Basement Bar Accessories #10: The NewAir Portable Ice Maker

The Liquor Fairy brings me many things, not just booze. But his little wings were beating mightily this week as he flew up with a box from Air & Water, Inc. The box contained a new model portable ice making machine called the NewAir Portable Ice Maker.


The current model is more sleekly trimmed than pictured here.

Among my most important rules for a successful Basement Bar setup is the importance of a ready supply of fresh ice. Cocktails and Ice are inseparable items, like chickens and eggs. One of the more popular posts I’ve ever written was my discussion of ice making options for your home bar. Therein, I strongly encouraged people, for a variety of reasons, to consider adding an automatic, stand-alone ice machine to their setup. I got two objections from most readers to this advice: the expense of the machines and the expense or sheer impossibility of plumbing them.

The NewAir holds at least the possibility of an answer to their pleas. I’ll talk about the machine, how it works, the ice it makes, who will want this machine, and who won’t.

The unit itself is fairly large, 17 inches by 17 by 15, and weighs about 45 pounds. It is a bit large to set on a countertop, but it really is fairly portable. It has well-placed handles, large, sturdy feet, and seems pretty durable. While it is actively making ice, you can hear it but it is not obnoxiously loud.

The way it makes ice is actually pretty ingenious. I made a YouTube video so you can watch it work.

The refrigerant is pumped through pipes connected to twelve vertical cylinders. The little bucket revolves up to contain those prongs and fills with water from the machine’s internal reservoir that doubles as a drip catcher below the finished ice bucket (not seen in the video). The NewAir holds enough water to fill its ice bucket several times.
The ice forms around the prongs. There are three ice size settings, and these merely determine how thick the ice is allowed to form. When the ice has reached the desired size (about seven minutes for the smallest setting), the bucket rotates away from the prongs and the remaining water flows back into the reservoir. You can see in the video that the refrigerant goes from cold to warm, and the ice slides right off the prongs.
After a moment, the bucket rotates back into position for the next round of ice, and the attached flipper shoves the new ice over the edge to fall into the ice bucket.
The machine is not designed to be on and running full time like a built in version that costs five times as much. The ice turns into a glob of merged pieces after a day or so, rather than cleanly melting away and being replaced. This isn’t a problem if you are using the ice all the time, but if you make a drink or two a day, take advantage of the automatic timer to ensure you have fresh ice ready for you at cocktail hour. On the other hand, it is very easy to maintain, with a swift and effective self-cleaning mode.

So what is all this ice like? Each piece is a rounded, hollow cone, about an inch and a half long. It is also filled with microbubbles so it’s white rather than clear. Finally, it is pretty warm ice, coming out of the machine right at 32 degrees. As an aside, the little flanges you see in the video on the top of the ice are due to leaving the door open while videoing the mechanism. The actual ice produced is much cleaner in appearance. The ice has a large surface area to mass ratio and is warm. This means it will start melting pretty quickly in a glass or mixing tin.

In short, the ice geeks and cocktail showmen are not going to like this ice.
But then, mostly they don’t like any ice from a machine, preferring to fill a freezer with all manner of fancy ice trays and molds, or hack away like Sharon Stone on a huge block of the crystal clear stuff, so the Camper Englishes of the world really aren’t the issue here.

First off, I think the ice is just fine in the tin for shaking and stirring. I know some mixers swear by “super cold” ice, but the science (and my own experimentation) says that most all of the chilling from ice comes at the moment it melts. Using cold ice may make your drink at most a degree or two colder, but actually takes longer to get there. “Warm ice”, especially with lots of surface area, can chill a drink faster than anything else, with only a very little more dilution.
Additionally, unlike with plumbed-in ice makers like mine, you can be as big a water snob as you like with the NewAir. Use Fiji water or even Perrier I suppose. I use water from my Brita filter and the ice tastes great.
For serving in a glass, the NewAir’s ice is less ideal. It really isn’t a pretty as cubes, and its propensity to melt quickly makes for dilution issues if you are a slower drinker.

OK, who would find this machine a great buy, and who won’t?
I see two main categories of buyer who will be happy with the NewAir. The first is a lot of the people for whom I’ve been writing my Basement Bar Design series. If you are putting together a bar for your home, don’t have a massive budget and/or can’t get running water into your chosen space, the machine will get you plentiful ice for everyday use at a great price. Home bar builders who have available plumbing and sufficient budget will be much happier with a built-in system.

An even better buyer for this machine is the mobile mixer. If you like to tailgate, camp out, or own an RV, a continuous supply of fresh ice will save you from the utter barbarity of no Martinis. Of course, if you want to run the NewAir in the woods so you can sip a Pegu while fishing in that remote stream, you’ll need power. The machine takes 400 watts, and most trees don’t have electrical outlets. Ditto for stadium parking lots. If this is your desired application, be sure to purchase a power inverter so you can run it off your car. Be sure to get one that wires into your battery directly, as the NewAir draws too much power for the inverters that just plug into the cigarette lighter.

The NewAir doesn’t make perfect ice. If you enjoy being persnickity about your ice, or view it as a garnish, this machine will likely not meet your needs. If you need a lot of fresh ice for mixing cocktails, or chilling juices, sodas, or basic mixed drinks like Rum and Cokes or Screwdrivers, it will provide plenty of the cool stuff fairly conveniently and for a very reasonable price. I like the machine. It is an ingenious design, the maker has a number of previous models, so they have had the chance to refine and improve what they are doing. I haven’t had it long enough to really vouch for its durability, but as I mentioned before, both the stainless steel case and the mechanism seem pretty sturdy. If you need what a portable ice maker can give you, I can definitely recommend the NewAir. UPDATE: If you decide to get a NewAir directly from the company, you can get an extra 10% off the price by entering the discount code: “PEGU” at checkout!

The-Liquor-Fairy-ThumbThe Liquor Fairy Was Here!
The following product, NewAir Portable Ice Maker, was recently provided to me as promotional consideration to encourage me to discuss it.
For a complete disclosure of my policies regarding promotional items and all other financial interests, please click this link, or follow the Liquor Fairy link in the header of this page.

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About the author

Doug

I am 48 years old, married with two young daughters. My interests are tennis, reading, computers, politics, and of course cocktails. I run a murder mystery party business that caters to both corporate and private events, Killing Time, murder consultants.

9 Comments

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  • Thank you so much for this review! I currently have this machine on my Amazon.com Wishlist and always wondered if it is worth the money. As of now, I keep trays loaded with ice in a freezer in the garage. For parties, I fill an ice bucket and is usually pretty good. But with this machine on the counter behind the bar, it will save me trips into the garage.

    Thanks again for the post and the video!

    Swing on over to my blog and check out my bar.

    http://oshea12566.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/bar-build-update-25/

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  • Ice geeks don’t freak out about the cold-factor, it’s the dilution factor that gets your drinks all screwy.

    “Warm” or “wet” ice dilutes more and more rapidly, introducing more water into your drink and screwing it up. I’ve made the same drink with cold/dry and then warm/wet ice and polled people on the drink and it does make a huge difference.

    That being said, for a more average party or for a simple rum and coke, I could see this being useful.

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    • I spent several days doing exacting dilution tests (then had a spill and destroyed half my data so there is no post), but what I found was that you need to shake or stir much less with wet ice than dry. You still get a decent chill. If you are used to using cold ice, you may easily over shake and get a diluted drink, because the warm stuff cools a good 20% faster.
      Note, this has two implications. If your drink requires a lot of agitation to emulsify or break up goopy ingredients, warm ice will definitely over dilute your drink. Also, if you want you drink exceptionally cold (below freezing), warm ice just won’t do the job AT ALL much of the time.
      The main point I was trying to make in the post (and I think I did not make) is that all ice maker ice is warm ice, so the buying decision should not hold it against this portable model.

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  • I am very skeptical if it comes to warm and super-cold ice and wet and dry ice [no – I don’t mean frozen CO2]…

    The main chill energy [or better void of energy] comes from the dilution. Thats why you can super freeze a stone and it still doesn’t chill a liquid as good as ice.

    It comes to good cocktail crafting – using different [new] ice to serve a drink – not the same ice from the shaking process…

    Water [ice] naturally doesn’t get much colder as 0 degree centigrade anyways [if it is not a mixture as salt water].

    However I think a big difference is the surface and the density of ice. If there is a lot of air solved in a cube [and if it has a cone shape as in this case], it will have a rather big surface and will chill faster – but also melt & dilute faster.

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  • The different ice machine companies make different size cubes which fit differently in the glass or cup. Hoshizaki’s crescent cube is made to fit easily in the glass and when liquid is poured into glass it will not splash. The edges or smooth and really no corners like most.

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