CHICAGO - When you order a cocktail in a bar, you probably don't give much thought to the ice inside of it.
But a new business on the South Side, called Just Ice, does. They are creating "craft ice," which now sits in the freezers of well over 100 bars and restaurants in the Chicago area including Prairie School, a new cocktail bar in the Google Building, across from the Ace Hotel.
"So we use large, two-by-two cubes for Old Fashioned-type drinks or things that we want to be enjoyed longer and dilute slower," said Kristina Magro, a bartender at Prairie School.
Just Ice is located inside The Plant, a food-focused incubator in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, where Just Ice keeps things cool in the basement.
"The No. 1 reason is because it's beautiful, first of all. It's denser, so it melts slower, it dilutes the cocktail less and it makes an excellent garnish," said Rosanna Lloyd, the co-owner of Just Ice, Inc.
The key? Massive freezers called Clinebells, which do three things to make clear ice blocks.
"You need circulation, ability for expansion and a uni-directional freeze. These machines provide those three things," said Lloyd.
The blocks are hoisted out, moved to a cutting table, then trimmed into one of seven different sizes. Measured for accuracy, they come in long spears or short cubes, kept frozen every step of the way, until they're packaged and shipped out in coolers, to any of their 150 clients in the region, including Prairie School, where Magro showed me how she makes an Old Fashioned. First muddling some orange zest, bitters and an Amarena cherry. She adds simple syrup for sweetness, then a few ounces of brandy.
One-inch Hoshizaki ice cubes are added to the glass, stirred for a good 20 seconds to help dilute it. She places a two-inch cube into a rocks glass, and strains the drink over it.
"So you're getting more of the spirit and the mixer and less of the water content from the one-by-one cubes you'd normally use," said Magro.
A highball spear is the other shape they buy from Just Ice, and like the two-inch cube, they put their own stamp on it.
"We stamp it with our logo on top so not only is it clear, but we kind of make it a point that you notice the ice by stamping it on top," she said. "It is perfectly clear which makes the cocktail shine, but we also don't want to water-down the cocktails."
The term 'hand-crafted cocktail' is certainly not new in Chicago, but you better get used to this term: custom ice cube. Cheers to that.
EXTRA COURSE: A drink from Prairie School that uses hand-cranked and shaved ice -- the texture of snow -- to make a drink inspired by the lemon ice at Johnnie's Beef in Elmwood Park
Extra Course: Lemon Ice
326 N. Morgan St., Chicago
JUST ICE, INC.
1400 W. 46th St., Chicago