Mealtime is a little different out there, but traveling Americans are ready to adapt.
They’ll sit on the floor, have cheese for dessert, eat with chopsticks, or follow the main course with salad. Still, most Americans draw the line at room temperature soft drinks. We can assume the locals are refreshed by lukewarm Coca Cola, since that’s the beverage of choice in much of the world, even when the thermometer hits 32° (that would be 90° to you and me). Ask for ice and best case is a few tiny slivers that barely make a dent in the tepid beverage; more likely the request is met with a blank stare.
Here in the land of plenty we take ice for granted. We expect it in our soft drinks and in every glass of water in every restaurant. We can count on an ice machine in the hallway and an ice bucket in every room of every hotel and motel from coast to coast. Our home refrigerators dispense a continual stream of ice and when there’s a party we buy extra bags to fill buckets and tubs.
The current ice age.
Still, we’ve never seen anything like the current fascination with luxury ice. The present-day renaissance of cocktail culture encourages fetishistic scrutiny of every aspect of mixed drinks. We’re drinking single malt and small batch whiskeys, exotically flavored infusions, hand crafted bitters, and yes, artisanal ice. It’s colorless and tasteless, but it seems that all ice is not created equal. The cubes in your freezer (and many bars and restaurants) are clouded with bubbles and cracks, while the premium stuff is dense and clear, so it melts slower and won’t water down your drink as quickly.
Bars and restaurants now have ice programs and some have turned to a new breed of boutique ice makers like Favourite Ice and Névé that charge 50 to 70 cents per two-by-two inch cube. You might find a single tennis ball-sized sphere for scotch on the rocks, gin and tonic in a highball glass chilled by height-appropriate tube-shaped ice, and hand-chipped bits crushed in muslin (to capture the rogue particles) for the perfect julep.
Then there’s glacial ice, in a league all its own. It’s true that thousands of years of geographic pressure create extremely dense ice that stays cold longer and melts more slowly than man-made, but the premium is really charged for its mystique. Marketers tout the purity of water that was frozen before it could absorb the atmospheric taints of the modern era. They speak of the magic of its hisses and pops as entombed air is released from the core of the melting ice—the pristine air of a lost age, never before breathed in by man. The market for glacial ice is so lucrative that ice poachers have gone after protected glaciers around the globe.