Monogrammed spheres, smoked ice, custom-sized cubes: getting creative with ice is nothing new. But as craft ice becomes mainstream, some innovators are looking to take the art in a slightly different direction. One such product is Beyond Zero, an ice maker that can freeze just about any liquid — including liquor.
The company’s founder, Jason Sherman, originally got the idea after working on making ice cream with liquid nitrogen. “Coldstone [Creamery] kind of beat me to the punch,” says Sherman. Growing up in Florida, he was familiar with the nightclub and high-volume bar scene, but got frustrated with consistently watery drinks.
“I knew about the tech, and years later, started using it to do the liquor stuff. It seemed like much more of a natural fit because you could have a drink that wasn’t watered down.” When he demonstrated it, he knew he was onto something. “People were floored,” he says.
Part of the appeal is the novelty. It’s common knowledge that alcohol doesn’t freeze in a standard freezer, so offering quarter-ounce cubes of liquor (or cocktail, or beer, or wine) can be a draw. “There’s a lot of things we can do,” says Sherman. “The most obvious is [using] cubes to serve [a spirit] neat or straight. You can add the ice and get something that’s cold but not really diluted.”
Aside from straight liquor, the machine can also freeze beer, wine and complete cocktails. “A lot of people put ice in their wine,” says Sherman. “This is a way to do that with the same bottle that you’re drinking and not dilute it.”
Another option is to make beer or wine cocktails. “You can take different varieties of liquor or combinations and introduce them into different beers. Or you can [add] liquor into wine. Champagne will still bubble a little after it’s frozen.”
The recently released two-part setup is pretty straightforward. One unit freezes the cubes, and the other houses them. “You can go from flavor to flavor,” says Sherman. “There’s a little tray on the top that you can swap out, rinse out in the sink and then you can literally pour anything [in].” Although each storage unit currently in beta testing only holds one tray, the company is looking into dividers and other potential options to store multiple flavors at once.”
As a bonus, the cubes will smoke slightly when other booze is added. “Not like liquid nitrogen where it’s scary, but enough that when you pour a little bit of liquor or mix over it that it’ll smoke in the glass. It just looks really cool.” Sensation-wise, he likens it to drinking hot coffee. “For some people, hot coffee is never hot enough, but for others, it’s too hot,” he says. “Everybody has a different level of temperature sensitivity. We’re right around the temperature that you buy Dippin Dots at the store.”
By cooling booze without diluting it, Sherman says ice from the Beyond Zero machine lessens the ethanol burn. Like the heat in chili peppers, the burn from alcohol is a sensation rather than a flavor. Drinking a beverage cold does decrease the burning sensation, but it also changes its essential flavor profile. At lower temperatures, perception of sweetness is suppressed, which may make other aspects more apparent. However, many aromatic compounds are temperature sensitive. As a result, a drinker may lose some of the experience of initially smelling it.
The machine does have a couple drawbacks. For some, the $8,000 price tag can be a hang up. For others, keeping up with demand could be tricky. “It can make up to 20 at a time, [and] takes about 25 minutes for your base liquors to do that,” says Sherman. “For wine, [one cycle] takes about three minutes, but up to eight to 12 minutes for a high proof bourbon.”
Although everything is currently in beta testing, they’ve already got their eyes on future projects they’d like to develop. “We’re actually developing a second machine, after we roll this one out, we’ve already built one – it’s a high volume one [that combines] the two machines,” says Sherman. “It basically holds 400 cubes at a time.” They’re also discussing ways to create pre-mixed trays that consumers can buy for the machine at their local liquor store.
“We have a few interesting ways to bring in the bar community to this, so I can’t go into it fully,” says Sherman. “I think this is really the next level where now there’s no dilution, and I think it’s something that people want to experience at home.”