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Liquid Nitrogen: Yes or No?

by Warrick Steabben on January 29, 2015

Cocktails made with liquid nitrogen have got a lot of press over the last few years. They certainly look impressive and would be a cracking ingredient in someone’s signature cocktail. Who doesn’t like to play with exotic and unusual cocktail components?

However, liquid nitrogen cocktails have also generated a lot of controversy over safety concerns. People are justifiably nervous about using a substance so cold that it can cause severe injuries in a glass that will probably be handed to someone who has already been drinking.

Chef Steps
Chef Steps

Safely Handling Liquid Nitrogen

Liquid nitrogen boils at 77 degrees above absolute zero: -196.15 degrees Celsius, to be exact. All liquid nitrogen is that cold, if not colder! It’s what scientists and engineers call a cryogenic liquid. Direct contact with cryogenic temperatures instantly freezes cells, breaking the cell membranes and that, counterintuitively, causes burn injuries. Cryogenic burns are often comparable to third degree burns because of how rapidly the freezing process occurs.

In addition, liquid nitrogen has to be kept in specialised containers called Dewars, often at high pressures. Due to the combined dangers of cryogenic liquids and handling high-pressure containers, storing, filling, and using Dewars takes training. What this means is that anybody who intends to make a liquid nitrogen cocktail needs to understand how to handle specialised equipment. More importantly, nobody should drink a cocktail that still has any liquid nitrogen left in it—doing so can and has caused severe internal damage. In one case, a young Englishwoman had to have her stomach removed after drinking liquid nitrogen at a party.

Legal Status in Australia

Liquid nitrogen cocktails are not legal everywhere in Australia. Shortly after the incident mentioned above, the New South Wales Office of Liquor, Gaming, and Racing issued a moratorium on drinks using liquid nitrogen, citing safety concerns. Liquid nitrogen cocktails are presently legal in Victoria, but it’s best to check the state liquor regulations before deciding to use it.

The Cocktails Themselves

There are two big draws to using liquid nitrogen in a drink. The rapidly boiling nitrogen creates a huge, thick plume of vapours that are visually stunning. Even more interestingly, alcohol freezes at -114 C, which means you can use liquid nitrogen to make blocks of pure, frozen ethanol. The idea of solid alcohol probably sounds outlandish (well, it is) so who wouldn’t want to see it with their own eyes?

At the end of the day, liquid nitrogen is an interesting and unusual cocktail component that, in the hands of a skilled, trained and safety-conscious bartender, can produce some astounding concoctions. However, some of that magic is lost, since you can’t in good faith give a still-smoking glass of with liquid nitrogen in it to a patron.

Liquid nitrogen aside, RSA Melbourne has the best RSA courses in Melbourne. If you’re dreaming of a career as a bartender, you can get both the training and the legal certification you need right here.