Back in the 19th century, Frederic Tudor (The “Ice King”), started shipping ice worldwide, from New England to India and everywhere in-between. Little did he know that, years later, it would ignite an American obsession.
Now, bartenders across the nation are giving ice the center stage, believing that premium liquor necessitates “premium ice”.
Cocktail ice, as with diamonds, is judged on its density, clarity, size and cut. Cloudy cubes result from a fast freeze, so to speak–as water freezes, air bubbles get trapped and dispersed inside. Rather, if you slow down the freezing process, air bubbles rise to the top or sides in what’s called a lake effect, resulting in crystal-clear, denser, even colder ice.
This newfound appreciation for artisanal ice gave rise to boutique ice delivery services, since most bars lack the financial freedom to invest in big-block ice machines with price tags of six grand a pop. Instead, these services provide bar-ready chunks: spheres or cubes, large to extra-large. With spirit-heavy cocktails, like an Old Fashioned, the goal is to control dilution, so big, slow-melting cubes work best. Kold-Draft machines freeze water in small cells from the top and sides, while flushing out impurities from the bottom, producing 1,000 pounds of industry-standard small ice cubes daily. And the perfect pellet ice used to shake up a mint julep or mojito? There’s a new machine for that too.
Naturally, there’s a price associated with premium (and the new tech to produce it). On average, this ice adds 60 to 80 cents per drink, though some spots charge as much as $1 per “hand-cut rock.”
Ice being the next element of the craft cocktail revolution? We’ll drink to that.
Steph is a native New Yorker with a love of culture, creativity, and communications. She’s a foodie, nutrition junkie, yogi, wine-lover, bookworm, world traveler, style-addict, and people person. She also runs her event planning company, Orchard + Broome.