MIXOLOGY TALK PODCAST #180

With the heat of the summer in full swing, we are all about ice this month! Today, Chris is talking with not one, but two experts in ice:

Whether you’re looking at tips for your own bar program, you want to practice making gorgeous clear ice at home, or you’re just wondering how the heck ice sculptors do what they do, you’re in for a fun education on making clear ice!

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INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS:

  • 1:27– Clinebell’s history & their machines
  • 5:03– Directional freezing at home
  • 9:30– How to do decorative freezing
  • 12:36– Introducing Gordon Bellaver from Penny Pound Ice
  • 18:40– Penny Pound Ice’s equipment
  • 22:18– Breaking down large format ice & using a chainsaw
  • 28:40– Penny Pound Ice’s ice production & offerings
  • 31:47– How can you ruin a block of ice (jump to 34:39 to hear about water pump usage)
  • 37:34– Tips for keeping a Kold Draft ice machine running
  • 42:20– Penny Pound Ice’s promotions, new products, and social media

MEET OUR GUESTS!

SCOTT CLINEBELL

The Clinebell name has always been synonymous with excellence in the ice industry. The Clinebell family has spent decades opening and operating packaged ice plants under the Tour Ice and Arctic Bell Ice names, and more notably creating and perfecting specialty ice equipment for a multitude of uses. Their most infamous line of equipment, the CB300 series, and the newly-unveiled Craft Ice or CI series represent the diamond standard in Clear Ice Production. Scott and his brother, Kevin, have spent their lives working alongside their father, Mike, a 2008 NICA Presidential Award recipient, and grandfather, Virgil, NICA Hall of Fame inductee; now the brothers find themselves at the helm of the company, helping some of the same customers whose calls they answered as children. Scott loves to share his knowledge and is always thrilled to see what the ice industry will bring next!

GORDON BELLAVER

Gorden began bartending in earnest after getting a job at The Varnish in 2014. One non-descript day, he asked Eric Alperin (co-owner of both the Varnish and Penny Pound Ice) if he needed some assistance with Penny Pound Ice, and here Gordon is, 5+ years later as a partner. Over those years, he has helped the company double in size every year until COVID reared its ugly head. These days, Gordon is busy working on how Penny Pound Ice can branch out to more bar wares, juices, and pre-made cocktail mixers (Penny Pouch™). In his personal life, he is an avid crossworder and dog lover.

MY ICE DOESN’T LOOK LIKE THAT AT HOME!

If you’re not an ice expert or you don’t work at a craft bar, chances are your ice looks like… well, plain ol’ ice. Turns out you need special equipment (or at least some knowledge on a particular freezing technique) to get your ice looking all fancy! 

EQUIPMENT

Detailed below are the machines that Penny Pound Ice uses to provide a variety of ice to their clients. (Hint: there’s a reason we’re talking to Scott Clinebell today, too!) If you’re in California, you can actually order directly from Penny Pound Ice or pick up a bag at your local Southern CA Bristol Farms. Although they previously catered to larger orders for bars and restaurants pre-COVID, the company recognizes the current at-home demand as well, as Gordon acknowledges:

“There are a lot of home enthusiasts out there, a lot of people who miss those creature comforts of being in a bar or bartenders who haven’t been able to make drinks and want to make drinks like they used to.”

So if you’re in the area, check them out! Gordon explains all of Penny Pound Ice’s offerings at minute 28:40, so be sure to listen to that if you’re interested in working with them. In the meantime, here is the equipment they use to meet all their clients’ ice needs:

CLINEBELL MACHINES

Clinebell Equipment Company is known for making work-horse machines that produce 300-lb. blocks of ice, but they also recently put out two new units that make 25-lb. blocks to cater to bars that don’t find it very practical to break down a giant slab of ice. With prices ranging between $3,800 and $7,000, Clinebells are geared toward commercial use. (Although I won’t judge if you decide that the CI-2 is just what you need for your home bar; I just want an invite when this pandemic is over!)

KOLD-DRAFT MACHINES

Kold-Draft is another popular company that offers ice makers designed for bars and restaurants. With a variety of machines that produce between 50 to 1,000 lbs. of ice a day, there’s sure to be a perfect unit for your establishment. But here’s the catch: Gordon warns that Kold-Draft machines are known for breaking down. Here are a couple tips he gives for maximizing your usage:

  • Ventilation is key!  When the machine heats up, it will break down. Wherever possible, avoid putting these machines in an unventilated room. If that’s not practical, use an exhaust fan right next to it to keep as much air blowing away from the machine as you can.
  • Let the machine produce all its ice at once because then it will calm down and stop working so hard.
  • Have a rough idea of how much you go through in a night because your machine very well might break down and you’ll need a company to come bring you some (like, ahem, Penny Pound Ice in the LA area).
  • I love that Gordon repeats this a few times: Make friends with your repair person!

SCOTSMAN MACHINES

When talking with Chris about tiki cocktails, Doc Parks mentioned Scotsman machines being amazing for pebble ice (the company calls these “nuggets”), and Gordon agrees. Although other companies make crushed or pebble ice machines, Scotsman machines come up again and again as being the best producer of this particular ice. 

DIRECTIONAL FREEZING

OK, but most of us probably aren’t going to buy a $5,000 ice machine that makes huge 250lb+ blocks of ice for home. (Right, Chris?) So how would you get the effect of clear ice at home? This is achieved using the same process that the Clinebell machines use: Directional freezing

Clinebell machines have a cold plate on the bottom that has direct contact with the ice so that they don’t have to rely on ambient temperature. According to Scott, ice expands about 9% as it freezes, so freezing from the bottom allows the ice to expand up instead of freezing down building pressure on the bottom. 

At home, you can achieve a similar effect (discovered and shared by our buddy, Camper English, who recently did an “Ask Me Anything” in our group): Essentially, you put a cooler of water in a conventional freezer with the top off (important) and allow the freezing ambient temperature cool the water from the top down. Jump to minute 5:03 to hear Scott explain directional cooling a little bit more, (or go straight to Camper for more.)

The beauty of clear ice is that it’s not only gorgeous and clean-looking but also a vehicle for a lot of potential creativity!

“You get a nice full depth of clear ice, which is a nice necessity when you’re trying to cut down into any of the additional shapes that you’re looking for.

And one thing that you can also do with that is that it also gives you the ability to add in additional artistic elements into the block that can come out with that clear ice all around it.”– Scott Clinebell

SO I HAVE A BIG BLOCK OF ICE… NOW WHAT?

Whether you buy a big block of ice, purchase a Clinebell machine to make it, or use Camper’s method to create a clear block at home, what are you going to do with it? If you’re not going to sculpt it (more on that in a bit), you’ll probably want to break it into usable serving ice. Gordon explains the process really thoroughly starting at minute 22:18, but I’ll go through the basic steps:

STEP 1: TEMPING (WARMING) THE ICE

What? You need to warm up the ice first before working with it? Well, yes, apparently this is super important. In fact, Gordon reiterates a few times that the easiest way to ruin your beautiful, clear ice is not to temp it properly, causing it to fracture when you cut it.

  • You must slowly let the ice “temp” so it doesn’t shatter as it cools; this will make the ice easier to work with as you break it down. The ice has to come close to the temperature of the air, which means it actually needs to start to melt so it won’t splinter as you work with it.
  • Once it comes out of the machine (or freezer), cover the ice block in a blanket or tarp to protect it from the elements once it comes out of the machine. This takes 1-3 hours depending on the size. (Remember, Gordon is working with giant ice blocks at Penny Pound Ice.)

STEP 2: BREAKING DOWN THE ICE

At Penny Pound Ice, they use electric chainsaws (which don’t require oil, so you don’t have to worry about getting non-food-safe oil in your ice– Gordon’s choice is the Stihl brand) and an assembly line of band saws to cut the blocks of ice.  At home, you might use a hand ice saw or even a bread knife and a mallet to break apart your ice with purposeful (but not too intense!) taps. (But, y’know, be careful please!)

STEP 3: REFREEZING

Once you’ve cut your ice, you need to refreeze it so it doesn’t actually melt-melt! 

TIPS & TRICKS FOR CUTTING ICE

Other than making sure you temp your ice correctly so it stays intact, Gordon offers a couple more tips for success:

  • Make sure your filtration system and water pumps are clean so you don’t end up with impurities in your ice. (Chris and Gordon talk a lot about this starting at minute 34:39.)
  • Wrap the cord of your chainsaw around your belt buckle or pants loop and go slowly. You don’t want to accidentally disconnect your saw or– even worse– cut into the cord itself if it’s sprawled out in front of you as you’re cutting.
  • If you do use a chainsaw, be careful not to saw at an angle on accident; you’ll waste a lot of ice that way!
  • Practice, but also don’t expect perfection:

“You need to be intent on where you’re going and knowing what you’re going to try to yield out of it, and just understanding that you might have some off cuts or some misplaced ones as well. But for that, too, you just need to practice. It’s a skill that bartenders in Japan do for hours on end, day in and day out, and we try to model them. Poorly. But it’s very therapeutic, and again, like you said, it has that very authentic feel once you can see what you can do with an ice block yourself once you break it down.” –Gordon Bellaver

GETTING FANCY WITH ICE

Breaking down ice for cocktails is just one way to utilize a big block. But there are so many inspired ice artists out there! 

PATTERNS & SCULPTING

We’ve all seen the traditional ice sculpting (swan, anyone?) that can be done using a Clinebell block of ice. But have you ever seen a snakeskin or honeycomb pattern in ice? The Edinburgh Ice Company is an ice manufacturer in Edinburgh, Scotland who partners with Clinebell and not only distributes ice but specializes in sculpting, including really cool decorative patterns in the ice. I mean, talk about creative!

“It’s not just a decorative element, but it can actually add into the overall sensory input that the end customer gets from a piece of ice.” –Scott Clinebell

DECORATIVE FREEZING

Another fun trend we’re seeing on the smaller scale is freezing items in ice. Anna Thurber is an ice artist and photographer who photographs her decorative freezing, which she does in a 5-gallon bucket. You can see more of her stunning work here

To create this decorative ice effect at home, you need to get your item(s) into the layer of ice as it’s freezing up. According to Scott, you can hold a grid over the freezing chamber with the decorative item held in alligator clips; let the ice freeze over the decorative element, release the alligator clips as it freezes around the element, and it will continue freezing up and around it. (He makes it sound so easy…)

If you try this at home, please share it with us!

WHAT’S ON THE HORIZON IN A COVID WORLD?

With the world upside down right now, companies are reinventing themselves to meet new demands, especially the service industry and those who cater to it (believe me, we know all about that!).

To respond to these changes, Clinebell just put out two smaller-producing machines, and Penny Pound is not only producing ice but is now offering juice, barware, and the new Penny Pouch, a pre-frozen cocktail mix that allows us to bring the bar home instead of going out right now. In a COVID world, it’s all about reinvention!

So how are you reinventing yourself during this time? Whether you’re creating new cocktails or playing with your own clear ice creations, we want to hear all about it. Come join us in our Facebook group and tell us all about your ice and cocktail adventures! 

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