RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And the arrival of spring in one part of Canada brings with it an unusual business: iceberg harvesting. Every spring, icebergs break off of Greenland and float south across the Atlantic to the Canadian island of Newfoundland. For residents, they're as ordinary as snow with some special qualities that can be blended and brewed to make a pretty mean drink. Emma Jacobs reports.
EMMA JACOBS, BYLINE: The year the Quidi Vidi Brewery started brewing beer with iceberg water, a giant iceberg floated up against the cliffs around the Newfoundland harbor of St. John's.
CHARLIE REES: It was a big berg and it jammed right across the harbor here.
JACOBS: Charlie Rees says Newfoundlanders have a curious relationship with icebergs. On the one hand, they're just a fact of life. On the other, when that iceberg was in the harbor mouth, hundreds of people came down to gawk. He took pictures.
REES: And eventually the wind and waves broke it up into small pieces and it just disappeared.
(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINES)
JACOBS: On land, in a former fish processing plant, Rees's brother was already brewing up the first batches of iceberg beer, now a brewery staple.
REES: And then they go through the crowner, which puts the crown on the bottles, or the cap - the crown we call it.
JACOBS: Rees shows off the assembly line that fills thousands of bottles with the lager by the hour.
REES: We'll go over and we take one right off the line and open it for you.
JACOBS: Perfect. Great.
REES: Right off the line fresh.
JACOBS: The ice formed tens of thousands of years ago from compacted snow. That means there are no minerals and that there are lots of tiny bubbles trapped inside. It gives the golden beer a special, very light taste.
Newfoundlanders have known about icebergs' special properties for years.
TAK ISHIWATA: You don't taste anything, right? It's not like normal ice cubes which would - even with filtered water you still do get some - you know, you don't notice that you're drinking chemicals, but you are, right? It's just pure.
JACOBS: Tak Ishiwata says the drinks are just a new twist on a very old Newfoundland tradition of keeping a chunk of iceberg in the freezer. Ishiwata's mother had a block she would chisel pieces off of with a screwdriver to ice drinks. The trapped air in the ice gives off a special fizz in the liquid.
Today, Ishiwata runs a sleek restaurant, Newfoundland-Japanese fusion. A couple years ago he had the chance to go out on an ice-harvesting boat. It's dangerous to get too close to the giant towers of ice, he says, so to break off manageable pieces, he took a shot at the iceberg with a .22 rifle.
ISHIWATA: It was pretty cool, yeah. Like one bullet took down - it was a miniscule amount compared to the entirety of the ice, but it was big. Big pieces blew off. Waves everywhere.
JACOBS: Ishiwata stored the bergie bits, as they're called, that he brought back, in his restaurant freezer. He chipped off pieces with a knife to top off special blue martinis. He said they looked like miniature icebergs floating in the glass. And the drink became so popular, he's had to bring it back every summer since, though he gamely says he doesn't know what all the big fuss is about. He says a lot of people who come looking for the drinks are probably tourists.
ISHIWATA: They're pretty intrigued with the whole iceberg situation. We find it pretty normal here.
JACOBS: For NPR News, I'm Emma Jacobs.