Ice Cubes

A few days ago I had a really bad stomach incident, and was forced to forgo food for a couple of days. In the course of the day I ate a bagel, and drank some Gatorade to ensure I kept up with my electrolytes. It was warm when I bought it at the store, so I got some ice cubes out of the freezer in the house we’re renting in Los Angeles.

Well, the drink was foul-tasting, because the ice was yucky. There’s no other way of explaining it. Even though it came from the freezer, it was obvious that it had acquired whatever smells had been in the fridge over God knows how long, and the tap water it was using as a source was running through 50 year old pipes as well.

That afternoon, while suffering on the couch like a Civil War amputee, I opened the New York Times to find an article about a phenomenon I had already noticed previously: there’s an ice age going on.

What do I mean? Go down to Whole Foods, Bristol Farms, or any number of premium supermarkets or liquor shops, and you will find a whole range of high-end ice makers selling bags of super-clear, differently shaped ice in the freezer section.

Bottled water is finally on the decline. It has become unfashionable to drink bottled water in a time when people realize that the carbon footprint of mineral water is unacceptable – shipping it, cooling it, the petroleum and energy necessary to manufacture plastic bottles, and the fact that they’re non-biodegradable. My friends and family already know that bottled water is my little personal pet peeve – though I’m sure they’d be quick to point out places where I’m not that environmentally sensitive.

…but I guess the same people that used to sell bottled water have now moved on to pre-bagged ice. It’s a whole science, and of course there are plenty of internet sites dedicated to the methodology of “farming” ice. A big hit seems to be boiling distilled water, in order to release any remaining air. When you freeze that, it comes out crystal clear, not like that white ice coming out of the Sub-Zero freezer in the kitchen. The Japanese, as often, are leading this particular food science.

Shape matters too. You can get hollow tubes of ice, perfect cubes, bigger orbs (think small rugby balls) that have a minimum amount of surface area and thus melt slower while keeping your drink cool. There are also ices available specifically “dimpled” for those who enjoy chewing ice… to me those were always the nervous kids, or those too lazy (or tapped out) to go back to the bar for a fresh one.

I am glad I’m no longer at the age where I hang around bars. That post-teen early-career phase in life where you go to a cocktail lounge was never really my thing, though in retrospect I remember doing an awful lot of it, and actually having a good time. I guess I’ve always complained preemptively. Anyway, I was frequently annoyed by the slicker in a suit jacket who would order a highly specific drink in order to seem sophisticated – not in terms of its preparation, I do that, too. I mean the people who swear they can taste the difference between one version of a brand vodka and the other, specifying the mixer, and the garnish. “I’ll have a Grey Goose Limited martini with Noilly Prat vermouth, and a twist of organic lemon.”… Yeah, you’re a pratt alright… Well guess what: now you can hear them add the ice brand… “… with some Hoshizaki chips” or maybe some old-school Kool-Draft cubes.

One thought though… since reading the article last week, I have noticed the clarity and shape of ice with every drink that’s been served to me, and I can’t help but notice when they’re clear and cubed. I really like that.

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