Shortly after I finished reading my first alcohol book (The Drunken Botanist), I found myself desperately searching for something that could measure up to it and could teach me the things I needed to know. Upon receiving many recommendations for Liquid Intelligence, I decided to purchase it for Kindle, since I couldn’t wait for it to be shipped. About halfway through I vowed never again to buy a cocktail book (or any reference book) without being able to hold it in my hands. I did not abandon the book, but in electronic form it was of little use to me in my average references. Recently while discussing books with a regular, she mentioned that she had purchased a cocktail book that proved to be wildly over her head and far more than she had ever needed… I immediately knew which one she was talking about and she was gracious enough to give me her copy. I am a more fulfilled woman today, with this book in my hands.
In every aspect of Liquid Intelligence, Dave Arnold’s character is clear. He is a scientist who puts on the garb of bartender. He is a perfectionist in an artists game. In my mind, there is a range to the cocktail artist: on one end you have the artist who pours until the cocktail is ‘right’ and makes a different cocktail every time. On the other end of the spectrum is the scientist, people like Dave Arnold, who practice that the ‘right’ cocktail is the perfectly balanced one that can be practiced and repeated. People like this create as much consistency as can ever be had in the cocktail industry. On both ends of the spectrum boundaries are pushed in ways the average person could never anticipate.
Inside the Book
Liquid Intelligence begins you with over 30 pages on measurements, units and equipment. He then has 25 pages on Ice. Part 3: New Techniques and Ideas involves things like nitro-muddling, pokers, iSi Whipper, and fat washing. This is not a beginners cocktail book. This is not a home-bar cocktail book. This book is by a professional, for professionals.
While Dave Arnold’s writing style is extremely accessible and he does not delve into too much scary molecular science, if read as a beginner or an average home enthusiast, one of two things will happen: 1. you will fall in love with it and buy entirely too many things you don’t need or 2. you will think cocktail making is some inaccessible science, bordering on wizardry and that you could never hope to be a part of it.
I fell into the first category and freely declare myself to be an impractical person when it comes to the things I want for my bar. My friend who gave me the book fell into the second category and while I am glad that it led this book to me, I am also saddened by the fact that she felt she was unable to continue on a cocktail journey. Her husband is a chef and she is a bookworm with a great deal of spirit… there is no reason she cannot explore complex cocktails at home. I have no alternative but to believe that it is this book that deterred her from making that journey.
What you can get from this book
I am not driven the way Dave Arnold is. His focus and consistency are not my style, but I still found this book incredibly interesting. It also was extremely helpful for establishing ‘Best Practices’ in my opinion. There are many people out there who will be happy to tell you that shaken is better or stirred is better but Dave Arnold took the time to break it down to what is actually happening in the glass.
For those things that we can do at our limited bars, it is best to do them as well as is possible. Many of the small things I do throughout the day are with his advice in mind, such as icing a drink after all ingredients have been added or slapping mint instead of tearing it. This book is also jam-packed with pictures for reference. Arnold ensures that every explanation is as thorough as if you were sitting in a classroom. He explains why he does everything, which is incredibly helpful for the bartender who is looking to bring a new elevation to their cocktails.
Overall, I love this book. I dream enthusiastically about the day I get to go to Booker & Dax (Update 2019, unfortunately now closed) and less enthusiastically about the morning afterwards. If you are thoroughly entrenched in the alcohol business, either as a home enthusiast or as a bartender/mixologist I recommend it with passion. If you are not thoroughly entrenched, and are still hesitant when walking down the liquor isle or nervous when going on shift… maybe wait a while. Read some other books first, talk to some other bartenders and do your own research. This is an experience that is best done at the right time, not the closest time.