Play with any LN2 [liquid nitrogen] yet? You can do some pretty weird things with liquor + LN2. - AB, via facebook
“I love money. I love everything about money. I love to eat it. Money. They say you can’t take it with you? I’m taking it with me.” - Steve Martin, Let’s Get Small
The short answer is no, I have not played much with liquid nitrogen. But there is something I’ve always wanted to try, and this is as good an excuse as any.
Like a lot of children, I imagine, I went through a phase around 8 or 9 when I ate random things - mostly leaves, grass, and paper. I think I was doing it for attention - I don’t really know. The point it, I still remember really liking the flavor of money, and I had an idea a few years ago: buy some uncirculated, shredded money, freeze it with liquid nitrogen, crush it into a powder, mix it with granulated sugar, and use it to rim a cocktail glass. I mean, could there be a more baller garnish than actual money? So last week I bought a bag of uncirculated, shredded bills (delivered in 2 business days - thanks, Amazon Prime!) and headed over to Root Squared.
First, let’s deal with an obvious question: is it safe to eat paper money? The short answer: probably not. The paper itself is benign, a blend of cotton and linen, I think, perhaps indigestible, but non-toxic. What you’ve heard about money being dirty (coated, it is often said, in a fine layer of cocaine and fecal matter) may be true, but that only applies to currency that has been circulated. These shreds are from bills that were never circulated, which, if you think about it, means that despite bearing all of the physical characteristics they are not technically money, but actually paper that was almost money. Like, so close! It’s like the money finished law school but never passed the Bar exam. But scraps of wagyu beef are still wagyu beef, and maybe a culinary perspective is more appropriate here.
Anyhow, my main safety concern is the dye. Many dyes, even those that are natural in origin, are poisonous. Also highly toxic are many mordants, chemicals used to fix dyes to fabric. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing is, for many reasons, unlikely to divulge the exact makeup of the dyes and mordants it uses to manufacture paper money, and in the absence of proof otherwise the only prudent choice is to assume that they are toxic.
That said, the only warning on the bag of shredded bills is about the bag itself being a choking hazard. There are also enough YouTube videos of people eating dollar bills, and enough people routinely put money up their noses, that if it were terribly poisonous I think we would know. It would be a thing. My point is, while I don’t think any of this is going to kill you, DON’T EAT MONEY. DON’T DRINK MONEY. DON’T SMOKE OR SNORT MONEY. THERE IS NO WAY TO KNOW HOW POISONOUS IT IS.
Now that we’ve established how stupid it is to be doing this, let’s get to it!
Twelve Mile Limit, my own bar, is woefully ill-equipped for these types of shenanigans. Root Squared, the cocktail lounge over Square Root, New Orleans’s only modernist, prix-fixe, arguably penthouse restaurant, was the obvious destination. I managed the bar there for a few months last year, so I know my way around, but, more importantly, it may be the only bar in New Orleans that has a tank of liquid nitrogen behind it. Also on hand: a circulator, a Chemex coffee-maker, a professional spice grinder, and people with the know-how to use all of these toys: head bartender Oscar and chef Jeremy*, who were kind enough to both invite me behind the bar and advise and assist with the experiments.
Jeremy started by filling the spice grinder with unfrozen money, just to see what it would do. The answer: nothing. It just kinda spun around. That was pretty much what we expected. Money is strong and fibrous, so it won’t be easy to pulverize. This was just to get a baseline reading, a control. While that was happening, Oscar and I went ahead and froze a handful of shredded money with liquid nitrogen in the bottom of a wine bucket, stirring with long tongs to make sure it all got coated.
Once the liquid nitrogen evaporated, the shreds in the wine bucket had a consistency like thin straw. Back into the spice grinder they went, with somewhat better results. We were able to reduce the shreds to a tea-like consistency.
I was aiming for a fine powder, the kind that you might be tempted to mix with your cocaine, but I wound up with something that you would be more likely to roll and burn. What were we doing wrong? If you muddle fresh herbs with liquid nitrogen, the result is a dust so fine that the individual grains are barely visible. Jeremy had an insight. He observed that, unlike herbs, money is dry. If something doesn’t have any water trapped inside, like fresh herbs do, the effects of sudden freezing will not be nearly as dramatic. Alas!
We tried getting the money wet and then freezing it and the results were basically the same.
However, while the wet frozen money came out roughly the same consistency as the dry frozen money, I think wet money is the answer. We didn’t make it this far, but if I decide to take another pass at this, I’m going to wet the shredded bills, press them into small blocks, thoroughly freeze the blocks with liquid nitrogen, and then hit them with a hammer. I’m not sure what will happen, but I know it’ll be fun!
Meanwhile, while Oscar and I continued trying to turn paper money into an ingestible powder, I had Jeremy on a side project: a money infusion. We picked a bottle of Don Q Crystal Rum for the base. It’s clean and light, so it would allow the flavor of the money to shine through; it isn’t cost-prohibitive; and since it comes from Puerto Rico, it’s American-made. If we’re going to try and drink money, it should be all-American. USA! USA!
One good, quick way to infuse a spirit is to throw it into a vacuum sealed plastic bag with the flavoring agent and then immerse it in a circulator, which will cook it at a low, precise temperature without any evaporation.
Okay, we were rolling right along. We had our finely chopped (if not powdered) money. We’ve got our money infusion. We’ve also got this wet, partially chopped money pulp? Let’s make a nice tea with that in the Chemex, and then we can use that tea for a basic 1 to 1 simple syrup.
There we go. Now, in addition to our pulverized money, we’ve got a money-infused rum and a money infused simple syrup. And let me tell you, they both taste like money - the syrup subtly, the rum intensely. The flavor of paper money is more complex than I remembered - earthy, lightly floral, and very tannic, with a real drying effect on the palate. Even in its liquid forms, it made my mouth feel like I had just chewed on a piece of ruled notebook paper or licked a fresh pair of blue jeans. That isn’t to say that it tastes bad - it was kind of like a strong black tea.
Meanwhile, as Jeremy, Oscar and I were freezing a small pile of worthless, uncirculated money, some of the guests at the bar were inspired to destroy some actual, usable money. Just a Thursday night at the fanciest bar in the city, drinking Rolling Rock and lighting money on fire.
Time to put it all together. We’ve got money rum and money syrup, so the obvious choice is to whip up a Daiquiri or two. First, I made one that adhered to a very basic formula - 2 parts rum, 1 part each syrup and lime juice, served in a nitro-cooled coupe rimmed with chopped money and sugar. For the second, I cut back on the sugar a little bit and added a measure of Green Chartreuse. The herbal notes in the Chartreuse, I figured, would complement the tea-like flavors in the money, and it’s green, plus it’s expensive and therefore on theme. The second glass had a better rim, too, since I had a chance to practice.
Success! In that I did what I set out to do, at least - rim a glass with money. Let’s score the results:
Money powder - C - still too coarse. It got stuck in people’s teeth. This is, arguably, an added value, since if someone asks what you’re doing and you say, “Oh, just picking money out of my teeth,” you win the day.
Money rum - B- - too intense. It might have been good with less money, but as is it’s too tannic to appreciate on its own. Smaller amounts of money rum might work as a modifier for a cocktail, but right now it’s too intensely like putting money in your mouth to make for a pleasant base spirit.
Money syrup - A - I worried when I was making it that I used too much water and over-extracted the money, but it turns out the flavors are much more intense than I anticipated. The syrup is the only thing I made that actually tastes good on its own, like a nice black tea syrup. I might actually make it again.
Money Daiquiri - C+ - tastes intensely like money. Also, strangely, it creates a similar sensation on the palate to money, like drinking a cocktail served in a denim glass, or sucking one through a straw packed with cotton. The flavor, though, while overwhelming at first, lingers pleasantly, and I enjoyed the taste money all the way home.
Well, that was fun! Before I sign off, I should take the time once again to thank Oscar and Jeremy for being so welcoming and jumping into this ridiculous project without hesitation and Root Squared for having all the rich kid toys and being super cool about letting me use them. Also, once more before we go, DON’T DO ANY OF THIS. IT’S INCREDIBLY STUPID.
* My attorney, late 90s Mets closer Armando Benitez, has instructed me not to use the real names of real people here without their permission, but I’m disregarding his advice in this instance since Oscar and Jeremy were so very helpful and I want them to get credit.
Cole Newton is the owner, general manager, head bartender, and, as necessary, handyman, bouncer, and janitor at Twelve Mile Limit in New Orleans. This column was adapted from his advice blog Big Fat Cocktails, which you can follow at bigfatcocktails.tumblr.com.