Not all ice is created equal. If you’ve visited a good cocktail bar in the past five years, you’ll be familiar with “block” ice. In many cases these single, large chunks have replaced the jumble of small cubes once used in cocktails. Block ice melts more slowly, reducing dilution and keeping drinks tasting better for longer.
This ice can be made in a regular freezer, but not to the same standard as that coming out of Navy Strength Ice Co in Collingwood. The company, owned by Michael and Zara Madrusan of The Everleigh, Bar Margaux and Heartbreaker, is the only one of its type in Australia, and one of just a few worldwide.
Navy Strength has eight American-made ice machines that cost $14,000 each. Every three days, each machine gives birth to twins – two enormous 140-kilogram blocks completely free from air bubbles and other imperfections. The blocks are winched onto benches, then cut into cubes, batons and other shapes by six full-time staff equipped with electric chainsaws, bandsaws and small hand tools.
It’s a lot of effort, but in Australia this ice has no equal. It melts at glacial speed, and chills drinks to the lowest possible temperature (about two degrees). As the gallery above illustrates, Navy Strength ice is also beautiful in its own right. Each block looks like a big, priceless crystal. All this explains why places such as Attica, Minamishima, Black Pearl, 1806 and Eau De Vie are prepared to pay 85 cents a block for it.
Broadsheet photographer Pete Dillon captured these images last year for the cover story of our August print issue, “The Madrusans Make Drinks Better”. We thought they were too good not to share the whole set online.