Cooler than cool
Cristallino Ice elevates the cocktail
A Christmas bow in ice by Cristallino Ice
One integral ingredient to a sophisticated drink—often overlooked—is premium ice. Not the cracked and cloudy variety. Ralph DiTucci, founder of Cristallino Premium Ice, aims for crystal-clear cubes (or spheres) with no lines, clouding, or imperfections.
“When you’re spending $10 to $12 for a cocktail, you want the best possible version. A premium drink with premium ice should make you feel special when you hold it in your hand,” he says.
Cristallino ice is denser and will last two to three times longer than your average cube, meaning less dilution for the cocktail. And it really is as clear as glass. In some photos on the company’s Facebook page, you’d be hard pressed to point out the cube in a drink.
They sell for $8 a dozen to the public at DiTucci’s retail venture Bar Mecca, and Cristallino ice also can be found behind bars around Rochester, Buffalo, and Syracuse.
Chuck Cerankosky, local restaurateur and bar owner, offers up the ice at Good Luck and Cure because it’s “a quality product, contributing to the momentum pushing Rochester’s food and beverage scene forward … and Cristallino ice is beautiful!”
DiTucci, forty-four, was first introduced to premium ice in Los Angeles, where he worked his way up in bars from barback to a director overseeing four venues. When he returned to his hometown of Rochester in 2016, he quickly realized that he couldn’t find anything resembling the ice he’d grown accustomed to in LA. “From New York to Chicago, there was a huge void. Any bars in that swath that wanted that elevated cocktail service would have to ship the ice in or try to create clear ice at volume in-house.”
That opening in the market was a green light for DiTucci, who found a space on Richmond Street that fit two purposes. The front-of-the-house became Bar Mecca, co-owned by Megan Goodney, which is a place for bartenders to receive coaching and education, taste a wide library of bitters, and grab bar supplies. In the back of the space is the ice house.
The ice takes three to four days to form in a large machine with two forty-gallon chambers. A crane then removes the solid, 300-pound blocks from the machine. Individual saws break the ice into various sizes for sale.
The secret behind its blemish-free appearance is the way in which the ice is frozen. In your freezer at home, the cold front approaches the water from all sides. Water forms into ice in multiple areas, which traps gases and minerals, leading to imperfections.
Cristallino ice is formed through directional freezing, meaning the water is frozen from the bottom to the top, removing nearly all gases and minerals and eliminating clouding.
Sometimes DiTucci will add an object to the water during the freezing process, trapping it within a block. For a client who wanted to pop the question to his girlfriend, it was an engagement ring. Other projects have included whole flower bouquets, a superhero figurine, a Christmas nutcracker, a burrito, and much more. He has also sculpted ice into a variety of forms, from a rocket ship to a life-sized ice hockey table. Most of his sculptures range from $200 to $500.
DiTucci’s next contribution to the bar scene in downtown Rochester will be as bar owner, hopefully by early 2020.
Expect an “intimate space” with a beverage program that will utilize “off-the-beaten-path ingredients, unique ice elements, cutting-edge preparation techniques, and world-class execution … a casual ‘chef’s table’ for cocktails,” says DiTucci.
He’s excited for where Rochester’s food and beverage scene is and where it is going.
“There’d be no reason for me to have an ice company here unless the culture for cocktails and hospitality had evolved to a point where it was a natural fit,” he adds. “I love what this [scene] is becoming.”
Jinelle Vaiana is a Rochester-based freelance writer.