Blame it on the nitrogen

The aftermaths of nitro-cocktails make hangovers seem like a gift

By Kristina Charania
Photos by slgckgc

When you walk into your first Monday morning lecture with a raging headache and a gymnastic stomach (the only acrobatic part of your body) you’ll obviously blame it on the alcohol: the vodka, the henny, the blue top, and the liquid nitrogen.

Yes, liquid nitrogen. That’s right. Don’t worry, though — Jamie Foxx didn’t see that coming, either.

Here’s the 411: when a few drops of liquid nitrogen are added to a drink, they release plumes of hazy vapour that make any plain margarita look like a misty bonsai tree. That might sound like a sexy little concoction to you now, but you’ll be rethinking your woefully deluded opinions after it causes your stomach to literally explode.

Sadly, this isn’t a figment of your worst nightmare. According a recent online publication for The Daily Mail, 18-year old Gabby Scanlon was enjoying her birthday at a wine bar in Lancaster and chugged two Nitro Jagermeisters to celebrate — this quickly turned sour when she began experiencing breathlessness and intolerable stomach pains. She was then sent to a nearby hospital where doctors diagnosed her with a perforated stomach that was leaking acidic gastric juices with a severity that required specialists to remove nearly all of it. Scanlon now faces a lifetime of specialized treatment, and a severely restricted diet.

Naturally, this will sound like nonsensical rubbish until you understand how liquid nitrogen functions. It’s a cryogenic fluid — this means that it exists naturally at temperatures cold enough to freeze your finger on contact and cause it to fall off your hand. This makes the substance handy as a coolant or preservative for biological samples like umbilical cords. It also has its uses in food processing: if you were around for SFU’s Week of Welcome, you may have noticed that liquid nitrogen was used to freeze ice cream doled out to students. And yet, unlike our friend Gabby Scanlon, stomachs campus-wide were left intact and unscathed.

This mystery isn’t really a mystery at all; it’s just science. High school science teaches us that matter has three states: solid, liquid and gaseous. A liquid needs to be heated to boiling in order to vaporize. Liquid nitrogen’s boiling point is -196 degrees Celsius, but upon becoming gaseous, it expands to almost 700 times its liquid volume. Although the boiling off process for liquid nitrogen is rapid, it’s very likely that Scanlon guzzled her nitro-infused cocktails much quicker than your average alcoholic. Therefore, the nitrogen didn’t have enough time to vaporize before the drink entered her system. Considering that our body temperature is 37 degrees Celsius — way above the boiling point of liquid nitrogen — her stomach perforation was caused by the huge expansion of the liquid into a gas. Two nitro-jagers quickly expanded into 1400 jagers — not the kind of Jagerbomb you want on Friday night.

This doesn’t mean that you should abstain from suspiciously steamy alcoholic beverages and nitro-popsicles, though. It’s really as simple as letting your edibles sit for a few minutes. However, if your concerns are insurmountable, stick with capped Red Racer beers and homemade highballs — you just can’t know how well-trained a bartender is in using liquid nitrogen, or how much of it is left in what you’re about to consume. Obviously, you’re always better off safe than sorry.