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."
Entrepreneurial inspiration struck—Dozois decided that there must be a more efficient, cost-effective method for creating the kind of hand-crafted ice that bars like Comme Ça craved, and he began studying up. He read about Japanese methods for cutting ice to preserve clarity. He spoke to coffee pioneers like Lamill's Craig Min, who stress the importance of filtration in their beverage of choice, which is 98 percent water. He studied the science of dilution. "The larger the block, the less it dilutes, but with the same amount of chill." he explains.
Though he won't divulge the specifics of the system he ultimately developed for Névé ice (he compares his need for secrecy to guarding the formula for Coca-Cola,) 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.