Fat Ice Company Puts the Cool in Your Cocktail
Pure ice means pure imbibing
Ice isn't just a summertime ingredient, and aside from a few cold weather staples like hot toddies and Irish coffee, cocktails are best served cold. "Ice is the foundation on which you build your drinks. When sipping on premium cocktails and spirits, the ice – if not pure – can alter the flavor dramatically. Ever had a glass of iced tea using old freezer ice? It tends to taste like whatever was in the freezer," says Javier Flores, owner of Fat Ice Company. After all, nothing says craft cocktail like freezer-burned leftover chili.
Flores made it his goal "to make crystal clear, large-format ice bigger and better than anyone else" after seeing a need in the local bar and restaurant scene. "I used to do it all in house and I took a lot of pride in that. The bartender can make the chunks and shave them down to their exact specifications, but this takes time, and in the restaurant biz, time equals money. Saving on the labor and avoiding the dangers that come with carving down 300-pound blocks – it tends to be a better idea to outsource at that point," he explains. Immersed in the bartending world since 2001, Flores knows not only the logistics involved with serving perfect ice, but the importance.
Sure, the concept of artisanal ice seems beyond meticulous (and very American) but ice can make or break even a perfectly balanced cocktail. Many recipes call for specific forms – cubed, cracked, crushed, or blocked – depending on the ingredients. While mint juleps and mojitos call for crushed ice, a more stately cocktail, such as an Old Fashioned, demands a more stalwart piece of ice. The two-inch cubes have a bigger surface area, which means it melts slower. Less dilution means more consistency, and if you're going to invest in high-quality whiskey (see "Eat, Drink, Bee Merry," Dec. 8, 2017), it's best not to detract from its body and flavor with a withering pool of formerly-known-as ice.
It starts with the water: Cleaner water equals cleaner ice. Graded on criteria similar to diamonds (clarity, cut, color), the ice craved by mixologists and craft cocktail enthusiasts alike has a glasslike aesthetic. "This is, simply put, the best ice on the planet," says Flores. "The ice is crystal clear reverse osmosis Clinebell-grown ice." The name Clinebell (practically synonymous with high-quality ice) refers to the machine that makes the same enormous blocks of "perfect" ice that artists use for their event sculptures. While several cocktail programs around town have their own in-house craft ice people, Flores says only two use Clinebell ice – Half Step and Small Victory. "Other than that, if you use large-format ice in Austin, you get it from Fat Ice." Ice made in this manner is reportedly more solid, having been cooled slowly from the bottom up, to eliminate the impurities caused by trapped air bubbles. From there, it's cut down to precise sizes and shapes.
On his favorite way to employ ice in his beverages, Flores says, "If I feel extra fancy, I like my whiskey served over an ice diamond or hand-chipped sphere. It tends to sparkle in the light. But in all honesty, Chardonnay in my 32-ounce tumbler with two big pieces in it is a guilty pleasure for sure."
Fat Ice Company products are available at Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods and through www.faticeco.com.
Sign up for the Chronicle Cooking newsletter
If you want to submit a recipe, send it to email@example.com