It can make or break a cocktail; add or detract from a food display, and is a must in most beverages now. Zara Horner gets the latest on ice and the machines that make it.

The F&B ‘outsider’ could be forgiven for believing there’s not much to say about ice. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Ice is no longer an afterthought but a vital ingredient in most drinks and food displays. Some mixologists argue that ice is as important to the success of a beverage as the base spirit.

Because water quality is essential, importing ice has been going on for generations. In fact, even in England where ice was in ready supply for most of the year, Queen Victoria insisted on her ice coming from Wenham Lake in Massachusetts. The tradition continues today in bars and restaurants around the world which import their ice in huge blocks from areas with known superior water quality. The ice shape and size are equally important to ensure it doesn’t adversely impact the finished product.

It’s an ever-changing sector as Nick Hammond Ice-O-Matic South Asia Pacific regional manager, notes: “The trend now is toward chewable ice. To answer that demand our unique Pearl Ice is soft, chewable, and long lasting. It also dispenses smoothly, blends quickly and displaces liquid better than cubes.

“We are also seeing an increased demand for larger clear cubes to give a high-end feel to drinks. Ice-O-Matic Grande cube machine produces a large cube – 31mm x 29mm x 22mm.”

Talk about tech

Gary Cristofano VP international sales Follett Ice goes even further: “Ice is food! The perception of ice has changed drastically as operators become increasingly concerned with labour, safety, and sanitation.”

In response, Follett introduced the Horizon Elite line of Chewblet ice machines in 2016. “Horizon Elite has a patented scale-inhibiting design that offers foodservice operators a low cost and superior performance [option] even in the most challenging water conditions. The design dramatically reduces scale build-up and the associated costs of scale mitigation, all while using 35-50 per cent less water than comparable cube-type ice machines.” The Horizon Elite line will be fully available by end Q2 2018 with the newest 710 and 1810 model releases.

Follett Ice
Follett Ice

Ice-O-Matic’s new Elevation Series is more energy efficient, easier to clean and maintain, has simplified service diagnostics and is easier to install, according to Hammond.

The series features dual air discharge where hot air from both the side and top of the unit is released, making it a good solution for tight spaces regardless of air flow requirements. Mission critical indicators keep users “one step ahead of problems”, while the Smart Harness control board, universal components and digital diagnostics make servicing easy. Elevation’s one-touch descaling and sanitising ensure food safety. The smooth, solid Food Zone allows for quick wipe down for everyday cleaning, and dishwasher-safe components easily snap off and on.

“We are also producing machines capable of producing more ice in less space,” Hammond says.

Ice-O-Matic’s new Elevation Series.

As the technologies advance, ice machines have become more intelligent, James Sun, product marketing manager Manitowoc ice machines points out.

“Increased efficiency in terms of production, water-saving and power consumption, are top of clients’ lists – as are sanitation, design and reliability.

“While demand has changed a lot in the US and European markets, it’s a little bit slower in the APAC region.”

Manitowoc’s new modular ice machine is the Indigo NXT and NEO for undercounter ice machines. 60Hz Indigo NXT ice machines were launched in the US last year. 50Hz Indigo NXT ice machines will be launching in Europe in the second half of this year and will launch in APAC in 2019. NEO ice machines have been here since 2013, the new NEO phase 3 is expected to be reviewed this year.

Space, utility, efficiency

It’s obvious that ice is so much more than just a drink chiller and for Carla Cozzi, marketing communications specialist with Scotsman, “Most F&B activity cannot operate without ice.

“Ice can be used to fill eye-catching displays for promotions: the droplets on bottles and containers are immediately associated with freshness. Crystal clear and slow melting ice cubes keep a drink chilled without diluting it, enriching the drink and heightening the value perceived. Our Gourmet ice makers perfectly answer these features.”

Acknowledging the trend for bigger size cubes, the range produces the 40gram cube.

“Our R&D is constantly studying and developing innovative devices and processes,” Cozzi says. “In particular we are now focused on improving efficiency while reducing carbon footprint, having in mind that space occupied by the machine is generally a critical factor.” The complete EcoX range now covers all ice shapes.

Scotsman is increasing their models which use natural refrigerant gas R290 (propane). Including, the DXN range of newly engineered fully automatic freestanding countertop or wall-hung cubelet ice and water dispensers. The NW1408 is the latest member of the NW Series, breaking new ground as the market’s only 30 inch machine capable of producing 680kg of ice cubes in 24 hours. “Being able to pack this much ice production into the 30 inch format is going to be a huge bonus for sites that need more ice but have limited space,” Cozzi says.

Being able to monitor important variables like efficiency or hygiene conditions throughout the production and storage process is a huge benefit, according to Cristina Cordon CEO ITV Ice Makers.

ITV Ice Maker
ITV Ice Maker

“By doing so, the user soon verifies the profitability of the investment. Ice produced by an ice-maker is more cost-effective when compared with same volumes acquired from other, less dependable, more space consuming sources.”

ITV’s Ice Queen N produces nugget ice, which is hard inside and soft on the outside, so it can be used to cool, for example, fruit juices or yoghurts. And it’s chewable. The units are energy and water efficient.

Cordon predicts production processes of the future will emphasise propane gas. “Thanks to its low environmental impact and its excellent thermodynamic properties, the use of propane, or R290, will be extended in refrigeration equipment.”

ITV’s new 22-inch-wide Slim range is a response to the quick service restaurant need to reduce their equipment footprint. “The Spika MS 700-22 Slim with vertical evaporator produces half or full dice ice cubes, the perfect shape for soft drinks. The DHD 130-22 Slim Dispenser is a reliable, hygienic, easy to service, energy-efficient machine, which combined with the Spika MS300 Slim has a 128 pounds storage capacity. The ice cubes are released with just a light push. The Slim range also includes the Bin S 400-22, with stainless steel body, an easy cleaning design, and 399 pounds storage.”