You'd think I fell in love with clear ice from seeing an exposed glacier on the Alaskan shoreline or an ice cave in New Zealand. While I have always marveled at the natural beauty of clear ice, it was actually a Jameson commercial that really planted this seed. Sounds pretty underwhelming, but the ice dancing in that whiskey was so brilliantly clear, I couldn't get it out of my head. I became excessively interested or mildly obsessed, depending on who you talk to.
But let's back up... I was a curious kid. I always need to know how everything worked. I took things apart just to put them back together. So, no surprise, I went on to become an engineer. Undergrad, Masters, the whole thing. I started my career in the corporate, Fortune 500 world, but entrepreneurial spirit wasn't going to let me stay there. I became General Manager at TechShop Pittsburgh, a maker space where I was able to teach and help aspiring entrepreneurs design and develop their products. I loved it. I got to apply my engineering know-how and interest in problem solving to a huge variety of projects and types of people.
I prototyped on behalf of. I helped others design their products. And I learned what it took to run a business. Now it was my turn. I had seen the impossibly clear ice floating in that Irish whiskey. And while it wasn't the lightning bolt "I need to start a company" moment, it would end up being the spark that started it all. At first, I simply wanted to know "how'd they do that? How can I do that?" I've always preferred spirits and cocktails to beer. I always preferred small, home gatherings to loud bar settings. So I just wanted to be able to make this precisely transparent substance at home so I could better enjoy and entertain.
I started my research with the one place where I knew clear ice could be found man made: ice sculptures. The machines that make blocks of ice for ice sculptures are called clinebells. These machines are large, expensive, dedicated freezers with pumps that keep water circulating. I didn't want large, and I didn't want to bring machinery or electrical into the picture. I wanted to make a device that a person could fill with water and put in a regular freezer like they would a regular ice tray. Except I wanted the result to be perfectly clear ice worthy of high-end bars and restaurants. Was that possible?
WARNING: Light engineering speak ahead
I started experimenting with different container shapes and insulation values until I was able to set up passive convection current that kept the water circulating without any pumps...and then I found out people had been using coolers to make clear ice for years *facepalm*. But after testing this DIY method myself, I knew I was onto something. Using a cooler is okay in an emergency (trying to imagine what that would be…), but it is far from a clean and easy process. For one thing, you have to cut or carve a block into the shape you want, which takes time, skill and practice. Plus the whole thing is a mess. And it takes up a whole lot of space. The experimenting did however help me refine a design, but we're not there yet.
There were dozens of videos with huge numbers of views. Sure, they all gloss over the amount of time, mess, and planning it takes to DIY it. And yes, in reality most of those people probably did it once and never again because of the painstaking process. And of course, even if the person did go through all that pain, they didn’t end up with perfect cubes or spheres. But that’s the point. It wasn't just me. People wanted to make clear ice at home. The methods available just sucked.
My whole life, I've always liked solving problems, designing solutions, figuring out how things work to make them work better. It's what drew me to engineering and it was what took me over now. I knew I could solve this and make something that was exactly what I would have wanted to buy. I went to work designing, re-designing, prototyping, testing. And then I had it. A compact unit that could produce 6 large cubes or 5 hefty spheres in a typical home freezer that was easy enough for anyone to use. Now I needed funding to get the initial manufacturing off the ground.
I joined forces with some very talented friends. Ben Butler of Top Hat, the marketing agency he founded, and Joe Brown, a wildly talented photographer I knew from TechShop (always grateful guys). Together, we launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in September of 2016. We set an ambitious goal, but we were either going to do it right, raise what we needed, and produce how we said we would, or we weren’t. I learned a lot about the seedy underbelly of crowdfunding, but I was there to legitimately raise the funds, make my product, and to get it into the hands of the people that wanted it. Pure and simple. I will forever owe a huge debt of gratitude to all of our backers (I thank you again here). Spoiler alert, but we smashed our goal and raised over $74K raised in the original campaign that included almost 1,000 customers / backers. We’d go on to raise over $110K on Indiegogo. That was the end of the beginning.
OnTheRocks has thousands of happy customers making beautiful drinks and cocktails in their homes using our products. Big, beautiful cubes and large, sleek spheres at the heart of their elevated home cocktail experience. I am lucky enough to hear from many of you as you share your beautiful creations. Keep it coming! Clear ice made easily at home is just the beginning. There's so much more I'm working on to improve your home bar experience. But for now, pour a drink and raise your glass. And when it comes to your ice, the choice is clear.
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