Every so often, we have an opportunity to review new products to see how well they might work for the home mixologist. Recently, we had the pleasure of trying the NewAir AI-215SS Portable Ice Maker. For several years now, we have seen similar devices in catalogs and gadget advertisements and and we always wondered how these miraculous machines actually work. It’s never obvious just looking at a picture, and even in a store you may not know what to expect. We thought Summit Sips readers would appreciate an honest assessment after some hands-on experience with one of these.
It only took a few days once confirmed by NewAir for the shipment to arrive. The unit came nicely packed and very well protected for the journey to our door. Ours is a top-of-the-line stainless steel model, although the top lid is black. The exterior surfaces came with a protective plastic coating that you need to peel off to reveal the brushed finish. This is a nice touch, and although it requires an extra step, it virtually guarantees that it will be free from scratches and fingerprints. The unit also ships with an ice scoop which helps keep you from reaching in and pulling out ice with bare hands. This this model is capable making 50 pounds of ice in one day so it’s pretty big on the counter.
Preparing Your First Batch
It’s always a good idea to thoroughly wash anything that will come into contact with food. New products may have plastic or metal burrs, oil left over from the manufacturing process, or bits of packing material. Fortunately, the AI-215 has a cleaning cycle as well as a drain spout to help prepare for running your first batch of ice. We passed several gallons of water through the reservoir and completely cleaned the inside of the unit before starting. By setting it next to the sink, draining the water was simple.
How it Works
It’s an ingenious design. Maybe all portable ice machines are setup like this, but we were fascinated to learn how something the size of a big bread machine can make ice cubes in minutes. Think of the whole thing as a flip-top cooler. The space in the back is reserved for the compressor and electronics. In front of that is a deep section where you pour water into the bottom. This serves as a reservoir from which the ice maker draws the water it needs. Then, you place the included plastic basket over the water reservoir. This basket is where finished ice will collect. As it melts, the melt water drains back into the reservoir and will be recycled into new ice.
At the top of the unit above and behind the basket is where the magic happens. A motorized tray fills with water. Sitting in the water bath are shiny metal fingers. These fingers get super cold while ice begins to form around them. Within minutes, the ice grows until a timer tips the tray forward. The remaining water drains down, back into the reservoir and the “cubes” of frozen water drop off the fingers and get pushed forward into the basket. The tray then moves back into position and fills with fresh water and the cycle starts all over.
The whole process takes about 8 minutes or so with a fresh tray of ice dumping into the basket each time. It’s pretty remarkable how quickly ice forms and grows in the water bath. The first few trays produce thin, inconsistent ice, but as the cycles get going, the water gets colder and the ice becomes more uniform. The collected cubes also begin to cool the inside. We walked away from the unit and let it work its way through the reservoir of water. When we returned a couple hours later, the basket was full and ice production had stopped on its own.
The first batch had us a little worried, but once we understood how this thing works we realized that it only takes a couple of cycles before the ice keeps coming, fast and consistent. There is an electronic timer, a cleaning cycle, and even settings for different ice sizes, but we weren’t interested in small cubes. Since they all have holes from the freezing element, the bigger the cubes, the better suited they will be for shaking or stirring.
The cubes themselves are round and hollow. They have a white look to them that is indicative of trapped air bubbles. It’s what we might call “wet” ice. But if you consider the fact that enough ice is generated in eight minutes to fill a Boston Shaker, it’s a good compromise. You won’t want to use this ice to show off a gorgeous rocks drink—leave that to your shards, spheres and Tovolo cubes. But you can definitely use this to stir cocktails. Shaking may well cause these cubes to explode and over-dilute a cocktail, but they will also cool a drink faster in the process. We think that you can adjust your technique and still make great cocktails.
Where this ice will truly shine is in tiki drinks, juleps, or any cocktail that calls for crushed ice. We can imagine amazing results setting up the unit next to an electric ice crusher like an assembly line on Derby Day, or spending the day before a party making bags of ice for coolers, ice water, or soda. Like any form of ice, some drinks or techniques are better suited than others. However, it’s hard to imagine a faster way to get frozen water without investing in a giant commercial ice maker.
All things considered, we are pretty happy with the results from the NewAir AI-215SS. It has a professional look with the stainless exterior and you can setup ice production anywhere you can get power. If you have room on your counters, it can fit nicely with other kitchen appliances, though you may want to check the dimensions to decide which model fits best. With that in mind, these devices are portable. Smaller models may be easier to move around, but even at this imposing size, the AI-215 has inset handles and one person can easily lift it and carry it out to the car.
The ice it produces cannot compare to a commercial ice maker, but it’s similar in quality to the crescent cubes that come out of refrigerator freezers. The difference lies with the fact that a freezer is already keeping the environment cold, whereas this machine (as far as we could tell) lets the ice itself keep the compartment cool. Should the ice begin to melt, the unit simply makes another batch. Given the right situation such as a party or a picnic, portable ice machines can be pretty handy to have around, and the NewAir performs admirably.