ST. PAUL, Minn. (FOX 9) - Just about any night of the week, there are people bellied up to the bar to get a taste of a craft cocktail. One of the ingredients in these intoxicating concoctions, however, is leaving the other drinks out in the cold.
"It elevates the cocktail as a whole," said Johnathan Sahf of Revival St. Paul.
At Revival St. Paul, there's nothing old fashioned about the ice in its classic drinks. It’s crystal clear there is something different about the huge cubes of ice and they make customers melt.
"People are trying to get creative with their cocktails any way they can, and ice plays a big part in it," said Sahf.
The artisanal ice is made by a company called Minnesota Ice, which is based in St. Paul. The company started about five years ago when owner Robbie Harrell started an ice sculpting business with a friend as part of an entrepreneur project at the University of St. Thomas.
They soon realized the ice sculpting robot they built could make some cold hard cash carving 2-inch by 2-inch squares for bars and restaurants in the then-new craft cocktail scene.
"I stopped at Eat Street Social,” said Harrell. “It was one of the original craft cocktail bars. I asked the gentleman, ‘Where do you get this ice?’ He said, ‘We take 300-pound blocks down to our basement and we hand chip them into cubes.’ I was like holy cow. I've got learn more on why they are doing this."
Since then Harrell's idea has snowballed into 280 bars and restaurants around the Twin Cities.
Different designs can be etched onto the ice to make a signature cocktail.
His company's artisanal ice cubes come in all shapes and sizes from oversized cubes and cylinders to shards and rods to fit different types of glasses. They can even etch a client's name or logo onto the cubes, making the cocktails they are in into signature showstoppers.
"What happens when you go to the Hewing Hotel and they have our cylinder with a logo on it,” said Erik Eastman, the Minnesota Ice director of sales. “The first time you see one of those go out at 3 o'clock at the bar. You get all these other people seeing it, ‘What's that? What's that?’ More get ordered. They get Instagrammed, shared on social media. A lot of places are using marketing or advertising dollars to purchase ice."
Minnesota Ice charges about a quarter a cube - the fraction of the cost of an average craft cocktail. To some, though, spending that much on ice is stone cold crazy.
"When you have a nice cocktail and a nice bourbon you don't want it to be diluted,” said Harrell. “So if you have an ice cube with no air bubbles in it. You get less dilution and it keeps your drink cold."
At their new facility in St. Paul, workers freeze about 200 300-pound blocks of ice in a week, then break them down into 22,000 cocktail-sized cubes. They use the extra ice blocks to make sculptures, bars and just about anything else made of ice you can think of.
"It’s been a wild ride,” said Harrell. “Starting in my own garage when I dropped out of college to tell my parents I think I'm going to sell ice for a living. They looked at me like I'm crazy. Four or five years later here we are."
Whatever happens with the craft cocktail boom, Harrell hopes his artisanal ice will always be cool.
"As people continue to develop on the craft cocktail scene you'll always need a good piece of ice to be in there,” said Harrell. “There's no other material that can do the job better than a crystal clear piece of ice."