There's more to ice than meets the eye.
No one knows that better than the folks at Vault Ice, a Norman-based company whose sole focus is making the cleanest, clearest ice possible.
It's a difference you can see -- their specialty cocktail ice cubes are stunningly clear -- but there's more to it than that. Or, more aptly, less to it.
When you freeze ice at home, the water takes on odors and tastes of what's around it, from cardboard boxes to that questionable carton of ice cream in the back, as it rapidly freezes from the outside in.
The same purity concern extends to ice machines at commercial restaurants, said Seth Stevenson, Vault's director of business development (and former stuntman).
"Our water is pure, so when it does dilute, you're not getting any sediments, any impurities, no weird, funky aroma, because it is frozen in specialty freezers," he said.
Vault Ice begins as Norman water. It goes through a rigorous, three-stage filtration process that includes reverse osmosis and a UV filter before it is frozen in solid, 300-pound blocks.
It is then cut, stamped (if desired) and vacuum-sealed to ensure a cocktail experience that take top shelf liquor up to 11.
Unlike ice blocks and spheres produced with molds, Vault Ice doesn't have any oxygen trapped inside or cloudiness from contaminants. The result is an unblemished piece of ice that borders on art with all the density of a jawbreaker.
Apart from its sleek, sophisticated aesthetic appeal, Stevenson said Vault Ice delivers something no other ice does: true, unadulterated flavor.
"Distillers spent 15 years bottling your favorite spirit so you can enjoy it," he said. "Do you really want to ruin that with bad ice?"
Because it melts more slowly, due to less surface area and the lack of trapped oxygen, Vault Ice dilutes drinks at a much slower rate.
With regular ice, for instance, a drink can undergo a 3-ounce dilution in 10 minutes. A drink with a single cube of Vault Ice experiences just a 1-ounce dilution in the same amount of time.
As Stevenson explains, it brings the olfactory elements of spirits to the top while pushing the ethanol "burn" to the bottom for a smooth and balanced delivery.
"The main thing is, [well ice] creates so much water that it creates a pool, a surface area on top of the water that removes all of the scent. And if you can't smell something, you can't taste it.
"So, the experience for a Vault Ice user is very different. You're getting the most pure, most authentic version of a drink on the rock that you can get."
Once you've had Vault Ice, Stevenson, now a self-described ice snob, said you'll never go back to "freezer funk" cocktails. The specialty ice is available at some Norman establishments, like The Winston and Scratch, and Stevenson said that list is growing. But you don't have to go out to enjoy the perfect cocktail. Vault Ice is now available at some area liquor stores, as well, for about $1 a cube. A single cube, Stevenson said, is usually good for two to three pours in an evening.
For commercial restaurants, it's good for a lot more than that.
"If you want to get your best drink experience that the distiller intended, beyond a neat shot, you want to go with our ice," Stevenson said. "Customers notice the difference … and they come back."
Vault Ice is currently the largest producer of specialty cocktail ice in the country, producing 36 300-pound blocks of ice every three days. With four slabs per block, and 136 cubes per slab, that's over 40,000 crystal-clear cubes per week.
The company distributes its products to six states, through major companies like Sysco, Ben E. Keith, U.S. Foods and Gordon Food Service. It also has extended reach through restaurant chains, like Eddie V's, that carry its product.
The company also has its hand in ice sculptures for wedding and events, and offers other personalized touches, like a customizable ice "stamping" kit for rendering logos and seals on a variety of shapes, including the retail cubes, commercial cubes, spheres and more.
Stevenson said Vault Ice continues to grow, and, as more customers learn about what's out there and how big of a difference the right ice can make, he expects business to continue to grow.
"Business is booming," he said. "It's not a fad, it's not going away."
Over the last five years, he said, Vault has gone from five to 50 competitors in the market.
Still, he said Vault remains a cut above, and its Norman operation is poised to continue to grow and innovate.
The company, which was founded in 1989 as an ice-carving company, relocated to Norman from Oklahoma City last year, buying up 2701 Venture Drive. With the move, the company went from a 5,000 square-foot facility to a 25,000 square-foot facility and it now employs roughly 20 people in Norman.