Ice, Ice, Baby
From tiki-crushed ice to the long Collins blocks, ice is an essential part of the cocktail. How you handle it determines the final texture, temperature and taste of the drink itself. Now artisanal ice, up and coming in craft culture-forward cities, is here in South Florida.
Mixology Ice, a local business, is looking to change the way we think about ice. I met Carlos Manuel Leal at the Freehand’s cocktail-focused event, Drink Miami Hostel, where he was serving ice spheres with three different punches. His company promotes crystal-clear ice cuts in all shapes that yield “the lowest melting rate and the minimum dilution Miami heat can afford.”
The company started when Leal, a commodity trader-turned-entrepreneur, and business partners Fabian Alvarez and Libia Martinez kept running into problems with ice at their event company Rum & Coffee Events, which offered cocktail bars as part of their services. “We had to buy a lot of ice, and it would just melt away and people would complain all the time,” Leal says. “All cocktails, regardless of the mixologist’s efforts, ended up melty and spoiled.”
There’s a lot of thinking surrounding what entails proper ice. One idea is that impurities in water lead to cloudy ice with air bubbles and more nucleation points, which means a faster melting rate. If the water is good – low in sediments and minerals and well balanced – that results in ice that will not mess with your drink’s flavor or smell. Good water not only does not change the spirit taste, but in many cases, enhances the flavor and opens hidden taste notes to our palates.
They took it upon themselves to find the perfect ice for their customers. “We started doing research and touring around the ice-making businesses because I couldn’t believe people didn’t have any other type of ice,” Leal says. “It turns out nobody had good ice.” He asked a couple of the big ice-making companies to make him tailored machines so that he could sell and promote their ice. They all declined his offer.
That’s when Leal and company took another approach. They turned to ice sculptors for insight. They met their colleague, Dean Carlson, a certified ice master carver who was captain of the U.S. Ice Sculpting Team during the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics (yes, that’s a thing).
Ice used for sculpting can’t have any air bubbles or impurities, so Carlson showed them the best way to freeze it. For his ice sculpture clients, he would add some extra 2x2" squares to the order, but he didn’t see profit from it. But Leal the commodity trader saw an opportunity. “I went to all the factories here that claimed to sell gourmet or specialty ice … I found out they didn’t have the technology nor the time to do it properly. And the carvers had too much on their plate. So there was a huge gap in between that they could fulfill.”
How It's Done
Mixology Ice began buying Carlson’s ice sheets and cutting them into square blocks and spheres for their events and to sell to restaurants and clients across town. A month later, after positive feedback and momentum, they begun building their own machines and experimenting with purifiers. They bought a Clinebell machine, about the size of an industrial oven, that freezes a block of ice from the bottom. Pumps above the water circulate, an action that mimics how a lake, pond or river freezes. They then cut the ice into squares, spheres and Collins columns, and have done custom orders for ice with flowers, gold, lemon peels and agave frozen inside of them.
The team at Mixology Ice still caters events from time to time, but all their profits go back into perfecting ice. You can find their creations in the craft cocktail programs at Finka Table and Tap, Lure Fishbar, Sweet Liberty, Baby Jane, 1306, The Anderson, Broken Shaker, Neme Gastro Bar and The Local; and hotels like The Shorecrest (at Byblos), Faena, Soho Beach House, the Diplomat Resort and Spa Hollywood and The Miami Beach Edition. They also do specialty sushi blocks for Zuma.
Mixology Ice is also working alongside JoJo Tea and Panther Coffee to perfect their iced libations. “We need to sell other products that require ice,” Leal says. “We gotta make something that people can rely on and that later on they start using for their own water.”
Customers can buy bagged Mixology Ice at Vintage Liquors at the Shops at Midtown. There’s also a delivery service.