Ice Ice, Baby

How do you elevate a three-ingredient cocktail to the point that it becomes a craft-beverage experience? With such fastidious attention to detail that even its cubes of ice are a deliberate and painstakingly created effect. “Ice, to us, is a very big thing,” says Chris Bostick, the general manager and a partner of Rainey Street’s new craft-cocktail destination Half Step, brought to Austin by the creators of The Varnish in Los Angeles. “It’s actually a very important ingredient in our cocktails. The goal is to keep things simple, but to pore over every detail to allow us to create simple cocktails that also become memorable.”

In fact, the people behind Half Step so venerate ice that while renovating the bar they also installed a separate icehouse on the property. Inside is a Clinebell—an ice machine, normally used by ice sculptors, that regularly creates two 300-pound blocks of ice, which are then broken down with saws, tools and other mechanisms to produce old-fashioned ice cubes, ice for shaking, five-inch-tall Collins spears and more. “It’s quite a lot of work for one particular detail, but it makes a big difference,” says Bostick. “I kind of liken ice to throwing a brisket into a smoker. Once you throw a chunk of ice in, the clock is on. The slower and the more steady the rate, the more you can control how much water enters into the cocktail—keeping the water temperature just right.”

This technology has been critical to the success of some of Half Step’s bestselling cocktails, such as The Floradora—a “buck-style” drink made with fresh ginger and lime, house-made raspberry syrup, gin and soda water. “It’s served tall, on one of these crystal clear Collins spears,” Bostick says. “It’s very striking, very delicious, refreshing and people respond well to it.”

And the word is out. Bostick says Half Step has had an incredible response from customers since opening early this year, and that the icehouse itself has generated a good deal of interest. “A lot of people are very curious. They say, Wow, that seems like a lot of work for ice, and then they taste the drinks and they see. They understand.” —Nicole Lessin

For more information, visit halfstepbar.com