Live from New Orleans!
Tales of the Cocktail Seminar: Let's Not Sugar-Coat It

Tales of the Cocktail Seminar: How to Build a Cutting-Edge Ice Program

Here are notes from the first seminar I've attended at Tales of the Cocktail.

How to Build a Cutting Edge Ice Program

  • Christy Pope - Cuff & Buttons, worked at Milk & Honey
  • Chad Solomon - Same as above, but also Pegu Club
  • Richie Boccato - Opened an ice company out of Dutch Kills
  • Joseph Schwartz - opened little branch


  • Glacial ice: because of the pressure from accumulating snow, the ice is compact and squeezes out all the air in it. - 
  • Water and Bismuth are only atoms that expand when they freeze. 

Good Ice vs. Bad Ice

  • Good ice: Big rock, holds its shape, slower melt rate, preserves drink at optimum balance (doesn't turn to slush in the glass), better aeration (because shaking longer because ice is bigger), bigger window of error between over- and under-shaking; both strong and petite bartenders can make the same quality drink. 
  • Though Harry Craddock said never to shake twice with the same ice, or serve with the same ice you shook with, but maybe with big ice you can. 
  • At Milk & Honey - started freezing, barbacks cutting them, putting ice into glasses and putting back into freezer. 
  • Milk & Honey - started with hotel pans - for 40 seats had 3 chest freezers plus one for cut ice. 
  • Little Branch has upright freezers (for the footprint), mak Collins spear - Tovolo ice cube tray, cutting out separators to get four spears from each. This saved time cutting up ice, wasted ice and effort. Takes 2 hours to prepare the ice for the shift each day, including all ice work and setting the bar. This serves 500-600 cocktails on a busy night. 
  • Also they have different cut ice for shaking but now use the Tovolo "King Cube" trays. They use this ice for shaking and for a single old-fashioned. 
  • To set up they pull molds out of freezers along with pans of ice (just switched to delivered slabs of ice instead of freezing them) - these slabs of ice are cut up and used for double old-fashioned glasses - plus fill them up after cutting for next day.
  • Upright freezers, slab delivery, King Cube molds helped increase capacity and speed of ice program at Little Branch.
  • Scotsman ice machine - pellet ice - better than crushed ice. 
  • At Pegu Club - Kold Draft ice machine, double-stacked. Seating for 100 plus standing. At another bar, added chest freezer to a similar program for high-volume. 
  • Water for an ice program. Water source and quality varies greatly between cities. Southern Cali - reverse osmosis with ion exchange filter for ice program. Everything else (for ice machines) used a water softener system. 
  • Richie of Dutch Kills: Queens water is "disgusting." So bought block ice. Both cut in advance of shift start and during slow times in bartenders' shift. 
  • To make clear ice: hot water and filtered help a little, but the solution is buying it made from a Clinebell machine. Okomoto Studio in NYC - provide the nice ice for Dutch Kills.  
  • Clinebells - Need to put it in a good spot, but can get a block every 2.5 to 3 days. Freezes from bottom up from a cold plate. A pump rotates the water. The tank never fully freezes fully. You scrape off the top where the impurities are. 
  • Weatherup - has one Clinebell machine in Tribecca that is the entire ice program. Make shaking, stirring, glass ice. 
  • This one is cost-effective. If you have a half-way confident HVAC tech it's quite easy to maintain. Clinebell $6000 brand new, but you can buy refurbished and get an 8 year warranty. $2800 or so for refurbished. You can also get a hoist from Clinebell or buy one from an auto-parts store. Buy one there. 
  • The hoisting process is th emost physically dangerous to humans. 
  • Chainsaw is only $50 or so, other tools are common carpentry hammers and chisels. "You don't need fancy tools; you can buy it at the hardware store."
  • Zane Harris now uses a vertical bans saw that has a teetering platform. 
  • Hundred weight - another place Richie has that has 2 Clinebell machines. Climate-controlled room (cold). They make, cut, and store the ice all in an insulated room. 
  • Ice handling - don't set a block down on a room-temperature table; the block will crack. "Ambient temperature is very important." 
  • Don't shake with ice fresh out of the freezer - will crack and thus make the point of large ice moot. 
  • Keep big ice on top of crushed ice in a metal pan at the bar.
  • Aviary in Chicago uses blast freezers. $5000 - $15000 cost.
  • It's pointless to have an ice program like this unless you have glass frosters for every piece of glassware! - Christie
  • Breaking down a block: Consider the glassware for size, and use that to determine what kind of cuts to make. Start with your largest cubes, becuase if you break them you can use it for other purposes. 
  • Don't let ice sit in Tovolo trays too long with ice in it or it picks up silicone flavors. 
  • Keep your Kold Draft tuned, or you get bad ice. 
  • It might be more cost-efficient to rent a Kold Draft machine that comes with maintenence rather than to buy it. 
  • Richie says you can use an iron to smooth cubes. Google Okomoto Studios - look up video on Martha Stewart, shows ironing of ice.   

 And here is an index of all of the ice experiments on Alcademics.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Great article, Camper. I'm curious as to the reasoning behind the belief that having a great ice program is useless unless you're chilling your glassware. Perhaps you could enlighten me on that?


Camper English

Hmm trying to recall. I think she said so because the temperature of the glassware makes a big difference to the final drink, so having warm glasses would negate the effects of getting your drink/ice to the perfect temperature.

Big Z

For the tovolo ice spears (from little branch)--are they using the standard 1x1 tray? I can see how that would yield either 3 5inch spears or 5 3inch spears--not sure how that is producing 4 spears at a time.
Also any ideas / experimentations on how to cut the tovolo trays (does anyone have a favorite tool or just boxcutter and hope?)

Camper English

Sorry I don't have any answers on this on Big Z.

Bruce Tomlinson

Only a year late..... I just read this.
It was the longer spears. At least that's what I remember. I think there could have been drinking involved.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)