The coolest spot in Englewood is a 4,000-square-foot warehouse wedged between Santa Fe Drive and the South Platte River. No, really. It is the headquarters of Colorado Ice Works, the state’s largest producer of crystal-clear ice, which gets chiseled and cut into, say, a 14-foot-tall Marge Simpson sculpture, or the giant cubes and spheres you’ll find in fancy cocktails at El Five, Tavernetta, and Death & Co.
The brr-illiant (we couldn’t resist) sculptures were the bulk of the business when it began as Colorado Ice Sculptures in 2006, but former chef Mike Bickelhaupt, who bought the company in 2013, realized that demand for oversized, ultra-clear ice cubes and spheres for craft cocktails was growing. Not wanting to be left out in the cold, he started freezing and cutting two-inch cubes. By 2020, with COVID drying up events and the ice sculptures that decorated them, the craft cubes were the company’s hottest product. (Of course not literally the hottest, because, you know, heat is kind of the enemy here.)
“Craft ice kept us alive,” Bickelhaupt says. “Had we not started selling craft ice in 2014, we probably would have lost the company.”
Now, craft ice is about two-thirds of Colorado Ice Works’ sales, and it’s making a play to be the largest craft ice producer in North America. Bickelhaupt created special equipment that would rev up production from their comparatively glacial 1,800 cubes per hour to more than 5,000. That’s a whole lot of ice, ice baby.
It all happens at that Englewood warehouse, inside a 20-degree, 1,600-square-foot freezer. Workers can only cut for an hour or so at a time—it’s freaking cold—before they need to thaw out. Sculptures are done in a separate freezer, and they involve more intense tools, like chainsaws and motorized, computer-controlled machines. Colorado Ice Work’s products are also more translucent and bubble-free than the average ice you make at home, thanks to Colorado Ice Work’s triple-filtered water and slow-directional, four-day freeze process. That means the water freezes into ice from only one direction, pushing the dissolved air and any minerals out.
Later this year, Bickelhaupt will open a small retail space (location TBD), where people can slide in for cubes, shards, luges, and sculptures. The company will also host hands-on classes where attendees can carve their own ice sculptures (think: Canvas and Cocktails type classes, but colder). “I may also construct a small freezer that will allow people to chill out and get a real ice experience,” he says.
For 2021, Bickelhaupt forecasts that Colorado Ice Works will shatter its 2019 record of freezing half a million pounds of ice, with the next few years only getting bigger.
“I think the craft ice market is really blowing up,” he says. “Sculptures will continue to grow, especially interactive sculptures, like ice bars, live demonstrations, and ice thrones. We’ll see a lot more engraved cubes with company logos or messages. We’ll see craft ice in more places, like grocery stores and liquor stores. It’s in its infancy, and it’s going to continue to grow.”
Sounds like the future looks anything but on the rocks for this very non-vanilla ice company.