[If you enjoy this content, use it professionally, or simply want to support the blog, please share the artisan workshop of the bostonapothecary, the houghtonstfoundry.com. It will hopefully evolve from an architecture focused machine shop to also include a laboratory for distillery analysis and applied yeast work.]
One of my prized possessions is my Alaska model No. 1 ice crusher. To be honest, I own a few of them and insist they are at any bar I’m working. Many in the cocktail scene aren’t familiar with them, but the bars of Boston are home to quite a few (And D.C.’s Green Zone just got its first fully restored unit!).
The Alaska is a big, hundred year old, fly wheel driven, block ice crusher that can shred cold draft cubes like it’s no ones business. They were used on fishing boats, in general stores, science labs, pretty much any where an awesome crush was required. With little effort you can fill five gallon buckets of crush in mere minutes (especially if you fit it with a hopper!). A 115 volt motor just can’t match the torque of a hand driven flywheel so there is nothing electric in its size range that can rival it (actually, if you’ve got the space you can attach a motor).
For years people have loved stopping by our house for a Caipirinha, the house drink, and crushing their own ice. “Oh yeah, the house with that big crusher.” It has always been the center of a lot of drunk memories. One of ours may or may not have made a pilgrimage to Burning Man.
Owning a great, clean and functional Alaska has just gotten easier because Brandon Neal’s PA Writing Tools & Restoration has started restoring them. Buying a restored machine will set you back $375-425 and Brandon can restore an existing machine for $200. Not too bad for a hundred year old statement piece.
Unrestored Alaska’s are prone to dripping a little rust here and there because they were made from tin coated steel, but Brandon solves all that with a food safe powder coating. Restoration involves disassembly and sand blasting, boring the worn axle holes, rethreading the flywheel spindle, food safe powder coating, fitment with plastic bushing to prevent metal on metal abrasion, and finally a new handle. Brandon can even fabricate new metal tins to catch the crush if desired.
Boring of the axle holes, which are typically elongated by wear, is a modern update and a really great touch. When worn, the spinning drum tends to jump and rock side to side making noise and increasing the wear. When fitted with plastic bushings, there is no more metal on metal contact and a much more precise movement.
If you’re interested in an Alaska, leave a comment here or hit up Brandon on Facebook. There is often a waiting list because Alaska’s are a highly collected cult antique. They are increasingly behind the scenes of better bars and becoming statement pieces for distillery tasting rooms. I finally own enough of them that I’m comfortable telling you about them. [If your bar uses an Alaska, leave a comment. It would be great to know who else is in the club.]
Nothing rivals an Alaska.
I own a few Little Giants:
I’ve owned the legendary Flak Mak’r:
But the Alaska is king. Happy crushing.