The ice we’re used to — produced in refrigerators in our homes or commercial ice makers at restaurants — is often more white than clear and is translucent at best, but hardly transparent.
It’s perfectly suitable for a glass of water, filling a cooler or putting on a swollen ankle. But for cocktails — or any mixed drink — the clearer the ice, the better. That’s evident by the increasing demand at bars and restaurants, and emphasized by cocktail connoisseurs around the world.
That’s why Travis Jenkins, a local food stylist, created Tuxedo Ice.
Tuxedo Ice is, put simply, an ice tray that produces eight large crystal clear ice cubes transparent enough to clearly see an object on the other side and to elevate any drink it chills.
Jenkins’ vast marketing and restaurant experience helped inspire Tuxedo Ice
While getting his Bachelor’s degree from Missouri State University, where he studied media production, Jenkins took a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant in downtown Springfield.
After working his way through just about every position in that kitchen, the chef asked him to create his first daily special.
“It was kind of at that moment that I realized that there’s creativity in that job, in that career,” Jenkins said. “It was really cool, kind of an eye-opening experience. The decision was up to me to come up with the flavors. And not only that, but how it was going to look on the plate, which I really enjoyed.”
With a newfound passion for restaurants, Jenkins went back to school and got his culinary degree, and ended up working in restaurants for almost eight years. In addition to working as a dishwasher and cook, Jenkins also took on front-of-house roles as a server and bartender.
And, along with working in established restaurant settings, Jenkins helped with caterings and pop-up restaurants.
While no longer in the restaurant industry, the experience greatly contributed to Jenkins’ next step in his career — culinary marketing.
His first job in that field was at Food IQ, a Springfield-based marketing agency.
“That was really interesting,” he said. “It was kind of on the other side of things. Part of it was coming up with recipes, but part of it was ‘How do you communicate through imagery or through messaging the deliciousness of this dish.’”
Jenkins currently works at Springfield’s Bon Aperture Productions, a midtown studio composed of chefs, food stylists and content creators. He has worked on the marketing side of the culinary world for about seven years now.
“I’ve spent a lot of [my] career helping other brands create their content, and helping market their brands, and one of the life goals I’ve always had is, how do you take an idea and get that onto a shelf somewhere,” he said. “I was just always fascinated by, ‘How does that actually work?’ That’s kind of where Tuxedo came from.”
Between his experiences behind the bar, he learned about the importance of crystal clear ice and through his knowledge in marketing and media, he knew the value in having good branding, which ultimately culminated in Tuxedo Ice.
“It is really fun and important for me to create a brand and a look and feel and identity,” he said. “It’s the essence of it.”
How clear ice can make or break a cocktail
Not every chilled cocktail has ice in the finished product. But for those that do, the purity and quality of the ice is vital — at least for some bars and their patrons.
White or cloudy ice indicates that impurities and oxygen bubbles were frozen into the ice’s shape.
Impurities can consist of various minerals and gasses that can change the melting temperature of ice as well as impart unwanted flavors into the drink and oxygen bubbles can cause the ice to melt quicker, while potentially trapping the aroma of everything else in a freezer into an ice cube.
And, clear ice can simply make a drink look better.
What is Tuxedo Ice and how does it work?
While clear ice isn’t uncommon in the craft cocktail world, it still has plenty of room to grow.
“The whole clear ice phenomenon is relatively new,” he said. “Past five or six years, maybe, at the earliest. And until maybe two years ago, give or take, you didn’t really see it everywhere. You saw it at the higher-end bars, the Death & Company’s, bars of that status.”
During a work trip in Miami, Jenkins became familiar with the process called directional freezing, which freezes water from top to bottom, forcing oxygen bubbles and other impurities down. Whereas, a standard ice tray that can essentially be frozen from all directions will force the impurities to the center, as there is nowhere else for them to go.
Tuxedo Ice has a small, insulated reservoir with a silicone ice tray resting on top, and a hard plastic layer separating them. At the bottom of each mold in the ice tray are small holes for the air bubbles and impurities to go down where they eventually freeze at the bottom of the completely filled container, but leaving the cube cast with crystal clear ice.
Jenkins said he has seen some restaurants come up with a similar DIY clear ice maker with large coolers. Through his market research while developing Tuxedo Ice, he also came across similar products as his around the country.
“I’ve seen some competitors, but there’s not a lot in the space,” he said. “It’s a fairly niche market.”
Clear ice makers are also sold for commercial use, and can cost anywhere from a few thousand to well over $15,000. And if the one-time cost and maintenance isn’t enough to deter a restaurant or bar owner from buying one, the labor can be.
“There’s a lot of labor involved,” Jenkins said. “Yeah, it costs money, but sometimes your labor dollars are a little bit more important and how your bartenders and bar backs are spending their time.”
With Tuxedo Ice, Jenkins hopes to serve commercial and residential needs
Due to its relatively small size, Tuxedo Ice can be a suitable size for people who simply want to have clear ice at home, but it can serve the needs of bars and restaurants as well.
During his R&D, Jenkins said The Golden Girl Rum Club in downtown Springfield tested out Tuxedo Ice behind the bar and has had good results.
As a service industry veteran himself, he said wanted to be able to provide a solution for bars.
In the short time since announcing Tuxedo Ice on Facebook on March 7, he said he has received some positive feedback.
Tuxedo Ice “trays” sell individually for $99.99 on the product’s website and product news can be found on their Facebook page.