In bars around the world, patrons look down to realize their cocktail have become watered-down shells of former glory. In order to enjoy a finely crafted cocktail in its entirety, a race against time – melting ice – ensues. Since the whole point of imbibing a $10 cocktail is to relax and enjoy, two guys off North Flores Street decided to help meet San Antonio’s growing demand for ice cubes with more integrity.
Andy Hack, bar manager of Minnie’s Tavern and Rye House, reunited with his former co-worker from Bohanan’s, Jake Corney, to form H&C Ice Co., San Antonio’s new specialty ice purveyor. Both bartenders by night, Corney recently left his bar manager position of eight years at Bohanan’s to focus solely on this new venture.
Their time at Bohanan’s was spent under the direct and in-direct tutelage of Sasha Petraske who is credited as one of the pioneers in the renaissance of the modern cocktail revolution. One of his local legacies was co-founding the San Antonio’s Cocktail Conference with Chef Mark Bohanan of Bohanan’s. At the first conference in 2012, he offered a cocktail class that I had the privilege of taking where Petraske spoke for an hour on only one topic: ice.
He recalled working with Bohanan’s General Manager Scott Becker who reached out to recruit Petraske from New York to train his bartenders and expand bar operations. Before accepting the opportunity, Petraske’s caveat was that Bohanan’s ensure that only a certain type of cocktail ice would be served. Petraske, self-taught in his craft, spent hours learning the fundamentals of bartending by pouring through out-of-print, classic cocktail books he found on eBay.
“There’s nothing new under the sun in bartending. What makes it different, what makes it special, is the quality of ice,” he said.
The importance of quality ice was reinforced to Hack and Corney for years at Bohanan’s. During this time, Hack perfected the translucent ice ball that you see cooling many craft cocktails around town. Although the bartenders experimented with different ice carving techniques, Hack found a YouTube video that encouraged him to try a wood carving chisel to transform blocks of ice into a perfect sphere within minutes.
The pair were frequently asked by Bohanan’s regulars to carve ice for different catered events and they would request time off to prepare for each event.
Watch the mini-documentary about H&C Ice Co. by local production company Kindform below:
Although they were making a little extra money during their time off, neither seriously considered ice as a full-time option until last year when they attended New Orleans’ annual spirit and mixology conference Tales of the Cocktail. They were inspired to consider artisan ice as a business opportunity by Zachary Gelnaw-Rubin, of Hundredweight Ice, in New York. Gelnaw-Rubin provided all the ice for the event – flying in all his equipment to support the five day event.
Hack is currently renting a two bedroom house off of North Flores Street in downtown San Antonio. A separate rental space was being renovated to become a commercial kitchen next door – but the deal fell through and the lease had suddenly become available. Hack’s landlord offered him the option to rent the space and the rest is history.
Word spread quickly through San Antonio’s supportive bartending community that Corney and Hack were starting to form their ice business and had a workspace to sculpt and store their product.
One of their first clients was the downtown Hyatt Regency. H&C Ice Co. found that they were the only ones offering what they were looking for as Hyatt Regency Director of Food and Beverage Steven Drew set up his new bourbon menu at Q Bar. Relocated from NYC, Drew was very accustomed to the benefits of large format, crystal clear ice balls and soon H&C Ice Co. was fulfilling orders for hundreds of ice balls.
Hack stuck around the bar after one delivery and watched a group of businessmen order a round of whiskey on the rocks. One man ordered an expensive pour and was rewarded with the hand chiseled cocktail ice – much to the envy of his group. Hack smiled. He was not surprised when the other men ordered the same on the next round.
“High quality ice matches the grade of the whiskey. The ice keeps the drink colder, longer, and people can linger over a glass longer without fear of dilution.” Both Hack and Corney noticed that by removing the urgency to avoid a watery drink, conversations become more relaxed and unhurried.
Soon, H&C Ice was able to purchase two deep freezers and a band saw to hand cut their custom pieces that will be enjoyed at celebrations and local craft cocktail bars like the Esquire and Brooklynite. Hack and Corney plan to purchase two Clinebell machines so they can produce the 300 pound blocks of crystal clear ice in house.
They currently purchase the ice from local Signature Ice Sculptures. Owner Andrew Thistlethwaite, who is originally from the mid-west, moved to San Antonio and started working at Signature Ice when the original owner passed away. Thistlethwaite delivered ice to the Hack and Corney at Bohanan’s and now H&C Ice.
Signature Ice is normally known for their large ice sculptures but Bohanan’s started ordering ice from them once Petraske specifically requested it. The large blocks of ice are slowly frozen into the enormous blocks over three days. The block’s clarity comes from purified water being continuously pumped over a frozen surface at a constant temperature of zero degrees. Only the most purified water freezes as new water flows over frozen layers. Signature Ice cuts down the blocks into manageable 10 inch by 6 inch “bible blocks” for H&C Ice that are easier for Hack and Corney to run through their band saw.
Cutting ice is not as simple as you’d expect.
Many local restaurants have tried to cut the ice themselves but find they don’t have enough resources to devote exclusively or commit to long-term. If you try cutting the ice before it has a chance to warm to a certain temperature it will immediately shatter.
The ice is cut and the pieces are separated by tooth picks so that it won’t freeze back together and the process repeats, sometimes for five iterations. Finally the 2 inch by 2 inch cubes are bagged in groups of fifty to be delivered in coolers to bars and parties. Although they have considered getting an ice truck for deliveries, the insulated ice holds its temperature well. They turn to dry ice for longer trips that might give concern. As their business grows, they look to form partnerships with liquor stores in the local area, like Spec’s, so that San Antonio patrons can grab a bag on their way out the door.
For now, you can get artisan ice directly from H&C Ice Co. by calling (210) 867-4644 where fifty, perfect cubes of long-lasting ice are $35. Your guests will thank you.
*Featured/top image: Artisan ice from H&C Ice Co. Photo by Heather Hernandez.