Artisan Ice Is Upon Us

By Steve Trader

IMG_1272You would think that the business of making ice would be pretty simple, right? A water faucet, a couple of trays, or maybe a walk-in freezer. But at the HundredWeight Ice Company in Queens, it’s a little bit different than that.

For starters, the room’s climate-controlled, but not in the way you might think. It’s not even that cold, maybe 70 degrees. And the process still begins with a cube, just a much, much larger one – a 300-pound block that takes three days to freeze from the bottom up, in a specialized tub called a Clinebell CB300X2D Carving Block Ice Maker.

Its two neoprene-lined tubs are each filled with 40 gallons of filtered water and each has a little pump at the top that looks like one you’d find on a fish tank. It circulates the water as it freezes, which prevents oxygen bubbles from getting trapped, keeping the ice densely packed as it creeps upward.

The big, frosty rectangle is removed with the sort of hoist that might lift the engine out of a car in an auto repair shop. Owner Richard Boccato says it’s the most dangerous part of the process, but also one of the most beautiful.

“We set it down, clean it up, and then as it starts to slowly develop surface melt it resembles more of this beautiful, crystal clear monolith,” said Boccato.

It’s given time to sweat, which makes cutting easier, hence the room temperature. And then the crafting truly begins, sort of.

HundredWeight uses a thin butcher’s band saw, first shaving off the uneven sides, before the ice is ready for its final series of cuts. If all goes right, Boccato says it cuts smooth as butter.

The result is HundredWeight’s most popular product — an ice square just a tad smaller than a Rubik’s Cube, sold in bags of 50. The single, large square means less surface area touching your cocktail than a handful of smaller pieces. That means it takes longer to melt, which results in a less-watered down beverage.

A few New York bars have been getting fancy with their ice in recent years, often flamboyantly chiseling cubes off a giant ice block behind the bar. But as far as Boccato knows, his in-house, block ice production facility operating in tandem with his cocktail bar, Dutch Kills, is the first of its kind in Queens.

And business has been very good.

“People see it before they taste it,” says Boccato. “Its opulence and clarity and beauty is something that attracts people prior to even taking the first sip of their drink, so you have to recognize that quality in this ice straight off.”

IMG_1301People like Tim Weinart and his girlfriend Dorothy live in the neighborhood, and have heard positive reviews about the craft cocktails at Dutch Kills. It’s their second time visiting. He’s got tequila on the rocks, and she a gin concoction with pineapple and Campari served in a tall Tom Collins glass.

“I was very impressed and surprised by the fact that it fits the glass so nicely,” said Weinart. “My girlfriend is drinking a drink that is twice the size of mine, and her ice cube is twice the size of mine and perfectly fit to the glass, so they took care of us both in that way.”

“Mine is actually sticking out of my drink,” Dorothy said, laughing. It’s exactly where it was when I started drinking it, it’s not watering the drink down at all.”

There’s no aggressive sales team pounding the pavement on behalf of HundredWeight. Boccato says he simply lets the density of the ice, and the resulting temperature of the drink, do the talking.

The pitch worked just fine on Erik Lombardo, the bar manager of Marta in midtown Manhattan.

“You very simply go, I’m going to demonstrate for you two old fashions and I’m going to make one with the ice you’re using now, and I’m going to make one with the ice I brought with me,” said Lombardo. “And you just make ‘em. You don’t even have to talk it up. No tap dance or shuffle, you just make it, and you go, what do you think? There is no question better ice makes the better cocktail.”

So much better that a bar like Marta pays $35 per bag of 50 cubes, or a 10 by 10 block. Lombardo admits that a bit of that cost is passed on to patrons. And while it doesn’t seem like much when the drinks are $12, it’s still more than what an old-fashioned cube costs.

HundredWeight’s Boccato is sensitive to the perception that his product is just a gimmick.

“A craft ice cube, and I’m saying this with full disclosure, sounds like snake oil,” said Boccato. “And yet what we want to accomplish, what we want to show everyone, is that it does have a clear [no pun intended] purpose.”

It’s hard to argue with the cold hard fact; artisanal ice is officially a thing now. So cheers to that.


The Wild & Wacky History of Trending

dancemarathonWe’ve all heard of or even participated in the weird trends that go viral – planking, the cinnamon challenge or the ice bucket challenge. But the viral nature of bizarre things is nothing new, it’s been happening for decades, even before the internet. Here are some curious trends that happened long before the world wide web.

Reporting, voicing and reenactments by: Julia Alsop, Sarah Barrett and Steve Trader
Produced by: Gwynne Hogan

Photo via Wikimedia Commons/ Library of Congress.

The Curiosity of a Horror Movie Music Composer

By Steve Trader

“The aesthetic of the room is real important to me, the whole vibe of the place,” says Bernhard of his studio space.

“The aesthetic of the room is real important to me, the whole vibe of the place,” says Bernhard of his studio space.

The first thing you see entering musician Chvad SB’s apartment is a life-size mannequin doll-wearing a World War II-style gas mask.

I’m there for less than two minutes before he excitedly asks if I want to see his jar of cat fetuses. He used to work at an animal hospital, and he kept a few after an already pregnant kitty came in to be spayed.

Then there’s the battery-powered teddy bear holding a plastic knife, that hums a children’s lullaby while stabbing itself in the heart when you squeeze a button in its foot. That’s sitting next to an old rusty mold that used to shape plastic doll heads, just to the right of the dolphin skull.

Chvad’s girlfriend Heather has aptly named it his cabinet of curiosity.

“The aesthetic of the room is real important to me, the whole vibe of the place,” says Chvad.
Despite the year-round, haunted-house style decor, there is something very inviting about
the atmosphere. Perhaps it’s the fact that you couldn’t find two warmer, friendlier people than
Chvad and his girlfriend. There just happens to be a taxidermied squirrel, and a dismembered
baby doll with a meathook sticking through it’s head sitting in the corner of the room as well.

Chvad’s been composing horror film scores for 20 years, as long as he’s been a musician. He’s
got $57,000 worth of instruments and recording equipment in his bedroom, including an analog
modulator system with a combined 1500-plus knobs, switches and patch-cable input plug-ins
capable of producing an infinite amount of frequencies, tones and beats. It can tune in to other
people’s shortwave radio conversations, or vibrate the walls to the point that loud neighbors turn
their music down late at night. He built it himself in just over two years.

A genius at work in his space. Bernhard’s equipment is worth about $57,000.

A genius at work in his space. Bernhard’s equipment is worth about $57,000.

When he scores films though, he prefers to start with a simple guitar or keyboard, with the
sound of the movie turned down as he watches.

“You see something happening and it’s like, what feels right? And then I just search for that,” said Chvad. “Then when you find it, you just try and roll with it.”

He sets about demonstrating his craft for me, first creating a web of almost 50 patch cables
in the modulator, before switching to the keyboard, adding a delayed effect to just a couple of notes, then looping in a guitar drone he creates through moving a magnetic, vibrating device over the strings. He hasn’t tunes his guitar in years. The tone is driving and melodic yet simple, the drone putting us both in a sort of trance as we
stand in the middle of the room.

“I love John Carpenter’s stuff, the whole Halloween thing, but I would never do that, even
though I love to hear it,” said Bernhard. “It’s so fixed and regimented, there’s a cool hook and
people are going to walk away and remember it. I like things without hard edges, that’s less intrusive. I’ve established weird moods and dark moods, it can sit in the background while things
happen and the story can tell itself.”

One can imagine Chad alone, sitting in the middle of his bedroom floor carpet, lights turned off, letting his mind completely zone out for hours at a time while the drone fills the room. It’s something he says happens way too often.

“I have a hard time with intent,” he says of his composing method. “That’s why I focus on reaction right? I never like to push things, I never want it to be ‘look at me playing.’ It’s like a jellyfish in the tide. The tide’s going that way, I’m going that way. And that’s how the music kind of happens.”

“You see something happening and it’s like, what feels right? And then I just search for that,” said Bernhard of his method. “ Then when you find it, you just try and roll with it.”

“You see something happening and it’s like, what feels right? And then I just search for that,” said Bernhard of his method. “ Then when you find it, you just try and roll with it.”

The Fight Over the Export-Import Bank Rages On

By Steve Trader

In the 80 years that the Export-Import Bank of the United States has existed, Congress has quietly and without debate renewed the bank’s charter 16 times. But that all changed this summer.

It started when former House majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Virginia) lost the primary election in June, and was booted from his position. Cantor had been a supporter of the bank but new majority leader replacement Kevin McCarthy is not, and has been vocal about it.

The bank’s charter renewal was due by September 30, but anti-bank sentiment has become very popular among Tea Party Republicans since McCarthy took office.

Essentially what the bank does is provide insurance for small businesses who are trying to sell goods overseas. There’s a lot of risk involved, and Ex-Im lowers that risk by loaning money to foreign companies, to guarantee payment of US goods.

As the renewal deadline approached, there was serious concern by small business owners that their exports would no longer have that financial support.

Texas representative Jeb Hensarling has been one of the bank’s most outspoken critics.

“It’s a bad idea, always has been,” said Hensarling, during an interview with the media company . “Ex-Im, regrettably, is in many respects the face of cronyism. It’s where government bureaucrats come in and start to allocate credit, and pick winners and losers.”

Bank Chairman Fred Hochberg counters that argument by explaining that 90 percent of the bank’s almost 3,500 clients are small businesses, and that the bank simply levels the playing field with other countries who have similar programs.

“Why we’d want to unilaterally disarm, why we’d want to sort of fight with one hand tied behind our back while other nations doing more to support their exports, more to support their companies, is not really clear to me,” said Hochberg.

Ultimately the bank’s charter was renewed in early September, but only until June 2015, the shortest renewal period in its history. In other words, this debate is very much far from over.