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Kold Draft Ice Machine History from Dale DeGroff

I was emailing with Dale DeGroff about the new edition of his book The New Craft of the Cocktail: Everything You Need to Know to Think Like a Master Mixologist, with 500 Recipes and ice came up, as it does. It turns out he was using the big 1.25 inch (32 mm) Kold-Draft cubes at the Rainbow Room way back in the day. 

I was not aware that the machine went back that far. I first became familiar with it at the new bars of the craft cocktail renaissance around 2006-2010. Here's me quoting myself in a story:

“I used to say at the time that the Venn diagram of America’s best cocktail bars and bars that owned Kold-Draft machines was a near-perfect circle,” recalls drinks journalist and ice enthusiast Camper English.

I forgot that I gave that quote in a story written by Drew Lazor for Punch.  So I forgot that I'd already read some of the brand history. Lazor also wrote: 

Manufactured since 1955 in Erie, Pa., Kold-Draft once dominated domestic placements “in bars, restaurants, hospitals, and fishing and sporting locations, because of the long life of the cubes,” according to DeGroff.

DeGroff was first introduced to Kold-Draft in 1984 by the late restaurateur Joe Baum, who installed two of the machines at Manhattan’s Rainbow Room, the post from which the pioneering DeGroff helped spark the modern cocktail revival. During this era, a definite ebb in American barcraft, Kold-Draft had largely faded from prominence, ceding ground to cheaper, quicker machines that spat out smaller, faster-melting cubes. As DeGroff’s detail-oriented approach to drink-making gained steam, ice became a major talking point again—and he stumped for Kold-Draft so passionately in the press that the company brought him on as a consultant.




Meanwhile, I followed up with Dale DeGroff, basically asking "Oh you had Kold Draft then? I didn't realize it was around that long." He replied to me:

The Kold-Draft company had a monopoly on ice machines for bars and restaurants, sporting lodges (fishing parties loved them for long outings to keep the fish fresh in their coolers), hospitals for bedside pitchers, anywhere that big cubes that lasted were needed. Joe [Baum] used those machines starting in 1953 at the Newarker Restaurant and used them throughout the RA properties, Four Seasons, Las Fonda Del Sol Forum of the 12 Caesars etc. etc...

The demise of that company came swiftly in the late 1970's and early 1980's. The Japanese swept into the market with machines that made all manner of small ice very quickly so bars could get away with one instead of two machines. That was the "...tini" era of sweet and fruity drinks and that sort of ice was actually helpful in cutting the cloying sweetness of many popular juicy style drinks.

The serious on-the-rock scotch and other strong spirits drinkers were not too thrilled, but they were a dwindling crowd.

I worked for Kold-Draft from early 1990s as a consultant through the early new millennium to drive bar restaurant business back in their direction. Julie [Reiner] and Audrey [Saunders] all went with them but then the problems started.

The company was floundering with three different owners and 4 different president / CEOs and they hadn't kept up with the improving technology so their machines needed constant repairs. The trick became to lease the machines with a service contract rather then buy.

Then early millennium (I think) there was a possible merger with Hoshizaki that fell through when Kold-Draft sold again, but not before Hoshizaki got the moving water large cube technology that made those cubes special. They improved the technology, but could only use that particular machine in Europe at first. I don't know where that is these days, maybe they finally were able to introduce their larger cube machines in the USA.




So good ice used to be a thing and it was killed by disco drinks! 

My understanding of the status of Hoshizaki in the US is that their largest cube is a bit smaller than Kold-Draft; about 1 inch by 1.25" rather than 1/25" square. In Europe, they have adapters for the machines that can make larger cubes, ping pong ball-sized spheres, and shapes like hearts and stars. They have a briefcase they display at Bar Convent Berlin every year that instead of being filled with diamonds like in a heist movie, is filled with ice options. 

The reason we don't see those shapes of ice in the US, from my understanding, is that they do not meet US energy compliance standards. 


Anyway, that's enough ice talk for today, See you tomorrow probably. 




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John Petty

I own a local commercial refrigeration company in Lake Charles La and reading about the Kold-Draft ice machine brought back a lot of memories. They were somewhat of an unconventional design and I really enjoyed repairing them. Actually the very first Hoshizaki ice machine that I ever worked on was basically a clone of a Kold-Draft. The only difference was that Hoshizaki had more of their own designed electronics. This was back in the late 80's or early 90's. I believe that the downfall of Kold-Draft came when they introduced their electronic cyber which had a control board and water level probes. The electronics were not very reliable on them and I know it must have cost them quite a bit in warranty labor claims. Anyway thanks for the article and bringing back some fond memories.

Camper English

Thanks for sharing John!

James DeFrance

"My understanding of the status of Hoshizaki in the US is that they're largest cube is a bit smaller than Kold-Draft; about 1 inch by 1.25" rather than 1/25" square." You have they're/their usage error here.

Camper English

@James Fixed, thanks.

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