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This week’s Y&H column looks at the rise of “ice programs” and artisan ice in D.C. bars. To teach me how the pros hand-carve cubes and spheres out of giant blocks, I asked Barmini “cocktail innovator” Juan Coronado for a lesson in ice sculpting.
The first thing he asks me to do is grope the 25-pound block of ice. “Touch it. Feel the size of it,” he says. “You’ve got to become one with the ice.”
All I feel are my fingers going numb.
To start, Coronado uses a screwdriver-sized Japanese ice pick (like the Williams-Sonoma one pictured here) to draw quick lines two inches apart in the places he wants to cut. He traces over the lines two to three more times, then uses the pointy end of the ice pick to chip a series of tiny indentations across the line. There’s even a correct way to grip the ice pick, which involves wrapping your thumb and forefinger around the handle with your pinky near the point, so that if you carve too deeply you can feel it. Coronado then takes the claw end of the ice pick and traces over the line again, creating a deeper indentation.
Next, Coronado busts out a Japanese hand saw. “This is like cutting butter,” he says. “If you’re strong, it won’t go anywhere. You have to be so delicate, so smooth.” He’s right: too much pressure and the saw won’t budge, but move it lightly, and it cuts right through. Coronado even has a whole-body ice carving stance with one foot braced in front of the other as he glides the saw back and forth.
Coronado says he can break down the entire block in 15 minutes. I’m pretty sure it would take me at least an hour. Once we’ve whittled down the block into two-inch cubes, Coronado takes a serrated knife to smooth out the shape.
Watch Coronado hand-carve the cube into a sphere in the video above. The spherical ice is ideal for a high-end liquor on the rocks. You can request a spherical cube at Barmini, but be warned, it takes at least seven to eight minutes to carve.
Meanwhile, Columbia Room takes a less time-intensive approach. Check out bartender Matt Ficke using a chainsaw below:
If you don’t like either of these ice options, Apu from The Simpsons has another solution:
Barmini and Columbia Room videos by Jessica Sidman. Photo via Williams-Sonoma.