of ice, I think salt is the way to go.
- When carving the path in your luge, make the point of entry (at the top) into a funnel-shape. This will make it easier to pour into.
- For the bottom of the luge, do as little as possible. In fact, don't cut into the underside at all. You want it to be kind of a ramp shape so it shoots out the front and into your mouth.
- If you're actually planning this event in advance and you have access to a freezer, the easiest thing you can do is buy an ice luge mold. You can get a simple one for $25 bucks, and the mold also acts as the luge's stand. Or you could get them in other shapes, like a heart, or y'know, boobs or a dong.
- Ice luges are really meant to be a two-person operation (at least). Someone should be pouring the shot and making sure the ice isn't going to fall, and the other person should drink. Don't forget to take turns.
So, given our handicap (worst. ice. ever.) we're calling this a success. The drink came through cold and that's good enough for me. If any of you have experience making these things, we'd love to hear your tips in the discussion below. Thanks for reading, and see you next Friday afternoon for another Happy Hour.