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I tried out the $550 Opal nugget ice maker that has thousands of fans



Opal ice makerOpal

  • The Opal nugget ice maker raised $2.7 million on
    Indiegogo back in 2015.
  • The machine makes a special kind of ice that has its
    own fan base.
  • I tried out the Opal ice maker at home and enjoyed it,
    but its high tag will likely be a turn off to many

How seriously do you take your ice?

Almost exactly three years ago, a
pitch for a specialized ice maker raised

$2.7 million

crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. Before we can understand what
motivated more than 6,000 individual backers to throw that kind
of money at an ice machine, we need to examine the specialized
nugget ice that it makes.

Rather than simply freeze water
into a shape, nugget ice makers like the Opal scrape flakes away
from the inside of a chilled stainless steel cylinder and extrude
it through a round hole.

The end result is a bunch of
chewable ice “nuggets” that give this ice its name.

Opal ice makerOpal

This method of ice manufacture dates back to 1981, an innovation
by Scotsman Ice Systems that “changed
the history of ice forever
.” You’ll recognize it in drinks everywhere,
from upscale cocktail bars to fast food drive-in chain Sonic. To
hear the aesthetes talk about it, this is no ordinary frozen
water. Common praise for the ice includes mention of its
chewability and its seeming ability to chill beverages more
quickly than conventional ice and absorb their flavor in the

And let’s not forget that it
keeps your drink cold at the same time.

Life was previously difficult for
the nugget ice devotee. Manufacturers in this niche cater almost
exclusively to the food service industry, so options were limited
if you wanted nugget ice at home: you could invest in a pricey,
industrial-scale contraption, or hoard the ice from businesses
that serve it. And lots of people did.

“It turns out that nugget ice
lovers often got their ice from fast food restaurants and travel
stations,” said Larry Portaro, director of the


team that designed the Opal and brought it to
market. Hardly a backyard homebrew invention, this machine is the
brainchild of a GE Appliances engineer who submitted his idea to
FirstBuild, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the company.

“With the Opal nugget ice maker,
there was enough in-person and online support for the idea that
FirstBuild went to market using Indiegogo,” he said.

Nugget ice has a posse,
basically, and the Opal is the domestic breakthrough these people
were waiting for. With a clean, stainless steel look and a $549
price tag, it squeezes the functionality of expensive restaurant
hardware into a countertop appliance for the home. It has a
footprint of 10.5 inches by 15.5 inches, measuring 17.25 inches

It’s extremely simple to use:
fill the basin with water, plug in the machine, and press the
power button. You’ll see the first bits of ice in about 20
minutes, and it can fill its bucket with three pounds of ice in
approximately three hours.

One bucket is enough to fill
several large drinking glasses with precious nugget ice, and I
have filled many. The more I used and enjoyed Opal-manufactured
ice, the more I was inclined to store it and have it on hand
24/7. I ultimately turned off the icemaker in my freezer, keeping
my nugget ice reserves there instead.

Opal ice makerOpal

This leads me to the only problem
I encountered with the device: if you store your freshly made
nugget ice in a conventional freezer, it will harden together
into a block. In other words, the Opal makes ice that is slightly
damp — no problem if it’s going straight into a drink, but a
speedbump if you want store it for use the next day.

An ice chipper solves this
problem immediately.

If you are lit up by the prospect
of “at-home nugget ice machine,” then the Opal is your manna
raining from heaven. It works exactly as marketed and I have no
negative feedback, save for my experience with the ice sticking
together in my home freezer.

The price will be contentious,
however. The only question of substance is: are you willing to
shell out $549 for it? If not, you may be rewarded by a “wait and
see” approach — the Opal has been on sale in the past for a low
as $400 — but these are still price points that will have some
people happy to continue taking their nugget ice from

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