Note: This is a review of a product supplied to me for promotional consideration. Take it with however much salt you wish.
A few weeks ago, a company called Air & Water offered to send me a portable ice maker to review for promotional consideration. Upon receipt, it took up space in storage for almost two weeks because I have a small kitchen and limited counter space to test it. Finally, I had to cave in and make room: I had a moment of crisis in the late afternoon when I realized that not one tray of Tovolo cubes in my freezer was solid, and my wife would soon be home, demanding cocktails and brooking no excuses.
How It Works
The appliance in question, the AI-100SS from NewAir, is bulky but lighter than you’d perhaps expect. Its operation is actually pretty interesting. First, it’s portable, which means it’s not plumbed into your water lines. You fill it with whatever water you prefer–tap, distilled, spring, or Christina Hendricks’s bathwater, it’s up to you. The reservoir has a capacity of about 2 quarts of water. You fill it by lifting the cover, removing an ice basket that sits above the reservoir (more on this later), and pouring the water in. A drain-off cap allows you to empty the reservoir if you need to move or store the machine while it still has water in it.
The ice it produces is thimble shaped, and that’s a result of the machine’s operation. Once you turn it on, the machine sucks water from the reservoir into a sort of tub. The water forms a bath into which metal rods are descended, which chill the water, forming ice around the rods. Selecting the size of your ice thimbles simply means that you’re selecting the thickness of the ice that forms around the rods. When the ice is finished forming, the machine turns off the chilling power of the rods, the ice drops off the rods and is ejected into a basket.
The ice basket has small perforations, and as I said before, it sits atop the water reservoir. So as unused ice melts in the basket, the water drips back into the reservoir, ready for another session of ice-making. Smart design. The machine takes about 6 – 15 minutes to make the first batch of ice, depending on the size you selected. Once the basket fills up or the reservoir runs out of water, the machine shuts itself off.
My first batch of ice tasted a little off, with sort of a plastic taste, so I followed the instructions that said to use a bit of vinegar or lemon juice and allow it to cycle a few times. I first tried vinegar, and although it didn’t immediately impart a vinegar flavor to the ice, it did make an iced drink taste vinegary as the ice melted. I switched to lemon juice, which eventually washed away all the vinegar and provided me with tasty lemony ice water, so I’d definitely advise using lemon if needed.
How’s the Ice?
Enough already, I can hear you saying. How’s the ice?
- First, it’s opaque, thanks to air dissolved in the water. If clear ice alone suits you, you’ll want another solution.
- Next, even the large size is kind of brittle.
- Third, it’s warm. The interior of the machine isn’t chilled except by the ice itself, so the thimbles sit a few degrees below room temperature until you use them.
- The thimble shape means the ice has a lot of surface area to allow melting liquid into your drink.
- Because the ice is warm and brittle, it melts quickly. In a drink, it fast degrades into a shell that you can easily crunch between your teeth. Further, it breaks easily into shards after only a few minutes.
I used this ice the first night to make a couple of drinks, and here’s what I decided:
- Using the largest sized ice will provide you with serviceable, even good, ice for stirring a cocktail. The drink will chill and reach desired dilution quickly, though, so stir more briefly than you would using larger cubes.
- The ice breaks down quickly in a shaker, into very small shards. I personally wouldn’t use it for shaken drinks for this reason, but if you do, shake just long enough to blend, dilute, and chill–just a few short seconds.
- Because it melts quickly, it’s very much less than ideal for drinks served on ice, unless you’re tossing one back quickly or one or more of your ingredients are already cold.
- I haven’t tried using it as crushed ice, but I imagine it would crush pretty well and work just fine for, say, a julep.
I work from home, and I have a glass of ice water at my side at all times. Aside from coffee (black, please), water is usually the only beverage I drink until the start of cocktail hour. Until the NewAir came along, that meant several trips a day into our small, overloaded freezer. Now, however, I leave the freezer shut all day, which frankly, is better for the freezer, and better for the food (and ice) inside. It means that when it’s time to mix drinks, I know I can rely on having many frozen Tovolo cubes.
And, I no longer have to whack away at the cubes to make chipped ice for chilling down cocktail glasses. Instead, I can just scoop some machine ice into them and top them off with water. The quick melting is ideal for this because it chills the glasses down quickly.
I’ve seen Fred Yarm, from the Cocktail Virgin blog, comment in a couple of places that a friend of his owns a NewAir and stores her thimbles in the freezer in plastic containers. This seems smart because the ice would get hard and cold. I might try it and report back.
I can’t tell you I’d have bought this machine for myself. To be honest, it never even occurred to me that portable ice machines were a product category you could purchase from. I do, though, love that these little thimbles allow our freezer to work more efficiently, free up the Tovolo cubes from the humble act of daily hydration, and chill my glassware lickety-split. I won’t say I can’t live without it; if I had a freezer with a built-in ice machine, I’d probably box this up until company was over. But I don’t have a built-in ice maker, and so I find this portable model very handy.
If you’re in the market for a portable, countertop ice machine, the NewAir AI-100SS won’t disappoint you.