The best craft cocktails will also have the perfect ice—but are they going to list the price of the cubes separately? Flickr/eatitdetroit

Ice can make or break a proper cocktail. But do you want to be charged separately for it?

One of my friends gets a Gin Rickey every time she goes to Bar Charley near Dupont Circle—mostly for the delicious cylinder of lime ice in the drink. Bar Charlie doesn't charge you more for the fancy ice, but the nearby Second State will when it opens later this month. That will make it the first restaurant in D.C. that lists an ice surcharge on its menu for ice from Favourite Ice Company, writes City Paper's . She quotes manager Phil Clark explaining why it's so worth it:

"When it [the ice] goes into a cocktail, it's crystal clear. It's purified water, so there's no minerally taste."

Fancy ice isn't new; restaurants and bars in several cities have been offering custom-made, hard-carved ice for a couple of years now. What's new is this separately listed charge. For ice.

There's not much data yet on how wide this ice-surcharge trend has spread, says Mary Chapman, senior director of product innovation at Technomic, a firm that researches food and drink industry. She sees the appeal, though. Adding ice frozen into specific shapes, textures, and flavors can alter the drink, she says. But listing it separately is quite "nervy"—because then you really have to convince the buyer that you're selling more than just frozen water.

And for the Gin Rickey or '80s Old Fashioned (with a black cherry ice sphere) at Bar Charley, the ice is more than just frozen water; it's integral to the cocktail.

"Part of the point of both of these cocktails is that the flavor changes over time," owner Gordon Banks writes in an email. "The ice is not there just to keep your drink cold. Your first sip gives you only a hint of what your last sip will be."

The bar has built the cost of producing the ice, which they do in-house, into the price of the drink. More than the ingredients, it's the labor that's expensive: a couple dozen lime cylinders take 45 minutes of prep time, excluding freezing.

My friend says she's willing to pay for that transformative experience—even if the ice was listed separately and she had the option to skip it. She wants to sip on a long-lasting, slow-melting drink that doesn't get her too drunk on a hot day. (Our Gin Rickey fangirl is a self-professed lightweight.)

Even without special flavor, "artisanal" ice can add "time as an ingredient," says Meghan McCarron, an Austin-based food and drink blogger. She knows of a couple of bars around town that are doing in-house artisanal ice, but not any that list the price separately. The whole idea behind fancy ice is that if you're taking so much time and putting effort into making the perfect cocktail, so what's the point of diluting the effort with less-than-perfect ice? She recently wrote about Josh Loving, an Austin bartender who espouses just this defense of artisanal ice.

It's what Long Island's Dutch Kills bar's Hundredweight Ice company believes too. "It never occurred to us to blatantly list any extra charges for ice because it is  understood that ice is the catalyst that prompts the completion of a successful cocktail," owner Richard Boccato writes in an email.

The company supplies "hand-cut, crystal-clear" ice to craft-cocktail-slinging joints around New York City and beyond. They don't identify as "artisanal" but say that their techniques rely on a "somewhat mechanized workshop that runs on elbow grease."

Charley's owner Banks says he would be surprised if listing an ice surcharge really takes off. But there are arguably some benefits to separating out the ice price. For one, people like knowing what they're paying for and why. That's the opinion of Jeffrey Morgenthaler, mixologist and manager at Clyde Common and Pepe Le Moko in Portland.

"The guest should be made well aware of this policy, as ice is not typically something one expects to be charged for," he says.  

Second, the act of listing it separately assigns it a certain value—and perhaps, even makes people more likely to want to pay for a little cube of luxury. It goes back to what Chapman says about convincing the client that they're getting something special.

Whether that idea flies with clientele also depends on what kind of drinking establishment we're talking about: High-end places offering theater and craft in their cocktails can probably get a way with listing the price for fancy ice on their menu. The neighborhood dive bar? Not so much.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. An aerial photo of downtown Miami.

    The Fastest-Growing U.S. Cities Aren’t What You Think

    Looking at the population and job growth of large cities proper, rather than their metro areas, uncovers some surprises.

  2. Smoke from the fires hangs over Brazil.

    Why the Amazon Is on Fire

    The rash of wildfires now consuming the Amazon rainforest can be blamed on a host of human factors, from climate change to deforestation to Brazilian politics.

  3. Graduates react near the end of commencement exercises at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S.

    Where Do College Grads Live? The Top and Bottom U.S. Cities

    Even though superstar hubs top the list of the most educated cities, other cities are growing their share at a much faster rate.

  4. a map of London Uber driver James Farrar's trip data.

    For Ride-Hailing Drivers, Data Is Power

    Uber drivers in Europe and the U.S. are fighting for access to their personal data. Whoever wins the lawsuit could get to reframe the terms of the gig economy.

  5. Transportation

    Atlanta’s Big Transit Vote Is a Referendum on Race

    As suburban Gwinnett County weighs a MARTA expansion, changing demographics and politics may decide the Georgia capital's transportation future.