Alaska Glacial Ice uses the 45-foot landing craft M/V Qayaq Chief, run by Lazy Otter Charters Whittier, to gather ice in Prince William Sound’s Blackstone Bay. Courtesy Scott Lindquist.

Rich in gold but poor in self-control, California gold miners and businessmen of the 1850s sought immediate gratification to ease their spirits from the curse of quartz vein. Temporary pleasures included visits to a brothel or bar, but there was another luxury that promised to cool off all that consumed it: ice. Refrigeration was not widely available then, so holding a sweaty glass clinking with cubes was an elitist status symbol many during the gold rush were eager to pay for.

Much of this history was detailed best by E. L. Keithahn, former curator of the Alaska Territorial Museum, in his 1945 article published by The Pacific Northwest Quarterly entitled “Alaska, Inc.” Boston had been the ice source for California; however, the long boat trip around Cape Horn left purveyors with puddles and half the desired frozen commodity initially shipped. The increasing demand for a cold drink forced ice entrepreneurs to consider other sources that could satisfy the burgeoning “Cold Rush,” which is when all eyes turned to Alaska.  

In February of 1853, 250 tons of ice from the Last Frontier made it to the Golden City through a deal arranged between the American Russian Commercial Company of San Francisco (also known as the “Ice Company”) and the Russian-American Company on behalf of the Russian Empire. As ships like the Zenobia offloaded the ice in San Francisco, children would use the large piles of sawdust that insulated the ice to dry off after swimming. Californians ended up paying $75 a ton while the Ice Company pocketed around $18,000 in revenue. The success inspired the Ice Company to enter into a three-year agreement to receive an annual supply of 1,000 tons of ice at $35 per ton from Novo Arkhangelsk (now known as Sitka) and other locations controlled by Russia. According to a correspondent for Alta California, the Ice Company “converted a low swamp, a mile back of Sitka, into a pond of sixty acres, and built an ice-house of a capacity to hold 10,000 tons.” Sitka’s climate, however, formed ice that was too porous to survive the journey back to San Francisco. As a result, the Ice Company focused their efforts on either harvesting glacier ice by boat or cutting ice from a somewhat man-made lake on Woody Island near Kodiak while using horses to haul it to the ship.

Ice was so desirable that in 1858, a Russian consul named Peter S. Kostrometinoff wrote on behalf of the Russian-American Company to Hong Kong-based trading firm Augustine Heard and Co. to see if cargoes of Alaskan ice would be desired as a trade item in China. An Englishman traveling to Alaska in 1867 also documented that Alaskan ice, while primarily destined for San Francisco, was making its way to ports in Mexico, Central America, and South America.

Harvesting glacier ice in Alaska today

Two workers use a crane to life chunks of glacier ice on to a boat
Scott Lindquist and Captain John Herschleb on the F/V Pagan harvest icebergs near Columbia Glacier for a company in California. Courtesy Scott Lindquist

Over one hundred years later, Alaskan ice is still being consumed by both international and local markets through the efforts of former commercial fishermen Scott Lindquist. Lindquist has become Alaska’s longest-operating supplier of the frozen commodity through his company Alaska Glacial Ice, which specializes in luxury cocktail ice that promises not to dilute your drink while providing an effervescent “bergy seltzer” as the 3.5-ounce glacial cube slowly releases trapped, historic air when melting. 

Lindquist secured his glacier ice harvesting permit in the 1990s from the State of Alaska, which became one of his first customers. “The State of Alaska was trying to promote commerce in South Korea,” Lindquist said. “To represent Alaska, they took an iceberg that I harvested and used it as a centerpiece at that event.” His ice has also traveled as far as Japan and Germany. Lindquist currently has a permit to supply ice to customers from tidewater glaciers located outside of Whittier. He is in the process of securing a permanent water use right for Blackstone and Beloit Glaciers that will guarantee his company’s access to Alaska’s wild ice for customers in the Lower 48 as well as in Anchorage and Juneau. The permit allows him to harvest a cumulative 130 tons of free-floating ice per week, although he does not come close to hauling that much. “This seems like a huge amount of ice…and it is a lot of ice, but 90 percent of that is worthless because it has rock shards inside…from tearing a U-shaped valley from the side of a mountain,” Lindquist said. “Ten percent of that ice is perfectly pure in little pockets throughout the glacier as it flows down the mountain.” These are the iceberg bits Lindquist takes back to his DEC-certified ice processing facility so that they may be turned into hand-cut craft cubes or spheres designed to fit perfectly into a standard rocks glass. 

Rocks glass with a round, clear glacial ice cube

While mainstream refrigeration eventually ended the profitability of shipping Alaskan ice down south, the allure of consuming Alaskan glaciers is another story. Lindquist can attest his ice cubes melt down to the purest, most absorbable water imaginable, and there are many willing to pay the price in order to raise a glass refreshed by ice from the Last Frontier. “It’s all about timing and I believe that as distilleries and liquor have more of a presence and improve in quality, ice has to rise like the tide just like these new distilleries are putting out incredible booze,” Lindquist said. “Craft ice is becoming a huge part of a better cocktail.”

In addition to making 3.5-ounce hand cut cubes, Alaska Glacial Ice also creates ice spheres by hand. Both shapes release an effervescent “bergy seltzer” as they slowly melt in the glass.  Photo by Ray Friedlander

Much like how the gold miners of the 1850s enjoyed a cold glass to top off the day, modern day cocktail experts like Lindquist can attest that history, indeed, repeats itself with the desire for Alaskan ice.

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