Michel Dozois is pinning the success of his two-year old company on the dubious thrills of watching ice melt.
When courting new clients, Dozois, the owner of Los Angeles's Névé Luxury Ice Company, sits them down for a simple experiment. He fills two Old Fashioned glasses with ice—the first with conventional cubes, the second with his company's "ice rock," a single large cube, which takes up about 50 percent of the glass—and tops them with a dram of good whisky (his spirit of choice is Laphroig). Dozois then asks the potential clients to sit back and wait, allowing nature to take its course.
About every seven minutes, he asks the client to take a sip—first of the conventional drink where the ice is rapidly melting, then of the drink made with the sturdy opaque brick of Névé ice. The second shows minimal dilution; it's essentially whisky served neat, but much, much colder.
"Every cocktail calls for different dilution, different ice, different needs," Dozois explains.
But Dozois's pitch isn't only about taste. He insists that less dilution also benefits a bar's bottom-line. "If your body can take this much fluid," explains Dozois, gesturing to several glasses, "How much of that do you want to be water? If it dilutes less, it will take you less time to drink what's in the glass, and the bar will make more sales."
Gourmet ice, often heavily filtered and hand-cut to guarantee the optimal amount of dilution, has officially become part of cocktail culture. Sasha Petraske, who in 2000 reinvigorated the New York bar scene with his speakeasy Milk & Honey, is considered by many to be the father of designer ice in the U.S. Since then, bars around the country, from Bar Agricole in San Francisco to Philadelphia's Franklin Mortgage Investment Company, have followed suit, creating cocktails that feature market-fresh ingredients, small-batch bitters, and large blocks of beautiful ice.
For Dozois, who honed his mixology skills behind some of L.A.'s most respected bars, like Seven Grand, Church and State, and Comme Ça, the ice bug hit while he was doing a guest bartending event in Chicago in 2008. 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 fucking shitty ice. That's what that is. The ice is fucking up all of my cocktails. Every one of them."
Shortly after his ice awakening, Dozois began tending bar at Comme Ça, David Myers's acclaimed French brasserie in West Hollywood, where the ice zeitgeist had also struck, meaning that part of the bar staff's daily routine was breaking down large blocks of ice into perfectly formed cubes. "We got into hand-cut stuff," recalls Dozois, "and it was pretty crazy. But it took the bartenders like three hours a day to cut ice for one night, which I realized was bringing down my hourly pay."