Liquid Intelligence Review

Last week I picked up Liquid Intelligence. I wanted to wait to write a review of it until I had a little time to digest the whole thing.

First off, I should say that I have a hetero-man-crush on Dave Arnold. I’ve been listening to Cooking Issues for well over a year now. He’s answered numerous questions of mine, some cocktail related. I’ve experimented with many of the concepts in the book before it came out. I bought some Pectinex Ultra-SPL, for instance, and agar, and did a few different juice clarifications. I built my own carbonation rig. I’ve read his work on chilling and dilution and watched all the YouTube videos. There isn’t much he’s done that I haven’t heard about.

So I was afraid going in that there’d be nothing I haven’t heard before. Turns out, there’s quite a bit in there I didn’t know, and there’s a lot more depth on some of the things I did know.

Dave (he’s answered enough of my questions that I feel like we’re on a first name basis) goes into depth on the science of cocktails. Want to know which sugars are sweeter upfront but fade faster? (Hint, things containing fructose, like agave nectar.) Or which acids to use when? The ingredients section has you covered.

Every bartender, whether professional or enthusiastic amateur, needs to read the section on ice. It clears up many misconceptions in the bar industry. There are 25 pages devoted to it, and they’re worth the read possibly more than anything else in the book.

His section on Cocktail Calculus has a balance chart that shows, at a glance, the sugar, acid, and alcohol levels of a cocktail. His formula lets you develop cocktails almost mathematically. That’s really interesting to me, and something I hope to play around with more. I’m debating even making a cocktail recipe creation app based on it.

The section on carbonation will help even those of us who’ve been doing it at home a bit. It had never occurred to me to mix nitrous with CO2. His clarification flowchart will help you figure out how to clarify any juice for bubbles. He’ll help you troubleshoot problem commons. (I think everyone who carbonates has had a drink foam out, only to turn the PSI up and have it foam out even more.)

To do most of the stuff in this book you’re probably going to have to get out of your comfort zone if you haven’t done any modernist cooking or mixology. The good news is, Arnold includes a ton of ways to do recipes at home that require little to no equipment. Armed with basic bar tools, an ISI Whip and a Modernist Pantry account, you can do most of the recipes.

It won’t be cheap. And it won’t be easy. Most of these drinks take preparation. There’s a list of classic cocktails, but if that’s what you’re looking for (something to stir up and drink right now) PDT or Death and Co. are better books. This isn’t meant to be a list of classic recipes, and they’re included more than anything to give you a jumping off point in terms of balancing your own new ones.

However if you want to push the limits of what a cocktail can be, and don’t mind some prep work (hell, the bottled cocktails save you work at the party) this is THE book right now.

I decided when I went through the book that I am going to undertake a new project too. I am going to make every recipe in that damned thing, as faithfully as I can, and post them here. Just watch for the Liquid Intelligence tag.

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