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The Cocktail’s Invisible Ingredient: Inside Half Step’s Dedicated Ice Program

How Chris Bostick and his team meticulously craft clear and perfectly proportioned ice.

What makes one cocktail stand apart from the next? Most people would say quality of liquor, or the bartender's skill. Chris Bostick, the co-owner of Half Step, says that one quintessential ingredient slips most drinkers' minds: the ice. Making ice as carefully crafted as the drink itself is a passion at Bostick's polished Rainey Street bar.

Half Step's ice program is an extension of the techniques that Bostick learned when he collaborated with Eric Alperin (The Varnish in L.A.) and Sasha Petraske (Little Branch, Milk & Honey Bar, and more in New York). He and Eric Alperin also worked together at Penny Pound, an artisanal ice distributor for neighborhood bars. Alperin and Petraske are now also his partners at Half Step.

When Bostick designed Half Step's model, his goal was to keep his drinks simple, or to create an illusion of simplicity. "It doesn't need to be a 10-ingredient palate odyssey for it to be a good drink," he says. Since there are so few ingredients in their cocktails, every element counts, especially the ice.

In the ice house out back, he utilizes a Clinebell Ice Machine to make large slabs, and a Scottsman Machine for pellet ice. But before the water even hits the machines, it needs to be processed. As the water enters into the building, it is divided into two paths. Unfiltered water is sent to be carbonated, because CO2 attaches to the unfiltered minerals more easily. The other enters into a PH softening and filtration system, which then feeds into the ice machines.

Half Step crafts approximately seven styles of ice, each serving a different function. Dilution rate is the main factor that determines which ice is used when. Bostick compares a bar's ice to a chef's stove. "If we leave a steak on a stove for too long, it's going to burn. If we keep a cocktail on ice for too long, it'll melt. If we have control over the outcome of the ice, we can control the quality of the drink." Expect more super-serious ice in Austin soon: Half Step's resident ice obsessive Josh Loving will open his own bar next year.

— Melody Fury