22 Oct 14 Can artisanal ice make your drink that much better?
In the “craft cocktail” era, drinks with hefty price tags are the norm. And now, to complement fancy craft drinks, American entrepreneurs have come up with artisanal ice – a large, crystal-clear cube or rectangle that melts unhurriedly in your glass.
Excuse me? Perhaps you’re having the same thought: Is there something wrong with plain old regular ice? Is the ice industry really crying out for disruption?
Well, not exactly. Turns out the rise of artisanal ice probably has more to do with bars trying to justify their high-priced cocktails with one extra perk: ice like you’ve never seen it before.
“If you’re gonna get a drink that’s $15, it better have the best ice,” says Joe Ambrose (pictured), a bartender at the W Hotel who co-founded Favourite Ice, the company that’s hand-chiseling frozen water for about 30 restaurants and caterers in the Washington DC area. There are several similar fancy ice ventures around the country.
So what exactly makes this ice better? Ambrose says it’s a combination of aesthetics and practicality.
Regular ice is cloudy because of the minerals like calcium in tap water, Ambrose says. Air bubbles that form as water crystallizes also contribute to the clouds, especially if the water is chilled and frozen rapidly. So he filters water, and then puts it in a big machine made by Clinebell — the same machine that makes huge blocks for ice sculptures.
The machine churns out 90 to 135kg blocks of crystal-clear ice which are then cut up into 10kg slabs or 5cm cubes with a band saw.
“It’s hard work: You’re dealing with ice and slippery surfaces, and working with a blade that’s made for cutting up cows,” says Ambrose. “It’s a little scary, especially when the blades wear down and pop and metal goes flying across the room. Oh, and your hands get really cold.”
Artisanal ice is pretty, but the real selling point is that the super-sized cubes melt more slowly, which gives imbibers more time to enjoy the flavours in their fancy drinks.
“The problem with lots of small ice cubes is that in 10 to 15 minutes, your drink tastes like watered-down booze — it doesn’t taste how it’s supposed to taste anymore,” quips Ambrose…..