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The quality of a craft cocktail bar's ice has long been a sign of how serious its beverage program is. Kold-Draft ice cubes reigned supreme in the early cocktail resurgence thanks to King Cocktail Dale DeGroff's influence. He first started using Kold-Draft ice in the Rainbow Room back in 1984; and by the early 2000s, his bartender disciples were chilling their cocktails and mastering the hard shake with the crystalline blocks of ice.
Over the years, more companies got into the commercial ice machine game, providing bars and restaurants with a variety of options to choose from to suit their needs. Now, it's not just Kold-Draft, a notoriously fickle machine, but Hoshizaki, Scotsman, Manitowoc and more have entered the scene. And requests for good ice have moved beyond cubes to pellets, crushed ice and even 300-pound blocks.
But which ice maker is best for your business? That depends on how much you need and how quickly, as well as how much space you have available to accommodate an ice machine. See below for what experts say are the best types of commercial ice makers on the market to get right now.
Best Overall: Scotsman C0322SA-1 Prodigy Plus Ice Maker
"The thing is a champ and the best pellet machine you can get," says Erick Castro, owner of Polite Provisions in San Diego and Boilermaker in New York and the expert in swizzles, juleps and tropical cocktails. "I honestly believe them to be indispensable to any successful bar program. You cannot beat them for versatility and reliability," says Castro.
This Scotsman model produces 350 pounds a day, using less energy and water than most other nugget ice machines. Finished with stainless steel, it measures 30 by 24 by 23 inches and can stack on top of the Scotsman B322S ice bin. For convenience, its indicator lights will alert you about any maintenance needs and how it's operating. Its warranty covers parts and labor for three years, with coverage for the evaporator, compressor and condenser for five.
Best Undercounter: Manitowoc UDF0140A NEO 26" Air Cooled Undercounter Dice Cube Ice Machine IR1890N
Manitowoc has been a leader in ice-making since 1964. It was the first to automate cleaning for ice machines and currently has the largest selection of Energy Star-certified ice machines. Even though its UDF0140A model is compact enough at 33 by 30 by 40 inches to slot under a counter and out of the way, it can quietly kick out 132 pounds of full, half or regular-size ice cubes per day. Its impressively large storage bin with an angled sliding door also gives you the ability to have 90 pounds of ice at the ready.
According to Shawn Lickliter, the bar director for Chef Walter Manzke's popular Los Angeles restaurants Republique and Petty Cash Taqueria and Bar, "The Manitowoc is insanely reliable. We haven’t had any real service issues in four-plus years. It produces ice quickly and uses less power." With pop-out air filters, a removable bin, and antimicrobial protection, it's easier to keep it clean, too.
Best Countertop: NewAir AI-215SS 50-Pound Portable Ice Maker
Since countertop ice makers are built compact to fit on kitchen counters, they generally don't have the bandwidth to produce the mass quantities of ice a busy restaurant and bar would need to chill drinks. But the NewAir ice maker handily beats those expectations, cranking out 50 pounds of bullet ice a day. The machine can be set up anywhere since it has a built-in water reservoir, with a 24-cup capacity. Just make sure you don't place it near a hot stove, which will hamper its ice production.
Equipped with an LCD display, it'll let you know when the reservoir needs to be refilled, the ice bucket needs to be emptied and where the machine is in the self-cleaning process. You also have the option to choose from three different sizes of ice.
Best Freestanding: hOmeLabs Freestanding Commercial Ice Maker Machine
This stainless-steel ice machine, which measures 17.6 by 15.7 by 31.4 inches, can be set up anywhere in your business as long as you are able to connect its 1.2-liter water tank to a water outlet. And even better, its quiet operation gives you more options for where to place it since you won't have to worry about it disturbing customers.
Huge ice demands are easily met thanks to its ability to produce 143 pounds of ice in a day (66 ice cubes within 11 to 20 minutes) and store 29 pounds in its ice bin. More importantly, its intuitive control panel makes it easy for anyone to figure out how to adjust ice thickness and ice-making time.
Best for Nugget Ice: Hoshizaki F-801MAJ-C Air-Cooled Cubelet Ice Maker
At new Los Angeles rooftop hotspot LA Cha Cha Cha, this Hoshizaki air-cooled modular ice maker, which measures 22 by 27.4 by 26 inches, chills the agave-focused cocktails. The stainless-steel ice maker churns out about 690 pounds of nugget-style ice a day, dropping ice every 10 to 12 minutes.
"Buying an ice machine like Hoshizaki just for shaking and then serving every single drink on a hand-cut cube is actually cheaper and more affordable in the long run than the upkeep of Kold-Draft machines," says bar manager Bryan Tetorakis. The Hoshizaki is covered by a three-year warranty for parts and labor and is Energy Star qualified.
Runner up, Best for Nugget Ice: GE Opal Countertop 2.0
Measuring 16.5 by 13.43 by 17.5 inches, this update of the GE Opal Countertop has Wi-Fi functionality and is designed to easily, quickly and quietly meet your immediate nugget ice needs. Churning out a pound of crunchy ice for your tiki cocktails or blended drinks per hour, its storage bin can also store up to 3 pounds of ice.
Since it doesn't require a connected water source thanks to its attached 2.4-liter water tank, which refills itself with ice melt and provides water for up to 9 pounds of ice, you can place this sleek appliance anywhere on your bar for easy access. But the coolest feature has got to be its ability to pair its 2.4Ghz WiFi radio with the SmartHQ app to monitor its ice production from your phone and to get software updates, such as Alexa or Google voice control capabilities. "Alexa, make ice."
Related: The 7 Best Ice Makers of 2021
Best High-Volume: Kold-Draft GBX1060
Trevor Easter, owner of The Snug cocktail bar and Ro Sham Beaux wine bar in Sacramento, recommends this Kold-Draft machine for high-volume bars. It kicks out up to 1,000 pounds of ice—full cubes and half cubes—per day.
"We love that type of ice because we use multiple shaking methods that have been developed around its shape and density," says Easter. "An example would be that when we shake drinks with soda water, our dilution comes from the soda water not the ice during the shaking process. We are one of the highest-volume cocktail bars around, so our Collins shake yields a perfect result in half the time using half the tools than a conventional bartender technique for that type of drink." The machine is available as air-cooled (42.3 by 31.1 by 33.7 inches) and liquid-cooled (42.3 by 25.7 by 33.7 inches).
Good to know:
Since the Kold-Draft machine heats up and needs room to breathe, Easter built a separate ice room with a 1-ton air-conditioner. "Since we climate control its environment and ensure it gets proper ventilation, it always produces perfect dense, solid ice," he said.
Best Splurge: Clinebell CB300X2D
Ice purists looking to take their beverage programs to the next level swear by the Clinebell. "I’ve bought like six of these over the years," says Julian Cox, the creator behind bar programs at award-winning bars and restaurants such as Bestia in LA and Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago. It takes three days to produce two crystal-clear 300-pound blocks of ice that measure 20 by 40 by 10 inches. You'll need the space to accommodate its size (48.5 by 51.25 by 42 inches) as well as the funds to buy a hoist to move those massive blocks, a dedicated freezer to store the blocks, and a chainsaw and bandsaw to carve them. The CB300 runs on 110-120V.
Good to know:
Since the water pump circulates the water on the surface to prevent impurities from freezing in the ice, its positioning is crucial and needs to be changed each day of the freezing cycle.
Related: The 10 Best Bar Tools of 2021
For your nugget ice needs, you can't go wrong with the Hoshizaki or the Scotsman. But even though the Hoshizaki F-801MAJ-C (view at Amazon) makes nearly double the amount of ice as the Scotsman C0322SA-1 (view at Amazon), the Scotsman beats its warranty with five-year coverage for its evaporator, compressor and condenser. Plus Scotsman ice machines are touted in the bar industry as the best nugget ice producers, having invented and perfected it.
What to Look for in an Ice Maker
When shopping for an ice maker for your business, first consider the type of ice you need. Is it going to be bullet, nugget, or cube ice? Next think about how much ice you'll need. Will you be icing a raw bar, chilling a cocktail program or supplying a high-volume bar? If you're looking for lots of ice in a hurry, shop for a machine that can produce mass quantities quickly.
Type of ice maker
There are four types of ice makers: undercounter, countertop, ice and water dispenser, and modular, which produces large amounts of ice but requires a storage bin. Where are you most likely going to need ice? Outside on your patio, in your kitchen or in your restaurant? There are built-in ice makers that not only boast a larger storage capacity but can blend in with the decor or be hidden out of the way under a counter. Countertop models are smaller but handy when you just need extra ice.
Maintenance and upkeep
Some machines are finicky, like the Kold Draft machines which require plenty of ventilation since they tend to run hot. Learn about the requirements of the ice machines you're considering and whether you have the budget and time to cater to their needs and maintenance. Also, research if they're easy to clean. Since this is something that should be done about four times a year, it would be good to learn how difficult or easy it is to do with your machine.
How much space do you need?
The size of your ice machine depends on how much ice your business needs on a daily basis. To determine those needs, take into account how much ice your cocktail program uses, how much water you serve customers, and whether you have a self-service beverage station or a raw bar. On average, figure 1.5 pounds per customer or 900 pounds for 500 customers.
How does it drain?
An ice maker can have anywhere from one to four drains to accommodate the amount of water it expels during its ice-making process. A floor drain is ideal for ice machines that produce a huge amount of waste water. For this, the drain is built into the floor so water flows down the drain to the sewer. But there needs to be an air gap, usually 2 inches, between the ice machine's drain and the floor drain in case the sewer backs up.
How much energy does it use? Is it energy-efficient?
To calculate how much energy your ice machine uses, first find the "watts" listing on its service tag and convert it to kilowatts by dividing by 1,000. Find out the cost per kilowatt-hour on your electricity bill. Take the number of hours your ice machine runs per day and multiply that by the kilowatt-hour number of your machine. Finally, multiply that number by the cost per kilowatt-hour on your bill to calculate how much energy it uses. If you're in the market for an energy-efficient ice machine, look out for the ones Energy Star certified, which are 10% more energy-efficient and 20% more water-efficient than regular models.
Can you use it in high temperatures?
Temperatures higher than 100 degrees Fahrenheit are not the best environment for ice machines. Not only will the ice in the storage bin melt faster but the ice machine will stop producing ice. That's why it's optimum to maintain a temperature of 70 degrees around your ice machine. Doing so will not only help ice production but it will benefit the longevity of your machine.
How do you clean it?
To ensure food safety standards, your ice machine should be cleaned four times a year. The process varies depending on the model of your machine so check its instruction manual for any guidance. Generally, you start by clearing your ice bin of any ice, then engage its automatic cleaning cycle. After this is complete, unplug the machine so you can clean its removable parts, including the air filters, with a cleaning solution. Wipe each part down with a cloth and then thoroughly rinse each one. Not only will the machine need to be cleaned but the ice bin and the machine's exterior will as well.