by Julie Wolfson
Preferring the word barsmith over bartender, Michel Dozois takes the mixed drink to a whole new level with his invention of NeÌveÌ luxury ice. On hand for the opening of major L.A. bars such as Church and State, Seven Grand and Comme Ça, Dozois knows a good drink, and his philosophy is that truly great cocktails begins with perfect ice.
After machine ice didn't offer the right combination of dilution and chill, Dozois embarked on a journey to create his own frosty cube. This search for icy perfection gave birth to Névé Luxury Ice, cubes made with twice-filtered water and put through a reverse osmosis system, then infused with minerals. Drinks may never be the same again.
We asked Dozois to tell us more about why people need this pure, slow-melting ice to make their cocktails just right.
What is the difference between Névé Ice and the ice in my freezer?
The ice in your freezer will have taste contamination. As water freezes, it pulls everything in the environment around it and condenses it in the center.
What products do you have available for bars?
We make Collins cubes for the hi-ball glasses. We make rocks cubes for the small glasses. We make a shaking cube to shake with. The shaking cube is my favorite cube because it is specifically designed not to break. When you take square cubes the corner will hit a flat side of the shaker and the cube will explode, causing more surface area in your shaker.
You want less surface area. Our shaking cube has no corners. We age it for a bare minimum of 48 hours. Most bartenders will tell you they don't believe in aging, but we do it because it gives it the necessary hardness. You could drop it on this marble floor right here and it won't explode. It might crack but it won't explode. We also make spheres and get special orders for rocks cubes and Collins cube with things in them, like rosemary, flowers, strawberries and cherries.
How do you hand cut your ice?
It is frozen in a big pan. Hand cutting can be done in a few ways. You can do it like the Japanese with a long sushi knife. For me, no thank you, I have fingers I would like to keep them. The sushi knife is hard, sharp and dangerous. Ice can be cut with a chisels and picks, like most ice sculptors do.
You can also cut ice with a spoon. The Milk & Honey family does it with a spoon. They are the current origins of much of the mixology you are seeing. They are all in New York like the Pegu Club family with Dale DeGroffe. He taught Audrey Saunders and Sasha Petrovsky. Sasha taught Sam Ross and Sam taught me. It is like a family tree that keeps going.
All of those families hand cut most of their ice with a four prong ice pick and a mallet. Then they shape the large cubes with a bar spoon by chipping away at it. I can't tell you how we cut our ice, but that is how everyone else does it.
What is your recipe for your signature Old Fashioned?
Dilution is the big thing. Every cocktail has its own level of dilution. I love an Old Fashioned, which needs to be slightly diluted, but if you put too much water in there, you are not going to be able to taste your bourbon. I use simple syrup for bourbon, but it changes for other spirits.
Take three to four bar spoons of simple syrup, two dashes of old fashioned bitters, and two orange peels. Then crack a rocks cube, so you have big pieces and small pieces to go into the glass. Add an ounce of bourbon, balance it, and taste it. Add one more ounce of bourbon, balance it, taste it. Add lemon peel on top and rub the rim.
What is next for Névé ice?
Artisanal spirits are coming back, so let's do it with artisanal ice. Ice that makes great cocktails. We've been asked to bring Névé to Chicago, Las Vegas, and San Francisco by next year. Soon we are going to be launching a whole new line of cubes, and we are working on the patent and trademarks.