by Lee Tolliver
The cold, hard truth is that artisanal ice is revolutionizing the cocktail game.
It only makes sense. Mixologists, and their drinkers, have spent the past several years perfecting everything about cocktails, from the craft-made spirits to infused simple syrups to the fruit that garnishes the creations.
There was only one thing left, really.
“You go into a nice place and get a $10 drink where everything is perfect, so why wouldn’t you pay attention to your ice?” says Matt Jones, who co-owns Chisel & Shaker in Newport News.
The company makes ice, and we’re not talking the kind of frozen water you get by filling a tray and sliding it into the freezer, Philistines. These guys make extremely dense, slow-melting, super-clear ice.
It has more in common with the carvings at a swank black-tie event than it does with the cubes your mama put in iced tea. The most popular shapes are 2-inch squares for drinks like Old Fashioneds, 2½-inch spheres for whiskey and 1½-by-5- or 6-inch spears for Collins glasses.
During the ice making, filtered water frozen in a $5,000 machine creates 300-pound blocks that are lifted by a hoist and set on a table in a zero-degree room. Band saws slice them into cubes or spikes. Jones makes the spheres by melting the edges off cubes in a special mold.
Each shape can be etched with the name of the bar, bartender or whatever else a customer wants. To really impress, order some with inserts like rose petals.
Bartender Matt Labarge, who uses Chisel & Shaker ice at Norfolk’s Four Eleven York, says the look of a drink with one giant cube is pleasing to the eye. “If I’m giving them more presentation and more time,” he says, “many people are willing to pay more for that.”
But really there is more to all of this than simple snobbery. It’s about consistency, drink to drink. The perfect sipping drink needs a touch of water and just the right chill. The smaller the surface area of the ice, the less melting there is. So, one big cube is better than a whole bunch of small ones. And one big sphere is even better.