Tom Kearney owner of The Arctic Fox Ice Lab wins a cool $20,000.
Ice. Any bartender worth her bitters knows that it’s a crucial ingredient in a well-made cocktail. But what else do you know about ice?
Probably not as much as Tom Kearney. He’s the guy behind Perth’s new bespoke ice suppler, Arctic Fox, and he’s about to invest $20,000 into upping the ice education of Perth’s bartenders thanks to a grant from The Blend IDEA LAB competition.
“The idea is to provide workshops and training around ice and block ice, as well as supporting participating venues in creating their own unique ice, that can add a new layer of creativity when making their cocktails,” says Kearney.
Designed to help support the Australian bartending community rebuild and innovate after a terrible 2020, The Blend’s IDEA LAB competition put $80,000 in grants up for grabs to bartenders around the country. Nearly 50 entries from individuals, teams and venues were received, before they were narrowed down to the 20 best across the country. Each entry underwent a Shark Tank-style pitching process, with six winners announced late last year.
“[The Blend] have made it easy for me to get this off the ground and soon to be humming” says Kearney.
The Arctic Fox Ice Lab comes at just the right time for WA, too, where Kearney says the demand for quality staff is outpacing supply.
“New quality venues are opening left, right, and centre, faster than staff can populate them,” Kearney says. “This is why consistent training and education is so important, to make sure all the up and comers have the tools and the knowledge to create great experiences.”
Kearney’s ice business, Arctic Fox Ice, is already up and running supplying that city’s best bars. The education arm, the Arctic Fox Ice Lab, is due to open mid-March.
Below, he tells us why he does what he does, why he’s a hospitality lifer, and expands on what he’s trying to achieve with the $20,000 grant from the IDEA LAB.
Why do you do what you do?
When I was bartending full time, it was a combination of good times with the crew, and that making a drink for someone had the potential to make their day.
Now in the ice business, it’s learning and problem-solving everyday, as well as doing something for myself, which is pretty rewarding when it pays off.
What’s your current role and where do you work?
I am the junior vice president of Foxtrot Unicorn (currently in a one shift a week capacity) and the owner-operator of Arctic Fox Ice Co.
Can you explain your IDEA LAB initiative in a way that say, one’s grandma would understand?
There didn’t seem to be any education surrounding ice, an ingredient that is used in most cocktails. The idea is to provide workshops and training around ice and block ice, as well as supporting participating venues in creating their own unique ice, that can add a new layer of creativity when making their cocktails.
Why is ice so important that bartenders froth over it?
Quality ice means all the difference when creating cocktails!
[It’s] not just visually appealing (people drink with their eyes first) but when used correctly can elevate a good drink into a great one. Reading into how the top Japanese bars use ice, as well as reading into the science of it is a real eye opener.
Where is the Perth bar scene at right now? How will your initiative help?
Post-second lockdown, the scene seems to be slowly returning to thriving. New quality venues are opening left, right, and centre, faster than staff can populate them. This is why consistent training and education is so important, to make sure all the up and comers have the tools and the knowledge to create great experiences. My initiative will provide knowledge and training for newbies and veterans alike.
How long have you been working in bars, how did you get into it? Are you a lifer?
Since I was 18, so for twelve years now. Jesus. Started as a glassy at a great pub, The Flying Scotsman (RIP). It was great for me as a nerdy introvert, because it taught me social skills. I love hospitality so I will probably stay at least adjacent until my hands calcify into T-Rex claws.
Tell us how you feel about winning the grant and the opportunity it provides?
It’s a great feeling that I’m not alone in thinking that this initiative will add to Perth hospitality, and that Beam Suntory is willing to invest in it. I’m glad that I will be able to provide something useful for the new generation of bartenders.
What’s it like to collaborate on this with The Blend team?
What a team! We are all on the same page, have known most of them for a while so very easy to work with, and they have made it easy for me to get this off the ground and soon to be humming. Great support structure in place.
When do you plan to have Arctic Fox up and running?
Arctic Fox is currently up and running, supplying venues around the CBD and Northbridge. The educational arm, Arctic Fox Ice Lab, which the grant is being used for, I planned to launch mid-March. I am already working with a few venues to get all the groundwork done so when March comes around we can hit the ground running.