Basement Bar Design #3: Ice Supply

Basement Bar Design #3: Ice Supply

In my last installment, I talked about fridges for your Basement Bar, but I touched only briefly on freezers, and the main reason for having access to one: Ice. Now, ice is a much neglected subject in the Cocktailosphere. Hardly anyone writes about it or its importance in mixing cocktails.
Ahem. Miss anybody? Probably quite a few.
I’ll focus for this post on how to make ice, deliver it, and keep it handy in your Basement Bar.
Much more below the fold:
Let’s start with the simplest, lowest tech option, the venerable ice bucket. An ice bucket is, as a class, any kind of portable container for ice. It must be watertight. It ought to have a lid. And it should be insulated. As such, you can also use a small Igloo™-type cooler, or even a big honking one, if you are having big party.
Coolers are really better for either the aforementioned blowout special event, or temporary bar setups, like you might have on a back patio or deck. They aren’t the kind of accessory a real ice bucket is. And coolers won’t likely fit into your bar’s decorative motif, unless maybe you are designing a Basement Beach Bar.

This bucket is elegant and fun,
but runs about $70.

OXO makes this good-looking,
very functional bucket for about $35.

Ice buckets come in a wide variety of styles and prices. You will easily be able to find one to fit your desired motif for your Basement Bar, and you’ll probably even find it at a reasonable price. Even a larger ice bucket will still be pretty small. Mine takes up just a couple score square inches of counter space in my Basement Bar, and looks good doing it.
In fact, like me, you should probably have one in your equipment list regardless of whether you go with any of the more robust options below. They hold a ready supply for a host or bartender who is mixing fast. For the ice geeks out there (I’m taking to you, Darcy!) they make a handy space to keep your special purpose ice. And for some motifs, they are a must. Tiki bar hosts need something like this. And if you have more guts to release your inner Star Wars geek than I do, and are building that certain type of Cantina you always wanted, be sure to include one of these.
But ice buckets are hardly the be all, end all of ice solutions. They don’t hold much ice, even the big ones, and they don’t keep it very cold, even the insulated ones. The biggest problem should be obvious, however: They don’t make ice. (Well, unless you call thisan ice bucket–it is the right size.) So you will have to make your ice in your kitchen freezer or its ice maker, and schlep your bucket back and forth for refills.

There’s that schlep word again!

Exactly. I’ve got a flight of stairs and half the house to travel if I want ice from the kitchen. And because my kitchen fridge’s freezer compartment is mostly full of food, if I want to have a party, I’d have to go out and buy a bag or two of ice beforehand… and hope I got enough. I don’t need that much exercise, because I just bought a Wii Fit.

My last installment dealt with fridges for your Basement Bar. If you went with one that came equipped with an ice maker, you may be home-free. The dorm-style fridge can make a little ice, or store some ice. But not both. For everyday, before dinner cocktails for you and the old and such, this would likely be enough. But invite a couple of friends over and you’re back to the dreaded kitchen schlep. If you spring for a full-sized fridge, you will have the space for both. If you keep up with your ice trays, you will be home free. Me, I’m not so organized. Of course, your fridge may have an automatic ice maker. These are great, except the ice is usually not the most attractive, and you may find yourself running low anyway.
If your basement also happens to have a deep freeze to store your home’s supply of frozen pizzas or dressed deer, depending on your opinion of hunting, you can work to make sure you have some space for ice trays there. Just be aware of flavor transfer: Venison is not a flavor much sought-after in cocktails.
A real advantage of this option, however is all the cool ice cube trays you can buy. There are a bunch, like stars,swizzels,and even glasses made of ice.And if you went with the Star Wars Cantina theme I mentioned above, what could be cooler than chilling each G&T you make with a single giant cube of Han Solo encased in Carbonite.
The downsides of a freezer compartment were mentioned in the last post. Expense, space, and if you get the full-sized fridge, incursion of the spouse’s, ugh, food. In addition, ice trays take tending. I hate chores, personally. Nothing irritates me more than opening the freezer and finding all the trays empty or half-empty. If you jostle them when unfrozen, you have a glacial problem on the bottom. The point is, you may get drunk (impossible, I know) and forget to refill your trays. Do you really want to face a happy hour with no ice? (Brits need not answer this question.)

The last option is an automatic ice maker. I have one of these, and I absolutely love it. Aside from low capacity countertop models like I mentioned above, most stand-alone ice makers install under your counter, and produce prodigious amounts of high quality, constantly refreshed ice. No matter which manufacturer you go with, they tend to come in two types, defined by the kind of ice they produce. The cheaper option is essentially a high capacity, high rate of production refrigerator ice maker. They make those crescent shaped pieces of ice you get from the door that are very cloudy from little bubbles. The more expensive models make smaller, cube-shaped pieces of ice that are crystal clear and lovely. Incidentally, these models are fascinating engineering feats in and of themselves. If you are interested, here’s an article on how commercial ice makers work, which applies to high-end home machines as well. They also have an article that shows you how to make clear ice at home without a machine. Read it, and if you want clear ice, you’ll see why you want a machine!
The advantages of ice makers, of whatever kind, are myriad. They make plentiful ice. It will be a serious drink-fest that runs you out of ice with these! They are small, fitting under the counter and usually 15″ wide. They make plentiful ice. There is no more convenient way to make, store, and dispense your ice. Oh, and they make plenty of it!
There are, of course, issues with ice makers. They are expensive, starting at $800 and going up to over $1,500. And they have to be plumbed. They need a water line, and the best need a drain line as well. If you want one, but can’t afford it when you first construct your bar, be sure to leave a gap for later installation, and be sure to have the plumbing set for it. They seem, when you first get them, to be maintenance free, but they are not. They need to be de-scaled just seldom enough that you will forget to do it. And if they break, they are a bear to get fixed. They also produce just one kind of ice. If you want super-cold ice, they will not deliver. But this is also an advantage for some applications. The ice is stored right at the melting point, so it will cool your drink faster, with less ice in the shaker.
To sum it all up, get an ice maker if you can. If you can’t, get a freezer in your basement, with barbed-wire and guard dogs to keep out the frozen peas. If you can’t manage that, get an ice bucket. Then you can cancel your gym membership–you won’t need the Stairmaster anymore. Then take the money you save on the gym, and buy an ice maker! Ta-Da!

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Here’s a list of the other articles in this series that have been posted so far:
[catlist id=47 orderby=title order=ASC numberposts=-1]


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