Not long ago, Dave Arnold and Don Lee got into an argument about ice.\r\n\r\nAs they worked to perfect the large ice cube that would be served in cocktails like the Banana Justino (rum and bananas) and the Professor Plum (prune Bourbon) at their bar, Existing Conditions, which opened in July 2018, they faced a conundrum.\r\n\r\n\u201cI think that people enjoy a slight irregularity that comes from the human hand,\u201d says Arnold. \u201cI\u2019m O.K. with two sides being perfect, even four sides being perfect, but not six. It no longer speaks to the humanity of the bartender. Don disagrees.\u201d\r\n\r\nThe pair continued to argue about the time, cost and energy of machine-made ice versus hand-carved ice. Lee came up with a solution: two-and-a-half inch thick rectangular sticks. The pieces of ice were big enough to sit in a bar well without melting too much, and when a cube is needed, there\u2019s an easy solution.\r\n\r\n\u201cBam! Bam! Two hits, and the perfect size cube pops off,\u201d says Arnold. \u201cIt\u2019s got the rough edge on the one side that I like, we know it\u2019s going to fit in the glass, it has the perfect cuts on the other sides, and we don\u2019t lose as much ice. I think it\u2019s genius. I\u2019m pretty psyched about the ice sticks.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThough this is their first project together, Arnold and Lee have spent more than a decade honing the finer points of their bar work, which interjects science and technology into cocktails. That means developing innovations to improve the flavors and textures of ingredients and, for Arnold, to create the tools that his bar kit is missing.\r\n\r\nArnold has also gone above and beyond to prove that what he does isn\u2019t just \u201crazzmatazz.\u201d\r\n\r\nIt was during Arnold\u2019s tenure at the now-defunct Booker and Dax that he garnered a reputation as a sort of \u201cmad scientist\u201d behind the bar. It\u2019s a moniker that Arnold doesn\u2019t mind, but one that he sees as a somewhat inaccurate portrayal of his work.\r\n\r\n\u201cWhatever wraps their head around what I\u2019m trying to do I\u2019m O.K. with,\u201d says Arnold, who co-owns Existing Conditions with Lee, a trained software engineer who helmed the bar at David Chang\u2019s Momofuku Ss\u00e4m for years, and Greg Boehm, of Mace, Boilermaker and Katana Kitten fame.\r\n\r\n\u201cI\u2019m not really a scientist,\u201d says Arnold. \u201cI use science principles and do a lot of technical work.\u201d\r\n\r\nArnold\u2019s previous experience working at the International Culinary Center, then known as the French Culinary Institute, has proved a boon to his bartending. He opened Booker and Dax with an eye on innovation, but not necessarily showmanship.\r\n\r\nArnold says there was a \u201cmad scramble\u201d for restaurants and bars to \u201cscour different industries, whether it be science or homebrewing.\u201d\u00a0 Places like wd~50 and Tailor had the fancy equipment required to test new techniques. But anything that required pricey machinery wasn\u2019t economically viable for most cocktail bars, which remains true today.\r\n\r\n\u201cOne of the reasons for opening Booker and Dax was a work-ahead to a standard classic bar scenario,\u201d says Arnold, who worked the tools and techniques he\u2019d used at ICC into the bar.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nA year after he opened Booker and Dax, he released his first invention for the kitchen: the Searzall, a blowtorch attachment that was billed on Kickstarter as a \u201csupercharged instant-power broiler.\u201d He also wrote a book, Liquid Intelligence: The Art and Science of the Perfect Cocktail (W.W. Norton, 2014), which explores concepts like temperature, carbonation, clarification and the reasons to use sugar and acid adjusting. These techniques, honed at Booker and Dax, earned Arnold both acclaim and plenty of arched brows.\r\n\r\n\u201cI\u2019ve been called austere, which is kind of reaction against what people think technology is,\u201d says Arnold. \u201cBooker and Dax was me saying, \u2018We\u2019re not going to do garnishes or anything that people associate with what we do.\u2019\u2009\u201d\r\n\r\nThough Booker and Dax closed in fall 2016, Arnold\u2019s mad scientist persona has stuck. The cocktail program at Existing Conditions uses everything from painstakingly sourced ingredients like salty spring water from Saratoga State Park, to a compact centrifuge that Arnold invented, the Spinzall.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nReleased in 2017, the Spinzall is a fraction of the size and price of the dishwasher-sized centrifuge he used at the start of his career. The device, roughly the size of a standard food processor, can be used to clarify everything from dairy products to citrus juice.\r\n\r\n\u201cI had been using a centrifuge for a number of years, and I realized there were a number of problems with it: size, cost, difficulties balancing it,\u201d says Arnold. \u201cFor me, the benefits outweighed the cost because I\u2019m a true believer, but I wanted to make something that would be beneficial for someone who wants to get into it, but doesn\u2019t want to spend $8,000.\u201d\r\n\r\nArnold considers the Spinzall one of the most essential pieces of bar tech at Existing Conditions. \u201cIt allows us to create the stable, rich flavors that I haven\u2019t been able to achieve any other way,\u201d he says. He uses it for everything from spinning solids out of fruit and spirit blends to clarifying liquids so they can better absorb carbonation.\r\n\r\nArnold and Lee also incorporate techniques like forced carbonation, liquid nitrogen as a freezing agent, heating drinks with a hot poker (a time-honored tradition) and freeze-drying ingredients.\r\n\r\nExisting Conditions aims to \u201c[blend] cutting-edge science, classic cocktails and hospitality without a lot of fuss,\u201d says Arnold. He and Lee have even rigged up a cocktail vending machine to dispense bottled drinks like Manhattans and 50/50 martinis.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nArnold acknowledges that none of his high-tech antics are necessarily, well, necessary for the typical bar program.\r\n\r\n\u201cYou don\u2019t need to use any of these things,\u201d he says. \u201cBut if you want to achieve certain flavors, texture, it certainly is helpful. A lot of the newer technologies allow you to separate the problem\u2026like you can separate the problem of diluting from the problem of chilling, and you can do a lot of fun stuff. Frozen machines are another example of that. We can get rid of oxidation or keep things fresher.\u201d\r\n\r\nHe\u2019s also sure to tout the benefits of simpler technologies to achieve more refined drinks, like his Cocktail Cube, a large, rubber cube meant to improve the texture of shaken drinks without wasting ice. It launched about a year before the Spinzall to less shock and awe, but with a much more affordable price tag.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThe one bar tool that Arnold would like to see updated? The soda gun.\r\n\r\n\u201cI think the whole world would be better if everyone\u2019s seltzer game was a little bit better,\u201d he says. \u201cThe average bar [soda] gun is just so terrible. People make every kind of mistake with them. The water that goes into them is not properly filtered, they haven\u2019t set up their carbonator right, they don\u2019t have the proper gas pressure, they don\u2019t run it through the proper kind of line\u2026the end result of that wretched bar gun is only the last thing they\u2019ve done to destroy the ability to make nice soda.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nWell-carbonated drinks are a hallmark of the program Arnold and Lee have created. When asked what he thought might be next on the horizon, Arnold said he\u2019s really just excited to discover new techniques.\r\n\r\n\u201cI want new techniques, but I\u2019m at a point where I think there\u2019s a lot more room for saturation with techniques that already exist,\u201d he says.\r\n\r\nPerhaps the next argument between Arnold and Lee, a mad scientist duo if ever there was one, will result in something just as clever as the perfect way to blowtorch a steak.\r\nDiscover more about how science is leading drinks into the future in our Wine & Tech issue.