Chill thrill: A new ice age dawns in bars
The latest ice-making technology-including cubes made of booze-could make drinks served on the rocks more profitable.
Source: Restaurant Hospitality
Jun 9, 2015
Cutting-edge mixologists have already made artisan-caliber ice a must-have drink component in the craft cocktail world. Think what they’ll do when they can use ice made of frozen spirits, not water, for drinks served on the rocks. Instead of becoming diluted, drinks will get stronger as cubes made of whiskey or vodka start to melt. If your customers like stiff drinks, now there’s a way to make them even stiffer.
The Beyond Zero Ice Maker, the device that freezes liquor and also wine, first surfaced at the National Restaurant Association show in 2014. Last week, the company announced its machines will be going into mass production via a partnership between Beyond Zero and foodservice equipment manufacturer Winston Industries. Louisville, KY-based Winston will field a three-item lineup: a single-serve unit; a storage device that can house multiple flavors of cubes; and a fully automatic machine that makes, stores and dispenses liquor cubes.
Here’s the pitch: “This is the world’s first self-contained machine that enables users to make liquor ice cubes to cool drinks, eliminating the need for drink-diluting ice,” Beyond Zero says. “The technology makes any cocktail colder, smoother and stronger, while enhancing the flavor notes of both wine and spirits.”
Freezing liquor or other alcoholic beverages to make ice cubes is a no-brainer. But only a restaurant equipped with molecular gastronomy gear would likely have the right kind of equipment on hand to do it right now. Beyond Zero’s breakthrough is its machine’s capability to reliably freeze alcohol in cube format at the speed a busy bar or restaurant would require.
The chemistry involved is straightforward. While water freezes sat 32 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of pure alcohol must be lowered to -173.2 Fahrenheit before it will freeze. The freezing point of the alcoholic beverages restaurants would use to make cubes falls somewhere in between. For example 84 proof whiskey, vodka or tequila must be chilled to roughly -30 degrees Fahrenheit. A liqueur such as Triple Sec will freeze at about -10F.
The idea here is that instead of a drink becoming watered down as its ice cubes melt-the “dilution rate” in bartender-speak-it can become more intense. Drink designers can now manipulate the flavor dynamics of cocktails as never before.
Craft ice is already a point of emphasis at a number of mixologist-driven bars around the U.S. The business has gotten big enough that Denver-based ice machine maker Ice-O-Matic has jumped into the high-end ice market, too. Earlier this year, it introduced the Grande Cube, a machine that produces a cube that’s double the size of a typical ice machine cube.
“As enthusiasm for craft cocktails continues to grow, so does the need for larger ice cubes,” the company says. “After all, they melt slower, they stay colder and they seem to make every sip classier.
Many restaurants may be ready to upgrade their ice program by purchasing one of these new ice machines. More than a few already source super-pure craft ice in large blocks from outside suppliers and chip it off to order behind the bar. Among them: Yardbird in Las Vegas, which sources large-format clear ice from specialty maker Premium Ice. The restaurant also makes custom cubes including one that contains an olive that’s used for dirty martinis and one flavored with Dijon mustard for a cocktail called the Pork Chop.
If you want to know how far you can take an ice program, check out what they do at chef Grant Achatz’s Aviary in Chicago.
Unknowns remain. Mixologists will likely go into creative overdrive as soon as they’re able to get their hands on liquor ice cubes. But will customers be willing to pay an upcharge for specialty ice? In the fall of 2014, Washington, DC restaurant Second State made a bold move when it tried to charge customers $1 extra to make their cocktails with craft ice. Outrage ensued and the restaurant quickly dropped the surcharge.
The lesson: If your bar starts selling cocktails that have cubes made from liquor, think about building the extra cost in.
So will a restaurant’s bar customers be eager to try a drink made with liquor ice cubes if the price point is within reason? Let’s see what the mixologists come up with first, because we know on-the-rocks drinks will only be the beginning of what they will do. But it seems likely that the novelty factor alone could make this option a hit.