The story was shared on many a food-related social media feed last week, with a headline declaring, “The Rise of the $8 Ice Cube.”
The second coming of the Gilded Age, it seems, can be found in a cocktail glass. What could be more symbolic of conspicuous consumption than a chunk of ice sold at a premium cost? Is artisanal oxygen next?
Come to think of it, oxygen bars have been around for over a decade, charging customers up to $60 to huff on concentrated oxygen. But ice, a simple fixture of every freezer, also seems like an unlikely candidate for chichi status. And as California faces severe drought, cooling off with connoisseur ice could be interpreted as bad form. But these high-end ice cubes are increasingly prized by the craft cocktail set, and coming soon to a couple of midtown Sacramento bars.
The story from priceonomics.com, which specializes in articles that debunk overpriced goods and services, focused on a brand called Gläce Luxury Ice. (“Gläce’ is pronounced like “gloss,” or the way someone from England would say “glass.”)
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Although the product seems at home in Beverly Hills, the headquarters of Gläce Luxury Ice is in downtown Davis. The ice itself is kept in a Sacramento warehouse. Roberto Sequeira started the company in 2007, and the ice business has done him well. Sysco distributes his brand nationally, and his swanky ice has been served at the Playboy Mansion and other red carpet events.
Sequeira launched Gläce just as the economy started to melt down, the worst possible time you’d think to introduce a luxury good. He was fresh from earning an MBA at UCLA and knew that despite tough times, a certain segment of the consumer market would continue spending as usual. Sequeira developed an ice that was impeccably clear and tasteless – as not to disrupt, say, the finely crafted taste of Yamazaki 18 Year Old whiskey. His target market: the one-percenters of the world and aficionados of high-end spirits.
“While it’s not for everyone, I knew there was an opportunity for a particular market share,” said Sequeira. “It’s like how some people just want the coffee and don’t care how it’s roasted.”
The process behind Gläce is proprietary, but Sequeira pegs a chunk of the price to shipping and packaging. He knows Gläce is still a tough sell for the majority of the marketplace. While priceonomics.com listed Gläce as an $8 ice cube, they actually cost about $5 each.
“Half of that (price) is overpriced shipping demanded by FedEx and UPS,” said Sequeira. “You whack that in half and it’s not as insulting – but we get it.”
So why not just fill an ice tray with water and call it a day, or invest in an ice sphere mold geared for cocktails? For Sequeira, it all comes down to the water and its taste – or lack thereof. Locals know the water in Davis, where nitrates from nearby farming enter the water supply, carries a slightly funky taste. Even pricy bottled waters have various flavor profiles, like Fiji’s “natural artisan water” which contains the mineral silica and a touch of flouride.
Gläce touts a trademarked “zero-taste” ice geared for the most discriminating of drinkers. It’s similar to the way some wine enthusiasts aren’t above paying $60 for two Riedel Bordeaux glasses – because drinking a 1982 Haut-Brion in a tumbler would be considered sacrilege in the oenophile set.
Christopher Sinclair, president of the Sacramento chapter of the United States Bartender’s Guild, has championed Gläce and will offer it at Red Rabbit. He expects the luxury ice will add $3 to $5 to the cost of a drink. Hock Farm will also add Gläce to its bar program soon.
“Ice is the ‘x factor,’ ” said Sinclair. “Ice ends up as water, and that taste isn’t always neutral. If I’m making a cocktail with a (high-end spirit), why would I want flavors in there that messed up a drink that took a long time to make?”
Sequeira continues to deal with the doubters, including a Miami Herald story that tested the dilution rate of Gläce ice spheres and found they melted sooner than the purported dilution rate of 15 to 40 minutes. (Says Sequeira: “If you put a piece of Gläce ice under hot studio lights and take pictures for 30 minutes, I have news for you: You’re watching ice melt.”)
But he’s not cooling on the ice game. Coming next: Gläce’s line of diamond-shaped ice.
“I’m just another entrepreneur carving a niche of the American dream,” said Sequeira.