Dave Arnold and a Coconut Walk into a Bar

Can freezing fresh juices drastically improve the flavor of fruity cocktails? That’s what Dave Arnold suggests in his new book, Liquid Intelligence.

The first time I heard about Dave Arnold was 3 years ago as I watched a completely unreal video titled “Dave Arnold Mixes a Cocktail With A Lightsaber“, where he makes a Hot Toddy, casually arguing about the virtues of caramelization while thrusting a custom-built red-hot electric poker into the drink as huge flames burst out of the glass.‎

The least that can be said about Dave Arnold, proprietor and head bartender of Manhattan’s experimental cocktail bar Booker & Dax, is that the guy is a tinkerer. A former philosophy student and art school graduate with a passion for food, he made a name for himself in the late 90’s by bringing second-hand lab equipment into New York kitchens. His most lasting contribution might have been when he introduced chefs to thermal immersion circulators, a device now commonplace in kitchens for sous-vide cooking used to regulate water temperature. At the time, cooking sous-vide involved heating up water in a large pan in a stove while constantly monitoring the temperature, something Arnold figured could be done much precisely and effortlessly with a circulator, little-known outside medical labs. He bought a secondhand one on eBay for a friend’s kitchen, and before long started to get phone calls from restaurants around Manhattan. The circulators were prone to fail, but he taught himself to take them apart and repair them.

Even though he lacked traditional training in cuisine, Arnold’s ingenuity and creativity impressed so many in the industry that he was recruited in 2004 to establish the Technology department at NYC’s Michelin-recommended French Culinary Institute.‎ In the midst of the ongoing cocktail renaissance in Brooklyn and Manhattan, Arnold’s attention gradually turned to cocktailing.

Dave Arnold

 CookingIssues.com, the blog where Dave Arnold and his colleagues published the bulk of their research during his FCI years, is a fascinating read. It covers everything from rigged pressure cookers, clarification with a centrifuge, cold distillations on a rotary evaporator, vac-seal infusions and liquid nitrogen muddling, to experiments to find out how different ways to shake a drink and how the type of ice affect the temperature and dilution of cocktails (Spoiler alert: it doesn’t).

All geekiness aside, Dave Arnold always saw high-tech equipment as a way to achieve better drinks, not a wow factor. Unless you sit at his bar, you won’t notice anything odd about Booker & Dax’s cocktails other than the fact they are remarkably balanced and tasty. Still, it’s no big surprise his new book, Liquid Intelligence, released November 2014, is an advanced bartending manual for serious bar keepers. Hell, there’s even a chapter tilted “Cocktail Calculus: The Inner Workings of Recipes” (I kid not!). For the rest of us mortals who can’t seem to convince our bosses to invest in some 5-figures lab equipment for the bar, several chapters are more intriguing than practical, showing the readers what can be achieved in a cocktail bar given time and budget. Nevertheless, there are some clever low-cost ideas that can be easily implemented in most bars and drastically improve drinks; one of them is what Arnold calls the “juice shake“.

  Most fruit juices are fickle in mixed drinks: you shake them with alcohol and ice and their flavor dilutes; you add more juice but then the spirits take the backseat. Truth is, they contain too much water.

Arnold’s solution? Pour your apple juice, orange juice, grapefruit juice or what have you in an ice-cube tray, freeze it and shake away. Juice contains acids, sugars, flavor compounds and water. When shaking with frozen juice ice cubes the water melts last and turns into a slush, while the flavor components hit the drink in a concentrated form. The resulting drink will be colder and more intense than the same drink shaken only with ice and cold juice.

Wild card alert: you may not want all the dilution to come from frozen juice since it could throw off the balance. The trick lies in knowing how many juice cubes required to get the flavor right and using that amount along with regular ice in the shaker. For example, I use a 5×3 silicon ice tray that makes 1 ounce cubes, so to make a Hotel Nacional Special I’d add my alcohol as well as my fresh lime juice in a shaker, and shake it with 1 pineapple ice-cube and half a cup of regular ice. A Hemingway Daiquiri, you say? Make it as usual, but replace the grapefruit juice with a ¾ oz cube of frozen grapefruit juice (I like mine a bit heavier on the grapefruit), then shake with half as much ice as usual.

Here’s a delicious yet rather unusual drink created by Dave Arnold that makes great use of the “juice shake” technique:
 
Dave Arnold Cocktail
Dave Arnold’s Scotch and Coconut Cocktail.
Before you dismiss the drink, note that Scotch whisky and coconut water is a popular combo in Trinidad, Venezuela and the Southern Caribbean. Arnold recommends the powerhouse whisky, Ardbeg, since the coconut flavor will be that much more intense by freezing it and needs some equally intense firewater to pair with. Anything smoky works well; I had terrific results with half an ounce of Laphroaig mixed with one ounce of Compass Box Flaming Heart Whisky. Go for a natural, unsweetened organic coconut water, or better still, get fresh young coconuts from your local Asian market and poke a couple of holes in it to get the water out.

1½ oz Ardbeg 10-year Scotch Whisky

½ oz Cointreau

¼ oz fresh lemon juice

2 drops saline solution [1 g salt to 4 ml water]

2 x 1¼ oz frozen cubes of raw coconut water

Combine the first four ingredients in a mixing tin, and shake with 2 coconut water ice cubes and a cup of ice. Fine strain into a chilled coupé glass, express an orange peel over the drink before discarding it, and float a star anise for garnish.

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