DeRusha Eats: Minnesota Pure & Clear Artisan Ice

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Even the CEO knows it sounds absurd. Artisan ice.

“I know it’s pretentious, but we deserve the best, right?” laughed Robbie Harrel, CEO of Minnesota Ice, and the creator of Minnesota Pure & Clear Artisan ice.

His ice cubes are large, the cylinders almost fill a standard sized rocks glass, but it’s the clarity that gets people’s attention.

“I love going to a nice restaurant and watching people playing with the ice, trying to figure out why it’s so clear,” Harrell said.

He’s spent a decade around ice, first delivering large blocks of it, then running a company that creates custom ice sculptures.

“I’ve moved a lot of 300 pound blocks, I’ll say that,” he laughed.

While enjoying a cocktail at Minneapolis bar Eat Street Social, he noticed the bartenders chipping large blocks of clear, sculpture-grade ice, and thought there must be an easier way. He already was creating sculpture ice for his company, so he thought he’d explore if there was a market for the fancy ice cubes.

“If you’re drinking a nice Macallen or a nice cocktail, you don’t want to get it watered down,” he said.

His ice is so clear: Minnesota Pure and Clear Artisan Ice disappears when you pour a drink over it.

“You don’t find this ice anywhere else. It’s truly a Minnesota thing,” he said.

The road to Minnesota Pure and Clear ice starts 30 miles south of Minneapolis in a building that sure doesn’t scream artisanal.

“It’s not a filtration process, It’s not boiling the water or anything like that,” he said.

It’s standard Shakopee City water, pumped into 20 by 40 inch tubs.

“Keeping it moving gets the air bubbles out,” Harrell said.

The 300-pound blocks freeze like a lake does- except they freeze from the bottom – up. It’s a slow process of freezing large, thin sheets of ice, one on top of the other, creating a 300 pound block.

He’s also found a clear market for the cubes. Eat Street Social became customer No. 1. Now they buy 50,000 cubes a year.

But does it make drinks taste better?

“It helps with the experience,” Harrell said. “It really does. It’s gonna get it colder faster. But it’s going to make sure it doesn’t get diluted.”

Robbie’s started selling the cubes and the cylinders directly to consumers at Surdyk’s Liquor store in Minneapolis, with an ice cold price of around a buck a piece.

“Even when we have them on sale for 60 cents an ice cube, people are like – wait what? It’s like yeah. And we sell 400 ice cubes a week,” he said.

In a state known for pristine lakes and freezing cold, Minnesota Pure and Clear has ambitions of keeping drinks on artisan ice- from coast to coast.

“Why shouldn’t the best ice come from the coldest place,” Harrell said.

More from Jason DeRusha
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