Some say the world will end in fire. Some say it will end in ice. I hope itâs the latter. Finding a good ice cube to chill your cocktail is hell enough as it is.
Being serious about drinking means being serious about ice. And at a good bar, this is rarely a problem, as top bartenders have an easy shortcut: Kold-Draft icemakers. Kold-Draftâs perfect 1Â¼-inch cubes are legendary in the mixology scene, but the equipment isnât remotely approachable for the home user: The companyâs smallest unit ($2,500 street) produces 321 pounds of ice a day and weighs 174 pounds — and thatâs without a bin to collect all the ice.
And so the real ice nuts have turned to hacking. My friend and fellow drinks-writer Camper English is so obsessed with ice that he freezes it at home in cooler-sized blocks in an attempt to create cubes of the perfect clarity for the sophisticate. It took him dozens of experiments, but he finally hit on the right formula, and get-gadget published it.
I donât have the patience, time or physical space to generate ice by the cubic foot, so asked me to find out how to get the very best cubes at home without resorting to getting rid of my frozen corn and IKEA meatballs.
I started that journey where most of us do: The freezer. Iâve got a modern fridge with an automatic icemaker, and Iâve long enjoyed the ice it creates.
Well, âenjoyedâ is a strong word. Iâve tolerated it. The ice it spits out — when that damn metal shut-off bar doesnât get kicked up by accident — is workerlike and unexceptional. Itâs ugly ice. Itâs cloudy and shaped like obese crescent moons, and it bobs around in your drink, all sharp edges and ugly aesthetics.
Itâs like drinking a beverage made with frozen french fries. To compare this eyesore to a cocktail made with nice, cube-shaped ice is to immediately understand the importance of presentation.
My next stop was another all-too-familiar one: A bag of ice procured from my local Safeway. At $2.39 for a 10-pound bag, retail ice is not a bad deal. Itâs cheaper than a lot of bottled water, even.
Your typical store ice does the trick when youâre trying to cool down a keg, but in a cocktail itâs a bad call. The shape works well enough, but it melts awfully fast.
Another big problem is that this ice tends to stick together, requiring an ice pick to free a handful of cubes from the conglomeration inside. And never mind that when I was shopping for the ice, half the bags in the case had been slashed open and were spilling their cubes out.
And that was the good bagged ice. How do I know that? Because my bag of ReddyIce carried the seal of the International Packaged Ice Association, the mark of quality to which all bags of ice aspire. (Suggested motto: âYes, there is an International Packaged Ice Association.â)
I spoke to Jane McEwen, the IPIAâs executive director, who urged me not to settle for cheap, non-IPIA ice during my quest. She told me that ice is basically a wild no manâs land where few regulations exist, and those that do are not enforced.
âIce is a food, and I donât think every consumer understands that,â says McEwen. âIce can harbor a variety of microorganisms, and some can even populate in the frozen state.â The IPIA is self-regulating, particularly with regard to food safety. But its 350 members represent only a tiny fraction of thousands of commercial ice producers, much of the product being made at the retail level.
McEwen insists that IPIA ice is not just better — colder, better shape, better clarity — itâs also safer. And she says that freezer ice smells bad.
But bagged ice wasnât working for me the way I wanted it to, and storing 10 pounds of ice in my freezer was problematic.
I then turned my attention to a relatively new concept: Standalone home icemakers. My theory was that my freezer was not really designed to make ice. It was designed to freeze food. Perhaps a device dedicated to one thing and one thing only — icemaking — would prove more effective.
I found the NewAir AI-100SS, which is about the size and heft of a microwave oven, and which promises to turn water into ice in a span of just 15 minutes. My freezer canât do that!
The excitement was soon dashed, and disappointment set in as I experimented with the NewAir. I loved that I could dial in what size ice cubes the unit would make, but the ice just wasnât up to snuff.
Even on the largest settings, the cubes were cloudy, merely thimble-sized, and just didnât get cold enough. In fact, they broke apart so quickly that they could have passed for that newfangled âchewableâ ice the kids like so much. This gadget would be fine to keep out in your cabana by the pool, but in a snazzy cocktail, NewAir ice was a bust.
Not ready to call it quits and invest in a deep freeze I could use for ice by the block, I found one more source I thought might be worthwhile. On the Rocks: Bagged ice, but with a twist. On the Rocks is âpremiumâ bagged ice in every sense of the word. The ice is made from spring water, ozonated, and frozen using a âslow freezeâ method that eliminates air bubbles.
The resulting 1-3/8-inch-diameter oblique tubes are hard, dense, and exceptionally clear. They are flavorless, fit in any glass, and look pretty good. Even the bag is high-quality, a thick plastic shell with a built-in zip-style closure. And the smaller, 5-pound package is easy to fit into the freezer.
On the Rocks is, to be sure, the best ice Iâve come across for home use. But itâs expensive: $4 for 5 pounds, nearly four times as much as supermarket ice, and itâs impossible to find. In fact, the closest store to San Francisco where itâs sold is in (gulp) Connecticut. The company actually had to ship a sample bag to me â¦ packed in a Styrofoam cooler filled with dry ice.
Until I can pick up On the Rocks at any Cali grocery store, it looks like Iâm stuck with what my freezer decides to spit out, and the occasional bag of cheap ice when itâs time to party. Now thatâs cold.