Wealthy Greeks and Romans harvested ice from snowy peaks to chill their milk and wine. Today, you can just pop a wet tray into the freezer and wait. Unless you want really nice ice—then you need to put in a little more effort. The cloudy cubes that you scoop out of your ice box are no match for the perfectly shaped, translucent cubes used at upscale cocktail bars.
Most bars offering artisanal ice—yes, that’s what it’s called—are not making it in-house. Production requires special equipment, the most common of which is a Clinebell machine that combines directional freezing and circulation to yield three-hundred-pound clear blocks. Those blocks are then hand-carved into cubes or rectangles. Two local companies manufacture ice this way: Fountain City Ice, co-owned by Brock and Erica Schulte, and Swordfish Tom’s, the Crossroads speakeasy owned by Jill Cockson.
But how much better does this fancy ice—which can cost as much as a dollar per cube—make your cocktail taste?
Thanks to their size and density, artisanal cubes melt more slowly, diluting your drink less. Producing them in a Clinebell rather than a standard freezer, where ice is exposed to any number of mysterious and forgotten leftovers, ensures purity. Those are the main selling points, anyway. But Cockson says it really comes down to aesthetic details.
“For us, it creates an added perception of value and an extra layer of hospitality,” she says.
Swordfish Tom’s sells cubes in a bag of fifty for $21 and primarily distributes to local clients, including Buck Tui, Corvino Supper Club and Tasting Room, SoT, Drastic Measures and more. (Inquire at the bar.)
In addition to supplying the ice at Monarch, Farina, Hotel Kansas City and more, Fountain City offers cubes in two sizes, plus spheres, priced at a buck or so apiece, at Mike’s, Gomer’s, Hy-Vee and a few other spots.