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The History of the Ice in Your Glass

Posted by Aaron Frankel on
The History of the Ice in Your Glass

When you fill your hand-blown glass with ice from the refrigerator ice maker, you probably don’t realize that those cubes have a very complicated history. In fact, it’s easy to take frozen water dispensed from an appliance for granted. It wasn’t so easy to find ice 200 years ago.

There was a time when people didn’t even think they needed ice. Somehow humanity got along for centuries without the stuff in their home. One guy, known as the “Ice King” had to convince them. From then to now, your ice has taken a long and very weird journey into your custom glassware.

The Ice King

Long before ice was a hot commodity, Frederic Tudor came up with the idea to ship ice to the Caribbean while eating ice cream. In the winter of 1806, he chipped some ice off a lake on his father’s farm in Massachusetts and put it on a boat headed south. The Boston Gazette quipped, “No joke. A vessel has cleared at the Custom House for Martinique with a cargo of ice. We hope this will not prove a slippery speculation.”

Shocking no one, most of the ice melted before it arrived at its destination. However, Tudor still managed to sell the rest for a whopping $4,500. In the years that followed, the ice trade floundered as Tudor struggled to convince new customers they needed ice. It took him a while but eventually, he was selling so much ice, he had to come up with a way to mass-produce ice. The solution? Horses pulling plows over frozen lakes to cut giant blocks of ice. Makes sense, right?

Tudor made a fortune on his ships filled with ice that sailed as far as Europe where overheated wealthy people paid a high price for it. As the years went on, the Ice King experimented with new ways to insulate the ice so that he could stop losing half his cargo to melt every year. But overall he stuck to the same cycle: cut the ice, put it on a boat, sell it.

Ice Making

Ice blocks were all the rage by the mid-1800s. Ice kept meat and dairy fresh and it also cooled off hot people in the middle of summer in ice houses. But cutting enormous hunks of ice off lakes in the middle of winter was a dangerous job. Ice cutters suffered broken limbs and other injuries while those giant chunks of ice often stacked high in storage, tended to fall over and crush people from time to time. 

In response, Dr. John Gorrie stopped practicing medicine so he could design refrigeration and cooling technology. Unfortunately, even though he designed an early version of the ice maker in 1845, it never caught on. It took more than 20 years for the beef industry in Texas to pick up where Gorrie left off and start using commercial ice makers to keep the meat fresh.

Once the commercial ice maker took off, it moved like wildfire. Soon the average household had more access to ice than ever before. Ice became a common cocktail ingredient just in time for Prohibition. When the 21st Amendment was ratified in 1933, about one percent of homes had refrigerators. Less than 20 years later, that percentage rose to 80 percent. Ice had finally made it as a household name.

Modern Ice

Home refrigeration made everyone an ice king (or monarch of choice), no frozen lake required. I came cubed or crushed. Anyone could fill their glass with the ice of their choice anytime they liked. It became so commonplace it was almost boring.

After about half a century, bartenders took up the mantle of ice innovators. After all, when you’re pouring the really good stuff, you want it in an amazing custom glass, like a Legends Drinkware glass tumbler, with pristine ingredients — including ice. And so craft ice was born.

Craft ice is clearer than its traditional counterpart. To get that clarity, it’s frozen slower to allow bubbles that cause cloudiness to escape. The method also amplifies density for a harder and often colder effect. A spherical or large cube design boosts surface area as well while limiting how much melted water releases into the drink.

Craft Ice At Home

When the trend first kicked off, bartenders cut these unique ice pieces themselves from specially made blocks of ice. Since then, molds have become available that allow anyone to freeze tap water into giant cubes or spheres. 

For those looking to get perfectly clear ice, that’s also possible. Here’s how:

  1. Freeze a large block of ice. Do this by filling a cooler with warm water. It needs to be a cooler that fits in your freezer. Let it freeze for at least 18 hours.
  2. Remove the block of ice from the cooler. Flip it over and let it sit in the sink for a few minutes. It will drop out when it’s ready but if it might need a few shakes.
  3. Shave off the frosty bits on the outside to reveal the crystal clear ice. 
  4. Use a serrated knife to cut the block into the pieces — either cubes or spheres. You’ll need to run the knife back and forth, scoring the ice in strips. Once a stip falls off, use the same method to cut it into cubes.
  5. If you’d like to continue shaping the ice, use an ice pick to get it down to the right shape and size.
  6. If you’re not using the ice immediately, seal it in a container and store it in the back of your freezer to keep them as cold as possible.

If you’re not interested in getting their hands dirty — or cold in this case — there are plenty of places that sell craft ice too. And new technology even means that craft ice makers are now available in refrigerators. 

Of course, craft ice calls for a handcrafted custom glass, like Legends Drinkware.

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