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Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail Hardcover – November 10, 2014
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“A manual to the most deliciously potent science kit ever.”
- Publishers Weekly
“If you want to know exactly how much ethanol is in your vermouth, how to work with liquid nitrogen and why a red-hot poker is useful behind a bar (it’s got nothing to do with unruly patrons), [Dave] Arnold is your best guide. Serious, sure. But there’s also a great spirit of play and experimentation here.”
- Rosie Schaap, New York Times Magazine
“Examines cocktails on the nanoscale… extremely fascinating.”
- Wayne Curtis, Wall Street Journal
“His observations offer insight to anyone with a cocktail shaker and a few basic ingredients… for amateurs looking to get creative with boutique spirits, Mr. Arnold’s data is a blessing.”
- Rachel Wharton, Wall Street Journal
“Dave Arnold is the smartest person I know in the world of food and drink. He’s relentless in his pursuit of understanding, of improved and new techniques, and above all, of deliciousness. Cocktail enthusiasts and professionals alike will find insights and inspiration galore in Liquid Intelligence.”
- Harold McGee, author of On Food and Cooking
“Like modern cocktails, most books about them are rejiggered rifts on the classics that came before. And then there’s Dave Arnold’s book: an entertaining treatise of more than ten years’ worth of pioneering research he’s used to create the game-changing cocktails at his bar, Booker and Dax. Required reading for all of us from now on.”
- Jim Meehan, author of The PDT Cocktail Book
“Dave Arnold has always been ahead of the curve in the cocktail world, and in this book he brings the rest of us up to speed.”
- Wylie Dufresne, chef/owner of wd~50
“Probably the most important cocktail book that’s been written ever.”
- Julian Cox
About the Author
Dave Arnold is a food science writer, educator, and innovator. He hosts the radio show Cooking Issues and runs the high-tech cocktail bar Booker & Dax in New York’s East Village, part of the Momofuku restaurant group. He has taught at the French Culinary Institute and at Harvard University and has appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and the Today show. In 2004 he founded the Museum of Food and Drink. He lives in New York City with his wife and two sons.
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I'm a professional bartender that has remodeled his kitchen to be as much a chemistry lab as it is a place of cooking. I have a HUGE library dedicated to bartending books... in addition to cooking, gastro, flavor-profiling, pairing, etc. I love the food and beverage industry, and I believe that a bartender is as responsible for creating an enjoyable meal as a chef. My personality is front-of-house while my mentality and drive (and sometimes my personality, too) is back-of-house.
This book is perfect for people like me that are always on the look-out for ways to bring new techniques to their libations, not to mention a thorough explanation for why things work they way they do... which is wonderful for inspiration.
However, this book is also perfect for someone that simply wants to know how to make the magic happen at home.
1) Dave Arnold is a genius. Certifiably, not hyperbole. It takes a unique and gifted soul to bring this level of thoughtfulness to his trade, and a generous spirit to pass along just enough of that information to make someone incredibly dangerous if they're on a first-name basis with their welding shop (like me: former iron-worker). What he has to say about everything is worth paying attention to... especially the giant chapter on ice.
It's funny to say it, but embracing 25 pages on solid water has made me a much better bartender than the hundred of other pages detailing elevated techniques.
2) Outside of understanding how ice and dilution actually work to make or break a cocktail, there is very little in this book that pertains to bringing an extra bit of flair and wonder to your bar. Tossing bottles is for kids that work at TGI Fridays. Real flair is about making the creation of something that's liquid unforgettable look effortless.
This book is all about preparation. The first part is education. The second part is experimentation. The third part is learning how to set everything up in advance so that the actual mixing, building and shaking is as smooth and consistent as possible.
3) This book will force you to be a better bartender. I don't care if you're a professional or home-based booze-hound: this book will force you to elevate your knowledge and ability just from the kind of humble enthusiasm Arnold communicates for the bartending trade.
Not only am I a better, more educated bartender capable of applying the various techniques and technologies discussed in Liquid Intelligence to the recipes bound within it, I've also gained the confidence to seek out my own individuality using these lessons.
I have a ten-pound bottle of liquid nitrogen in my kitchen, now... and I'm sourcing a carbonator.
And then there's the red-hot poker I know just enough about electrical engineering and fabrication to injure myself perfecting.
4) This book has made such an impact on me that I've begun carrying my own tools to my job. I refuse to use pint glasses for shaking cocktails, I refuse to use their muddlers, I refuse to use their strainers. Just like when I worked on steel fifteen years ago, I pack in my own tools every day I go to work, and when I take over a new bar in three months, all of the bartenders that work for me will do the same.
Chefs pack their knives.
Carpenters pack their saws.
Real bartenders pack their shakers, clarify their juices, and analyze every bottle with a Brix meter to make sure each cocktail they craft is consistently delicious.
THAT'S how good Liquid Intelligence is.
I almost forgot that the book was about cocktails based on how much he talks about himself (see the attached photographic excerpt from the first pages -- I knew I was in for a real treat!). My favorite quote from the book: "I joke that I don't respect people who can't juice quickly -- but I'm not really joking ... Many years ago I was taught the secrets of the hand press [juicer] by my San Francisco bartender friend Ryan Fitzgerald. He is still faster than me, and I hate him for it." Wow! So not only does the author look down on people who AREN'T as skilled as him, he also resents people who are MORE skilled with him! What a lovable science nerd who is totally not trying to overcompensate for being thoroughly mediocre by namedropping famous people! How could anyone help but love this book!
I highly recommend this read if your goal with cocktails isn't to enjoy them or share them with others but to engage in the hobby in a way that will give you a sense of smug superiority, all while wrapping your arrogance in quote science unquote.
Okay, sarcasm aside, this books is Just Okay (hence the three-star rating). It does actually have some good ideas and takes on cocktails, and is useful in an encyclopedic way, but it's just that all the useful information is too wrapped up in too many layers of this effusive self-praise for the book to be enjoyable. Speaking as an actual, professional scientist with a terminal degree from the number one degree-granting institution in my field (how's that for arrogant), the "science" in this book is ... well, it's Just Okay. It's a shame that at times he gate-keeps science like he's the warden of Real Arcane Knowledge (e.g., in his spiel on why ice in cocktails can chill things below 0C/32F he describes enthalpy and entropy as "two difficult and oft-misunderstood concepts at the heart of thermodynamics" -- they aren't, anyone with a high-school chem education can understand them at the same level as the author apparently does). At other times the "scientific" mantle that he puts on is as obvious and as obviously ill-fitting as the too-big blazer he wears in several of the photos of himself plastered all over the book (e.g., his "analytic" fitting of dilution as a function of ABV in Excel of all things, with no error bars, goodness-of-fit parameter, description of why he chose a parabola for the fit function or why ABV is the independent variable, or even a figure -- this would not pass peer review and I'd be laughed at it I submitted it), but he never seems to let that dampen his self-regard.
I started keeping track while reading and while the vast majority of statements directed at the reader are either imperatives ("do X") or admonitions ("if Y happens, it's because you did X wrong. I TOLD you how to do X."), most statements involving himself are (naturally) aggrandizing or humblebrags ("My wife and I decided to go to a restaurant in Times Square. Why? CERTAINLY not because we knew [famous chef] had [done something presumably important with food or whatever, who knows]. No, we went because [equally ridiculous reason designed to drive home the point that author is a Real Nerd, lol]"). It just wears on you after a while and your only options are to buy into it and try to pretend that you're in on the stupid joke, or call it out for what it is. So by all means, if you want a book that will get you into the Emperor's New Cocktail Club, buy away. But I might suggest something a little more practical and enjoyable if you're buying this book as a hobbyist and wanting to get something other than the author's disproportionate sense of self-assurance out of it.
The book has four sections. Two on basic, traditional cocktail techniques, one on "novel" techniques like carbonating and using LN2 (to be fair, the author DOES have a healthy scientific respect for the power -- and dangers -- of LN2, which I appreciated), and one section where he just "riffs" on different topics to "see where they take me." The fourth section begins "I love apples."
I didn't read it.