Let me be really honest with you. That sexy-looking clear ice your mute, mustachioed bartender is hand-chiseling from a block? It's adding nothing more than cost and pomp to your pour of bourbon. Cool factor aside, cloudy vs. clear is merely an aesthetic issue. Hell, even I think it's pretty cool, but I also know that it's something we in the industry call a "perceived value add." By that, of course, we mean "no value added."
There is, however, an easy way to make crystal clear ice at home, and impress your guests with your mastery of thermodynamics. The technique is often referred to as the "pond method," and refers to mimicking the way a large body of water would freeze in nature. The ice that forms on freshwater ponds, lakes and rivers is crystal clear because it freezes from one direction—the top down, since the air is much colder than the water or ground—and forces all the entrapped gases out from the direction of the ice formation. Most of what makes the ice in your freezer foggy/hazy is just gases trapped by the ice forming inward from all sides, forcing it to the center of the cube. The way around this at home is to build yourself an insulated ice tray so that the cold air of the freezer only contacts the top of the cube, thus forcing all the gases to the bottom (which you can later cut, chisel, or even melt off).
The best/cheapest (read: the way I did it) method is to take an old cooler of small to medium size—a large lunch box cooler works well—and cut it in half latitudinally so as to create a 6" deep tray. Next, determine which ice cube trays you'd like to use (I like the 2" silicone molds from tovolo.com) and configure them to fit in your modified cooler. Once you've got the layout worked out, take some expanding spray foam insulation—available at most any hardware store—and apply the foam to the inside of the cooler until it's roughly half-full after expanding. Then—quickly—embed your ice trays in the foam. Weight them with a book if they're trying to float. Your goal here is to have them submerged in the insulation right to the top.
At this point, give your Frankenbeast a day to cure, and you're ready to make clear ice and drink fancy whiskey like the cultured gentle(wo)man that you are!
There are two last things worth mentioning. One, It will take a minimum of 30 hours for your ice cubes to freeze solid. Two, once you make this contraption, these trays will be forever dedicated to this use.
Impressing your friends can be a slow process. If it adds to the allure for you, feel free to wear an arm garter and a suit vest for which you don't have the coordinating jacket.... I won't tell.
Nick Keane is bar manager at Tilt.