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The Iceman Cometh: Carving Cubes at Riffle NW

Photography by Avila/EPDX

Ice is a vital part of any craft cocktail, and when seafood restaurant Riffle NW opened its doors earlier this year, much ado was made of its fancypants Clineball ice machine, which churns out 300-pound blocks of the frozen stuff. "Ice is an ingredient in nearly every cocktail — shake with ice, build over ice, add ice to glass — you can't pick up a cocktail book without reading the word 'ice' many many times," says Riffle bar manager Brandon Josie. According to Josie, nearly 40 gallons of water go into each 300-pound block, and the restaurant's Clineball can freeze 600 pounds of ice every two or three days — though the bar itself uses one block per week (the rest goes toward the restaurant's seafood stash). Eater tagged along as Josie took a chop saw to an ice block, gathering tips about what ice to use when — and how best to lift that heavy ice onto the chopping block.

When the 300-pound ice blocks emerge from the Clineball, the Riffle team uses a pneumatic hoist to lift the block from the machine to a cutting table, where the large block is chainsawed into six 50-pound blocks "that we keep frozen for when the need arises," Josie says. "I'll generally break these blocks down twice a week using a chop saw to make the cubes and rectangles you find in your cocktails at Riffle."

The ice rule of thumb: the larger and denser the ice cube, the slower it melts. "Less surface area on a cube equals less dilution while still keeping the drink perfectly chill. It's work, but it's worth it," Josie says. The ever-popular ice sphere, which has less surface area than a cube, usually goes in a scotch or whiskey drink; while Old-Fashioneds, which enjoy "a bit of dilution, but not much," get a larger-sized cube. "A variety of classic drinks call for crushed ice — juleps, fixes and a number of tiki beverages come to mind," Josie says. "These tend to be rich cocktails that want to be cold and change pleasantly with the dilution from the crushed ice."

The Clineball isn't Riffle's only ice maker — for standard highballs, Josie uses cubes from a Kold-Draft machine. But even Riffle's "regular-sized" ice is slow-frozen in layers "in similar fashion to our large blocks," Josie says. "[That] results in clear dense ice that melts slower in a beverage and doesn't over dilute a cocktail when shaking or stirring."

In celebration of Eater Cocktail Week, Riffle's offering any one of Josie's cocktails on tap (featuring those giant cubes) and an order of Manila steamers for $20. The deal's good tonight only.
· Riffle NW [Official site]
· All Previous Riffle Coverage [Eater PDX]

Riffle NW

333 NW 13th Avenue, Portland, OR Visit Website

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