Artisan-Quality Ice Finally Moves From Cocktail Bar to Home — Your G&T Will Never Be the Same
Artisanal ice has been trending for years in mixology circles, but crystal-clear ice in even the most basic shapes has been, until recently, out of reach for the home mixologist — unless said enthusiast owns a band saw.
Quari Ice would like to change that. In 2015, husband and wife entrepreneurs Neil and Audrey Sullivan set out to turn the home ice game on its ear. The couple spent two years developing their proprietary operation, a process that included numerous trips to Japan, much trial and error, and plenty of expert advice on innovation.
Most artisan ice production begins with the Clinebell Equipment Co., an ice-maker from Colorado that produces giant 300-pound blocks of ice for industrial use and ice carvers. Forty-gallon water chambers are chilled from below, while water is constantly pumped across the top layer. The ice freezes layer by layer, forcing out impurities, especially bubbles and air pockets that cause cloudiness. After three days, the clear blocks are frozen solid, ready to be broken down by band saw, chain saw and chisel.
Quari uses Clinebell machines in some of its production, but the Sullivans also turned to master Japanese mixologist and ice guru Hidetsugu Ueno for guidance on how to cost-effectively create the perfect cube and sphere that many bars in Japan and the U.S. are known for.
Ueno guided the Sullivans in bringing on Japanese ice-quarrying technology (hence the product’s name, which also reflects the Japanese word for ice — “kori”) to machine-shape the ice, which is then hand-finished individually in a crafting room.
Why spend the extra money on fancy ice at home? Quari cubes and spheres are startlingly clear, which adds aesthetic appeal to home mixed cocktails. That glassy sparkle also represents purity — the Sullivans’ water is purified through five layers of filtration in Quari’s Fulton Street production facility, and then continues through a process of reverse osmosis and ultraviolet light treatment to purify even further. “We remove impurities on a molecular level,” says Neil Sullivan, “because they weaken the bonds of the ice.” That leads to the next benefit — long-lasting, slow-melting ice that keeps drinks colder longer, without diluting your expensive whiskey or your carefully calibrated paloma.
Developing consumer packaging was key “because no one has ever bought ice in a box, for crying out loud,” Sullivan says. The cubes are nestled in specially corrugated boxes and should be treated like ice cream — whisked home quickly and popped in the freezer.
Quari supplies ice to many top Chicago restaurants and mixologists, like Kirill Kuznetsov, lead bartender at Smyth and The Loyalist, who prizes the strength and remarkable clarity of their spheres and pleasingly symmetrical cubes.
Ultimately, though, Quari’s existence is not just about the Sullivans’ desire to crush the ice world. Quari is partnering with local organizations like Cara to employ people who are finding their way out of poverty and can become part of a growing team of ice-crafters who learn to freeze, cut, carve and finish the ice. And make some cold hard cash along the way.
Quari Ice is available at some Binny’s stores. Spheres, 2 ½ inches in diameter are $6.99 for a four-pack, $17.99 for a 12-pack. Cubes are 1.8 inches, $4.99 per four-pack, $11.99 per 12-pack.
Lisa Futterman is a freelance writer.