Reports are coming out that an 18 year old woman has had her stomach removed after drinking a ‘nitro’ cocktail given a smoky effect using liquid nitrogen. It seems that outside of labs liquid nitrogen is proving quite the star turn… from making ice cream in Camden, to being used in cocktails around the country.
These cocktails seem to come in two types, either a small amount of liquid N2 is used to cool the drink without dilution and with added smoky effect, or much more N2 is used to whisk up a frozen cocktail, more N2 is then poured over for, again, that smoky effect. Basically, everyone wants a cocktail that looks like it comes from the set of an Addams family movie.
So what happened in this instance? Well, the bar isn’t commenting and its website and Facebook page are unavailable, but the wonders of cached websites suggest that the cocktails the bar serves were of the smoking but liquid variety. That at least removes the risk of super cooled ice causing burns, but I can just imagine after a few drinks you’re not going to wait for the ‘smoke’ to disappear. Peer pressure, ‘having fun’, whether it was some super cooled ice in the drink or the liquid nitrogen itself, it sounds like a recipe for disaster and in this instance it was.
I recall, as well as having fun freezing things with left over liquid nitrogen, getting some pretty serious warnings about how to use liquid nitrogen safely – don’t touch any of the pipes, use protective gloves, never take the lift with it and instead put the container in the lift and send it off, while you take the stairs. I even saw how items dipped quickly into liquid N2 did not freeze, because they were protected by an insulating layer of gaseous N2 (a phenomenon known as the Leidenfrost effect), but how if left in contact for longer tissue could be frozen and destroyed. I somehow doubt the risks of liquid nitrogen were spelled out to the poor woman in the same way they were to me and so, at the age of 18, she has lost her stomach.
But, to counter some of the more alarmist news reporting going on today, liquid N2 is not toxic, it’s incredibly cold and used in a controlled manner it’s safe and can add drama to restaurant dining halls and labs alike. But I wouldn’t drive drunk, I wouldn’t go into the lab drunk and I’d not trust myself with liquid nitrogen when drunk.