Cryogenic Cocktails – An Antarctic Tale

The Geographic South Pole (The Best Picture I've Ever Taken)
The Geographic South Pole, 2003 - The Best Picture I've Ever Taken

In addition to being South Pole Station’s bartender, my actual job (the reason I was sent to the bottom of the Earth) was as the science/cryogenics technician. It was my job to take care of all the liquid helium and liquid nitrogen and make sure all the cryogenic equipment on the telescopes stayed in good repair.

At the second major party of the summer, the disco party, I was the bartending as the construction worker from the Village People because I had flannel shirt and hard hat available to me, which is the only visual cue needed for construction work it seems. My boss’ boss, one of the people who originally interviewed me, was down for a few weeks during the summer and decided to attend the party. He’d already had a couple drinks before showing up and was surprised to see me there. He asked me to make something special. So, I mixed up a vodka with a little bit of dry vermouth and put it on the counter in a clear plastic cup.

As he reached for it, I batted his hand away. “You asked for something special”, I said.

I then reached under the bar for the 10L transport dewar of liquid nitrogen (LN2) and poured a little bit into his cup. He jumped back as the boiling fog came out of the cup’s top and covered the bar as the -170C LN2 hit the room temperature martini. After a couple minutes, and more batting away of his hand as he tried to grab it too early, it had calmed down and there was just thin layer of fog in the cup covering the drink. I picked the rather cold cup up, blew the fog off, and handed it to him.

He looked down into the cup at a strange crusty solid something floating in his drink. With some disgust he asked, “What the hell is that?”

I reached in the drink, pulled it out and threw it on the floor behind me. “That was all the useless water that used to be in your drink, diluting your martini”, I replied.

His eyes went a bit wide at that and he took a sip. He pounded the bar for a few seconds as his martini was now about 150 proof rather than the ~70 normal ones are. He then ran out the door abandoning his drink.

Ten minutes later, he returned with the eight visiting Swedish researchers in tow, almost like the schoolgirls from Madeline. He shoved them all up to the bar and exclaimed, “I want you to make for them what you made for me and don’t skimp on the LN2. Sven…I hired this guy.”

I made some very happy Swedes that night and gave my boss’ boss a hangover he shook his head in memory at for the rest of the summer.