The Petaluma company is looking to capitalize on the ice cream market for craft cocktails

The craft cocktail scene is much more than expensive bourbon or whiskey.

A set of six bitters — small bottles filled with plants — can run for $50 on Amazon. A set of four old-fashioned Dorset double glasses from Williams Sonoma can sell for $20.

So, that would mean that whether it’s a professional bartender or an amateur mixologist, there’s another crucial ingredient that goes into most drinks that deserves attention and should also be highly valued: ice.

This is the genesis of a new company based in Petaluma that offers crystal clear ice from distilled water in various shapes and sizes for those who value presentation as much as taste.

abstract ice cream sells different boxes, which range from small orbs to large spheres to standard cubes, tailored to specific drinks. The company offers a “Rock” box made up of two-inch cubes designed to fill an old-fashioned glass.

For those who want a more unique look, there’s the “Infinity Sphere”, which measures 2 ¾ inches in diameter and can fit in an old fashioned or rock glass.

The “Tower” box consists of large ice cubes just over 5 inches long and is designed for “long” drinks such as a Tom Collins or a highball.

“This ice cream…can really transform your experience from a great-tasting drink to a beautiful, great-tasting drink that you enjoy a lot more,” said Todd Stevenson, Founder and CEO of Abstract Ice. “It’s a simple beauty treat in your life to have something really beautiful and very affordable.”

Stevenson showcased the product Tuesday at Wilibees Wine & Spirits in Santa Rosa, where Abstract Ice has its own freezer. Ice should be tempered for at least four minutes at room temperature to ensure that it does not crack when liquids are poured in as the attraction of the product is to be able to see clearly through the glass.

Stevenson placed a wine list below that could be easily read through the mirror.

“I turned this on to a group of my friends,” Wilibees owner Vikram Badhan said as he helped pour whiskey onto a sphere. “That’s why I have an open box that I can drink Scotch straight out of. It’s just perfect. It doesn’t melt right away.

Products range in price from $7 to $12 a box at Bay Area outlets such as Charley’s Liquor & Deli in Petaluma and Bottle Barn in Santa Rosa.

While such costs may tempt some to do a double take, industry players say the prices are not out of line with the related costs in their field.

“Their ice is such a nice compliment to the cocktails we make in our tasting bar,” said Jenny Griffo, who is part of the wife-husband team that owns Griffo Distillery and uses Abstract Ice in her cocktails made for guests. of his establishment. .

The distillery takes the same approach with the specialty items it includes in the cocktail kits it sells online.don’t and its canned cocktails.

“You can’t have the best old fashioned in town if you don’t have the best ice cream,” Griffo said.

The idea for the company began when Stevenson was on a business trip to Tokyo while working for Diageo, the British liquor company, around 20 years ago. He was with a colleague at a bar when the bartender pulled out a block of ice.

“He pulls out an ice pick and cuts this thing into this perfect fucking ball that goes in this rock glass. It was up and down and side to side (into the glass) and then he poured the whiskey over it,” Stevenson said. “I was like, ‘This is amazing.'”

He then made the connection that while he was selling premium single malt Scotch whiskey for the company, much of the proceeds were likely poured over lousy ice.

Stevenson was nowhere in his life to pursue such an entrepreneurial venture, then changed jobs to land at Lagunitas Brewing Co. in Petaluma where he served as COO during the rapid growth of the company from 2008 to 2016. This was just after Heineken International took a stake in the company.

In retirement, he saw an article in the Wall Street Journal about homemade ice cream that sparked past fascination and led him to investigate the subject.

Stevenson discovered that the market for the product was centered on small companies that used specific tub-like machines that would circulate water so that the ice would freeze in the direction and be clear at the end of the process.

These machines were originally designed to make ice sculptures, Stevenson noted, with the most popular being made by Clinebell Equipment Co in Colorado.

The problem was that the process resulted in large chunks of clear ice that had to be cut with chain saws and band saws for use in cocktails, making it unprofitable.

“The idea was that there had to be a way to make this ice cream more affordable and bring it to more people,” he said. “More and more bars want this type of ice cream, but it’s still a high-end niche product.”

In his quest, Stevenson brought together two former Lagunitas colleagues as co-founders of the project: Ash Notaney, who is chairman, and Leon Sharyon, who is chief financial officer.

In fact, half of the company’s 14 employees have worked at Lagunitas.

They developed a new manufacturing technique with the help of a Silicon Valley company to make the cost of producing clear ice more affordable, a process that resulted in the filing of four patents.

Abstract Ice also worked with Charles Joly, a James Beard Award-winning beverage designer, to develop the products.

The private company also has investors that include family offices that serve high-net-worth clients, but not large private equity groups, Stevens said.

He did not discuss the growth rate expected by Abstract Ice over the next few years, but noted that the segment is in its infancy. “We really believe this is an area of ​​opportunity. There is a lot of latent demand for it.

The company realizes that awareness will be key and is working with the bars where it is used, including the Brewsters Beer Garden in Petaluma and The Matheson in Healdsburg, as its product benefits from being considered part of the finished cocktail. to bring out its value, Stevenson said.

“It’s the difference between a beautiful piece of art on the wall and the poster,” Stevenson said of Abstract Ice and regular ice.

“It just makes the experience of this drink more special.”

You can contact editor Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or [email protected] On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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