by Tommy Feisel

In House: Cocktail Ice

Curio at Harvest is a bar where they take their drinks very seriously, from the ingredients of the cocktails, to the frozen water they pour them over on the way to the bottom of your glass.

It ain’t just ice. It’s “the soul of any beverage,” according to owner Travis Owens.

The program Curio has put in place to create the frozen artifacts is simple: Just a cooling mechanism, a knife and a hammer. This is the stuff of the old times: simple, but labor intensive.

And all for that crystal-clear finish. 

What you may think is just a fancy garnish melting away in your glass is in fact, a purposeful component of each drink, and a piece of the production puzzle that Owens and his team take extra steps to procure.

Just like anything in a good cocktail bar—something that takes seconds to sip is often the product of hours of thoughtful, tedious work.

And for Owens, it starts long before he flips the lights on at Curio.

He and a fellow bartender have similar setups at each of their respective homes, using directional freezing to ensure the purity of their product. This is done with a series of insulated trays that enable standard tap water to freeze from one direction while forcing any heavy particulates (chlorine, fluoride) in your water to the bottom, underneath what ends up being a crystal-clear, bubble-free layer of ice. The freezing process can take anywhere from 24 hours to three days depending on the size of your container. The key is to remove the container before everything is frozen solid. This way, the unwanted heavy particulates are still contained in the bottom portion of unfrozen water. Once this block is removed from the container and the unwanted water is drained off, the block will need to temper (get closer to room temp) for 20 minutes to an hour. Then it is cut to size with a bandsaw and placed back into a chest freezer before transport.

Owens and his employees are freezing water nonstop in order to keep up with demand. Armed with two large chest freezers and a bandsaw at each location, two people can produce about 350 cubes a week to produce four different custom-designed cube sizes that pair with specific elixirs at Curio. (We especially like the five-inch tall blocks highlighting their highballs).

So why does the cold stuff matter so much, when it would save time and money to use a standard-issue restaurant ice maker? Only a true mixologist could wax poetic about ice cubes, but Owens can do just that. Not only are the tiny blocks important for technical reasons, like temperature, dilution, weight, texture, but quality ice is also important, he insists, for the subconscious. All of these technical factors play into the idea of having a more sophisticated cocktail. Every aspect is controlled for. Curio ice is dense and almost glasslike. If one aspect of a cocktail is neglected, he reasons, then the entire user experience suffers. They strive to execute each cocktail in all facets: taste, appearance, temperature, weight, garnish, vessel, and ice all play key roles in that experience. When the folks at Curio spend countless hours painstakingly developing recipes, juice fresh daily, create everything in-house, and use superior distillates to create every beverage, the question is not so much ‘why?’ as it is ‘why stop short?’