Why this Pittsburgh man needs $25,000 for clear ice

Matt Verlinich has raised more than $21,000 to make his clear-ice maker a retail reality.

Courtesy OnTheRocks
Sarah Anne Hughes

The inspiration came from TV commercials.

Ones where liquor is poured, served or presented in a glass with crystal-clear ice cubes.

“They’re so stunning,” Matt Verlinich said of the see-through frozen-water squares.

That’s part of the reason Verlinich invented OnTheRocks, an at-home clear-ice maker that will likely retail for around $60. It consists of three basic parts: a box (which is about eight inches wide, seven inches tall and six inches deep), a tray and a water reservoir.

The flexible tray — one that forms either cubes or spheres — is placed in the plastic reservoir, which is filled with water (even tap) and put in the insulated box. That goes in your freezer. Eighteen to 24 hours later, through the magic of science, you have clear ice.

First, a note to the haters: Making clear ice at home is A Thing. Devotees say it’s slow-melting, doesn’t contain any impurities, and tastes and looks better than normal ice. The average American’s ice is cloudy because of air bubbles that become trapped as the surface layer quickly freezes. The trick to creating clear ice is time: the slower the freezing process, the better (think icicles).

Laugh if you want. But as of Tuesday morning, Verlinich had raised more than $21,000 of his $25,000 goal from nearly 300 backers on Indiegogo. (There are 22 days left in the campaign.) Some of the orders have come from the United Kingdom (about 3,496 miles from Pittsburgh), Finland (4,300), Malaysia (9,343) and Singapore (9,533).

Verlinich, 29, is a Penn State grad who worked as a mechanical engineer for Westinghouse. He left to be general manager at the Obama-approved TechShop Pittsburgh, a co-working space for makers. After three years of doing that, Verlinich was ready to start working on his own projects.

He decided to make OnTheRocks his first product for a practical reason: It’s the most straightforward to manufacture.

“Of all the ideas I have, this was the simplest,” he said.

But Verlinich also perceives a need for such an item. A few years ago, you couldn’t find clear ice in Pittsburgh, he said — “not even at fancy cocktail bars.”

There are already clear-ice makers on the market, from ice ballers to a slew of portable ones that sell for more than $200.

Consumers can also purchase ice molds at a much lower price and fill them with boiled water, but that doesn’t always produce *perfectly* clear ice. Others have stuck actual coolers filled with water in the freezer. Without a tray, this process involves carving the ice.

Verlinich said OnTheRocks is “designed to be the most cost-effective” and “versatile” maker out there. He knows professional bartenders, but “the people who I consulted more were home bartenders and home cocktail enthusiasts,” he said. These people, who have smaller freezers and fewer resources than the pros, are his target audience.

At the moment, it also appears to be the cheapest clear-ice maker out there: While Verlinich expects OnTheRocks will retail for around $60, interested parties can purchase a unit with one tray for $50 through the Indiegogo campaign.

As for versatility, Verlinich said he wants people who financially backed this round of OnTheRocks to submit ideas for a third tray with a different shape. (New and different trays can be switched out of his invention, one thing that sets OnTheRocks apart from the already-available $120 Ice Chest, he said; Verlinich’s product can also make six cubes in one mold while Ice Chest makes four.)

Already, backers are pinging other ideas at Velinich — a cover for the box! room for two trays! — through Indiegogo.

Verlinich’s OnTheRocks could possibly become A Thing to people who love clear ice. But ideally, he wants it to replace the traditional ice-cube tray for everyone.

“I’ve taken it to my little cousins’ birthday parties,” he said. “They just want to put it in their pop, because they’re just like, blown away by it.”