New York's 'mad scientist of drinks' experiments on the Tokyo scene

New York's 'mad scientist of drinks' experiments on the Tokyo scene

Manhattan shares its real genius bar techniques, complete with science-lab gear and red-hot pokers
Dave Arnold, Booker and Dax
A twist of genius, a dash of science and just a hint of madness -- Dave Arnold in action.

When Dave Arnold turned up in Tokyo this week for some guest bartending at the Park Hyatt, he brought his tools with him.

Not his shaker, spoons or mixing glass -- his hosts have all that. Arnold packed two carbonation rigs, a tachometer, a bag of enzymes, firing agents and a 500-watt iron poker.

Arnold, 40, is New York City’s mad scientist of drinks. His usual home is Manhattan’s Booker and Dax bar, where he’s known for distilling his own drinks, pouring liquid nitrogen, clarifying juices and sticking that red-hot poker of his into beverages.

Dave Arnold, Booker and DaxGo ahead, punk -- try my drink.

From May 30 through Saturday, though, he’ll be serving his potable science at the Park Hyatt’s New York Bar in Tokyo.

His take on a Daiquiri involves freezing Thai basil leaves with liquid nitrogen, muddling them into a powder, then shaking with rum, lime, syrup and a saline solution.

For another signature drink, the Scotch and Peanut, he redistills Dewar’s whisky with dry-roasted peanuts in a rotovap, or rotary evaporator.

The result is a clear drink that tastes at once of drink and snack.

And when he makes a Champagne and strawberry juice cocktail, he clarifies, then carbonates the juice. But why?

“American sparkling wines can be very bubbly, but some Champagnes lose carbonation over time,” he explains.

“If I just poured Champagne over juice it wouldn’t have the carbonation level I want. And different strawberries have different sugar levels, and vary in sugar level throughout the season, so you have to calibrate everything based on how the fruit is that day.”

Science laboratory

Arnold is also the director of culinary technology at Manhattan’s International Culinary Center (formerly the French Culinary Institute).

He teaches students how science can make food and drink taste better. In his spare time, this son of an electrical engineer customizes, bastardizes and converts equipment in an effort to speed up or improve the bartender’s craft.

Dave Arnold, Booker and DaxArnold, about to discover what happens when he adds liquid salt to the tears of a lesser bartender.Some devices, like the rotovap, come straight from the science lab. Others are entirely his own creations.

Take that electric poker. Arnold read that 17th-century innkeepers would heat drinks with a poker they kept in the fireplace.

He reasoned that heating a drink directly, rather than adding hot water, would offer a completely different set of flavors. So he invented a rod that heats to 815 C.

He plunges it into a drink and, with a burst of flame, the sugars caramelize and the liquid warms up. At the New York Bar he’ll be using it to warm a blend of cognac, lemon juice and pineapple ale.

Dramatic it sure is, but Arnold says showmanship isn’t on his mind.

“We never use a technique just because it’s new or flashy,” he says. “We try to only use new techniques in the pursuit of the delicious.

“I sometimes develop techniques for a particular drink, but once developed, those techniques become part of our standard repertoire.”

For so many reasons, the techniques aren’t likely to become part of most bars’ standard repertoire, so if you want to taste a rotovapped Scotch and Peanut or to find out what clarified banana juice tastes like, you’ve got four days. Go.

Dave Arnold, New York Bar, Park Hyatt Tokyo, 3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, +81 (0) 3 5322 1234,

May 30-June 2, 5 p.m. - midnight, cocktails from ¥1,800, cover charge ¥2,200 after 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Sunday).

More on CNNGo: A real New York bar in Tokyo

Nicholas Coldicott is a contributing editor at Whisky Magazine Japan.

Read more about Nicholas Coldicott