America's love affair with ice dates well before sno-balls, the Ice Bucket Challenge or Disney's Frozen – a couple hundred years, actually. Thanks to pioneers like the Tudor Ice Company and its founder, Boston's "Ice King" Frederic Tudor, blocks of ice made their way south from Boston in the early parts of the 19th century.
"Ice from up north was shipped in huge blocks down to New Orleans," says Braden LaGrone, a bartender at Cure, "so the original use of ice to make drinks was fairly simple in that you had one huge block that you could either cut down, shave or hammer. There was no machine; you just got the block and had to deal with the rest."
Over the years, evolutions in industry and technology made large bricks of ice a barroom fixture. Ice carving and shaving is still around, but it exists now as a form of showmanship. Whether for personal or commercial use, modern kitchens and bars have an array of ice-making machines. Ice options generally can be divided into two categories: crushed or cubed.
Crushed ice is known in the industry as "pebbles" or "chewable ice" and is preferable for only a handful of drinks.
"The general consensus is crushed ice is preferable for soft drinks," says Michael Haase, certified kitchen designer at Nordic Kitchens & Baths. The ice pebble also is the chosen style for most tiki drinks — cocktails such as mojitos and the fog cutters. "It is all about how the cocktail travels," LaGrone says. How a drink travels — in laymen's terms, the melting component — relates to surface area and dilution. "There is no chilling without dilution and no dilution without chilling," LaGrone says. "They are physically inseparable."
With cocktails, ice choice is all about production and presentation, LaGrone says. "You think about how the ice will look when the guest first gets their drink and what it will look like 10 minutes later when they are done."
For a mojito, if the ice pebbles are packed tightly, they will melt slowly in the glass. The Brilliance Nugget Ice Machine at Nordic Kitchens & Baths creates soft, chewable ice appropriate for this cocktail. The machine is a standard 15 inches wide and is installed under a counter. It produces about 80 pounds of ice in 24 hours. It is energy-efficient and can be used in an indoor or outdoor kitchen.
Haase warns that ice machines aren't quiet. "They are constantly running," he says. "The regular noise of the ice dropping and the pump whirling make some people reluctant to install one of these machines in an open floor plan situation."
Cure bartenders use a Kold-Draft machine that generates a 3/4-inch cube. "For production it can be a little bulky," LaGrone says. "But it works great for a Negroni or an Old Fashioned to keep it cold and not dilute too quickly."
A favorite of customers at Nordic Kitchens & Baths is the Sub-Zero 15" under-counter ice machine. "It integrates really well and can easily be fitted with panels to match the rest of the kitchen cabinets," Haase says. Ice machines require a water line and work best when placed near a sink. "Because the unit is constantly running, a drain is required to accommodate the fact that the ice on the bottom is melting out," Haase says.
People who want special ice without having to install a machine can find a selection of ice trays for festive needs at MJ's. "The fleur-de-lis silicone ice tray is great for parties," says co-owner Stacey Kerry. "They can also be used as Jell-O molds if you want to change it up."