Ice is not just ice

I'd go for the one on the left.

Dozois' "ice rock" on the left, typical ice on the right (Photo credit: Katie Robbins, for The Atlantic)

Gourmet ice? Yeah, it’s not really my thing either (I’m not much of a drinker, and when I do, it’s mostly microbrew.) But I found the story of entrepreneur Michel Dozois on the The Atlantic’s website to be pretty interesting and something that I find just tiny little bit terrifying as a chemist:

Although he was using recipes he’d made many times before, in this new setting, suddenly none were quite right. “My cocktails sucked. I’m pissed,” he recalls. “The ingredients were almost the same. The recipes, I know, I had them. They were great. That’s the moment where you’re like dude, what am I doing wrong? And you’re flipping out.”

It wasn’t until he took a sip from one of the rejected cocktail glasses, by then just a pool of melted ice, that he realized the source of the foul taste. “l looked down at that and I realized, it’s f–king sh–ty ice. That’s what that is. The ice is f–king up all of my cocktails. Every one of them.”

Now there’s something I haven’t been thinking about as a chemist, which is the contents of the ice that I’m throwing into reactions for cooling, dilution or precipitation. Dozois has begun selling gourmet ice to high-end bars in L.A. with different shapes. Some of Dozois’ ice (like the pictured “ice rock” above, left) allows for cooler drinks without as much dilution. His preparation is quite involved:

Dozois says the key lies in three principles—filtration, aging, and shape. The water is filtered twice, using reverse osmosis, through which he says the company loses about eight ounces of water for every one ounce preserved. Once purified, the water is then frozen, where it is aged for at least 48 hours, increasing its density and making it colder and stronger. Though other ice connoisseurs don’t age their frozen cubes, Dozois considers this step so integral to his product that he took the name Névé, the word for compacted snow that ultimately becomes glacial ice.

The ice is then cut into one of four different products. “Every cocktail calls for different dilution, different ice, different needs,” Dozois explains. In addition to the Old Fashioned cubes, Névé also makes sells a longer, narrower Tom Collins cube made for high ball glasses, and a sexy orb-shaped version, modeled after Japanese ice spheres. Of all the products, Dozois has a special fondness for the “shaking ice,” a small cornerless cube, which because of ageing and its unique design can withstand a vigorous joggle in a cocktail shaker without breaking.

While this doesn’t deal with reaction chemistry directly, I am reminded of the different uses of ice for precipitating compounds from solution. Certainly, you wouldn’t want one big block of ice (less surface area); you’d probably want a smaller, more pellet-like ice for the best precipitating results (and possibly, the best cooling of reactions.) Interesting how the same principles guide mixologists and chemists to different choices.


  1. Stewie Griffin says:

    I cringed when I read that it takes 9 ounces of water to get 1 ounce of purified water for ice…. seems quite wasteful. Hopefully they aren’t actually “losing” those 8 ounces but instead just re-filter them.
    I must say, if I wanted a nice cold beverage and I was worried about what type of water were in my ice, I would just put my alcohol in the freezer. Nice and cold, no problem with “f-king sh-ty ice” for me!

  2. “Some of Dozois’ ice (like the pictured “ice rock” above, left) allows for cooler drinks without as much dilution.”

    Assuming the cooling from the ice comes primarily from the heat absorbed as the ice melts (since the heat capacity of ice is negligible compared to its heat of fusion), this claim seems questionable. Certainly, altering the surface area-to-volume ratio can affect the cooling/dilution rates of the drink, but I’m not sure that this can make colder drinks without as much dilution. I’m disappointed that a science blog did not express more criticism about some of these claims.

    Anyway, some actual food scientists at the French Culinary Institute have done some nice studies about ice in cocktail making. See for example

  3. Yes, it is true: in LA, we will pay absurd markups for anything. Even the cheapest thing on Earth.

    I am going to start a company where I sell pure oxygen to smokers so their ciggies combust more cleanly. This LA traffic makes for some f–king sh–ty air.

  4. @Paul. Shut up about L.A. You’re in Pasadena anyways!

  5. Nah, man. I’m all Hollywood now. Universal just picked up my script: “Dali and Bengu: The Fabrication of Romance”

  6. No, I suppose not. You got me. (hangs head.)

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