Artisan Ice: The New Way To Enjoy Your Drink ‘On The Rocks’
Usually, we think of foodies enjoying a wide range of gastrointestinal delights and washing them down with something neutral; water, soda, iced tea, or beer. The beverage usually gets second billing when it comes to going out to eat, it’s an afterthought or add-on, really.
I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that there’s a subset of foodies who take their drinks as seriously as their food. This seriousness manifests itself in a surprisingly delightful way: Artisan Ice.
Created especially for top shelf cocktails, an artisan ice cube is a single large ice cube. It’s processed to be: “Purified of minerals, additives and other pollutants that may contaminate the taste of premium liquors and drinks.” There’s art in every part of the creation of these cubes. From the method in which they’re frozen; at -2 degrees, to how they’re processed; in some instances using a Japanese band saw. The freezing process is especially important because it mimics the way that Ice freezes naturally outdoors, with the constant movement of water below the surface to freeze it from the top down.
This air circulation is completely different than a regular freezer, where air circulates in many different directions, trapping odors and impurities. Instead, the block of ice that artisanal cubes are created from is dense and clear. It’s the same ice that’s used to make ice sculptures for weddings and other events, so it has to be crystal clear and dense enough to melt slowly.
Here’s where the magic happens with artisanal ice cubes. The cubes are big, up to three inches all told, and cut into either cubes or spherical shapes meant to fill up the glass in which your cocktail is served. Because of the way the ice is frozen, it’s dense and melts far more slowly than an average ice cube. What this means for your top shelf cocktail is that you now have a premium drink that stays colder, longer, with far less dilution. Let’s not forget the purity of these cubes: you no longer have to worry about your drink being diluted with water from a freezer that was, perhaps, used to store fish or some other aromatic food.
I remember my grandmother used to store pickled cabbage in the freezer, so when she would offer me a cold lemonade on a hot day, I would politely decline. I prefer to save my salad greens for the plate, not mixed in with my icy drink!
Of course, this ice isn’t cheap. The special freezers used to make sure the airflow is top-down are expensive to get and expensive to run. To cut the ice is a chore, even for a strong individual who knows their way around a band saw, and the payoff is minimal at best. Unless, of course, you’re serious about your drinks being as good, or better than your food. A single cube will cost the consumer $1 at the least, up to $325 for 50, which come out to $6.50 a cube.
There are bartenders near and far who’ve decided to invest their time and hard earned cash into making these cubes, such as with the Hundredweight Ice Company in New York. It makes sense for bartenders to want to do this; I’m sure they’ve heard many tales of woe about customers drinks tasting stale or watered down. If I could get someone to pay me almost $7 for a cube of ice to put in their whiskey, you bet your boots I would!
Now, I couldn’t for the life of me find a bar in all of downtown San Jose or on the Peninsula, that would do more than smirk at me for asking for a piece of artisanal ice in my drink. So, I’ve yet to have the distinct pleasure of overpaying for an ice cube. This ‘scarcity’ in the Bay Area may very well be why companies like Glace Ice can charge so much for this novelty; it’s the latest and greatest new thing.
I think it’s fantastic that there’s a subset of individuals who take their drinks so seriously, that they’ll either make or order these mini sculptural pieces of ice to enhance their drinking experience. I do, I really do! But since it’s not currently in my price point, or area, I’ll live vicariously through research…and making my own fancy ice! What you can do, if you’re on a budget, is make some pretty great flavored ices in your freezer to enhance both your alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.
A quick example; this last week I made Honey Lemonade with Fruit cubes and enjoyed them in a tall glass of iced tea. Last night, I made a vodka Collins and threw some Lemon Ice Cubes in my glass. When these homemade concoctions melted, it was the perfect complement to a perfect drink.1