Michigan Clear Ice helps raise the bar for craft cocktails

A craft cocktail isn’t about the cocktail at all. It’s about the process, the experience, the quality, and the hand-crafted details that go into making each drink. One of the unforgettable details of a fine craft cocktail begins right here in Bay City where Pete Hardy makes crystal clear artisan ice that eventually chills drinks throughout Michigan.

Several years ago, Peter Hardy saw an article about artisan ice. He didn’t give it much thought until a friend of his started putting together a craft cocktail bar in Bay City. The idea of clear cocktail ice was thrown around and it piqued Hardy’s interest. “My background is in automation, machine design and refrigeration,” said Hardy, “so it seemed like an interesting thing to work on.”

He began designing a machine to make pure crystal clear ice. Things quickly took off. 

After a lot of experimenting and tweaking, Hardy came up with a uniquely designed machine and process that created a reliable and good quality product. He started producing clear ice for The Public House, a popular downtown bar here in Bay City. His clear ice has been a crowd pleasing staple since the bar opened in 2017.

At Public House, customers watch cubes of Hardy’s perfectly clear ice become flawless crystal spheres in just seconds. The process involves a weighted, spherical, aluminum mold that Hardy created. Staff use an ice pick to chip off the corners of a 2-by-2-inch cube of Michigan Clear ice and then place the ice chunk into the aluminum mold. Conduction works its magic, and the rough chunk of ice emerges as a perfectly clear sphere to complete a hand-crafted cocktail.

An aluminum mold transforms 2-by-2-inch cubes of ice into spheres, the perfect finishing touch for a craft cocktail.

Craft cocktail fans love the clear ice phenomenon. Crystal clear ice elevates the entire experience, creating a better cocktail and making for a memorable bar, says Matt Roedel, beverage manager at Public House.

“The crystal clear ice really does the cocktail justice, provides the correct dilution rate and offers the customer the best possible sip every time,” Roedel says.

The local popularity of his product got Hardy thinking this could be a bigger endeavor.

“It didn’t take long to realize that we could produce ice on a much larger scale,” said Hardy.

After some branding and marketing, Michigan Clear Ice made its way south to the Detroit area. Many popular bars there began turning to Hardy for their clear ice needs — The Kiesling, Two James Distillery, the Sugar House, and Motor City Casino all carry Michigan Clear Ice for their craft cocktails. Michigan Clear Ice has made its way to most larger cities in Michigan including Lansing, Grand Rapids, and Traverse City, and more.

Hardy makes the ice here in Bay City and delivers throughout the state, with the help of a few coolers and freezers. He has a small team that helps with production, bagging, and delivery.

The appeal goes beyond the appearance. Large format ice not only looks good, it also improves taste. Large ice doesn’t dilute a drink like smaller ice does. Pure, clear ice is part of the overall curated experience that is a craft cocktail. The craft cocktail trend relies on high-quality ingredients and artfully presented garnishes. Even the sounds customers hear while waiting for their drink matter. “I had a bartender start using our larger ice for shaking drinks because he liked the sound of the large ice in the shaker. That shows you the level of detail that they pay attention to,” says Hardy. 

The theatrics wouldn’t be complete if the final product were poured over a glass filled with cloudy chunks of ice. The perfect finishing flourish is to pour the drink over a glass filled with crystal clear ice.

Although Hardy cannot divulge too many trade secrets, this is what he has to say about his process:

“The recipe for ice has been passed down in our family through several generations and the ingredient list is actually surprisingly small. The main component is a product called dihydrogen monoxide. The compound is fed into a thermal solidification reactor or TSR. Inside the TSR is where the magic really happens. What goes in as a liquid literally becomes a solid. I really can’t tell you anymore, I’ve probably said too much already.”

So the next time you find yourself at a craft cocktail bar, about to take a sip of an old fashioned that’s perfectly poured around a 2 inch by 2 inch cube of crystal clear, pure ice, remember the magic that is Michigan Clear Ice and the way products like Peter’s enhance the cocktail experience.

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