As a bartender and a mixologist, I’m often asked by my patrons and even my colleagues some great questions about making drinks. So, I thought I would dedicate this blog post to answering some of those questions about the use – and abuse – of spirits. Then I’ll wrap things up with this issue’s Cheers Chicago Cocktail!
The most frequently asked question I get while pouring cocktails goes something like this: “So, what’s the difference between vodka, gin and scotch?” followed closely by, “which type of alcohol messes you up the most?” Both great questions. Each type of alcohol has a base ingredient from which the yeast feeds from to produce alcohol as a byproduct. There are several choices: whisky and vodka are commonly derived from wheat and barley, while wine and brandy are made from grapes. Rum and cachaça are derived from sugarcane and molasses, while sake comes from fermenting rice. The distilled spirit will only change color, however, if it’s aged in a wood barrel, which gives scotch its unique color, aroma and taste. Unlike other spirits, vodka is actually distilled to the ponit where it has no distinctive aroma, color or taste. Other than, of course, the various congener aromas (like fusel oil) or the subtle differences in texture in the water used (heavier french spring in Grey Goose, lighter Russian distilled water in Stoli, for instance), but only the very best can distinguish these differences amongst all popular vodkas. Gin starts as vodka, but uses a combination of herbs and botanicals in the distilling process to “cut” the harsh flavor of the distilled spirit.
As for which one “messes you up” the most, here’s the bottom line: the higher the proof, the less it takes to become intoxicated. The real question lies in how you consume your alcohol. For instance, a drink by itself or with water will be absorbed by your stomach wall into your bloodstream much more slowly than one complemented with a carbonated beverage such as Pellegrino, tonic, or soft drink. Therefore, even though the alcohol content may be comparable, those that drink with carbonation are more likely to become intoxicated more rapidly than other combinations.
Another question I’m often asked is: “What’s the best cure for a hangover?”At this point in the conversation, other people at the bar might chime in with a story about a night out and discover the very next morning some mysterious combination of ingredients that cured their sloppy hangover. While others might swear by water and ibuprofen before going to bed, or drink Gatorade, or even eat lots of greasy food. I am going to clear the air for any doubters once and for all: the ONLY thing that can CURE a hangover is TIME. Sure, doctors admit that they aren't entirely sure what a hangover is, let alone how to cure it, but they are sure of time healing all post-alcoholic wounds.
Can you imagine what a clinical trial for a hangover would look like? I don't know about you, but I'm not sure I'd want to play along. Here's what doctors do know about hangovers. For starters, booze dehydrates. Alcohol blocks specific hormones in your kidneys that normally would keep you from racing to the bathroom. With each drink, you effectively lose more water than you take in— and that leads to all sorts of problems, like a searing headache. When breaking down alcohol, your body pumps out lactic acid and other byproducts that impede the production of glucose (sugar) and electrolytes (salts and other minerals that keep your body functioning properly). Hence that familiar weak, woozy feeling you get when you're hung-over. Here most people insert the “Gatorade” and “water plus ibuprofen” quips, which will in fact help your body re-hydrate and expel the toxins. Too much alcohol also irritates your gastrointestinal tract, therefore eating just about anything while you drink will ease the pain and slow down your body’s alcohol absorption rate. In the end, though, intoxicated people get the munchies, too, which will help the individual sober up more quickly. So, if you want the pain to end, you can try to slow it down, but you’ll eventually have to bite your lip and simply wait it out.
If I get the chance to introduce myself to my patrons, I’m often asked the origin of my name, which leads them wondering – out loud, of course – what makes something “kosher”. If they’re referring to the dietary restrictions, I share some facts with them as to what makes alcohol and all its derivatives kosher. For example, wine is made from grapes, and the Bible is clear as to what constitutes kosher preparation and production. For instance, the vines must be untouched by non-Jewish hands in order to be classified as kosher. Similarly, brandy, sherry, vermouth and champagne are direct products of wine and therefore need to use kosher wine to qualify. A little known fact: Southern Comfort that’s made in Ireland is kosher, while the one made in the United States is not. No reason for this is given. Mezcal and tequila are also kosher, so long as it’s without the worm (worms aren’t kosher, but believe it or not locusts are…gross.)
And now for your Cheers Chicago Cocktail of the month! This particular cocktail came to me by way of Forbes’ top 10 Summer Cocktails, and it certainly fits the summer theme! Enjoy!
3 ounces Bombay Sapphire gin
squeeze of fresh lime juice
2 tbsp Blue Curacoa
1 tbsp peach schnapps
1 tsp confectioners' sugar or one packet of Equal
Fill a martini glass with ice and water to chill it. Half-fill a martini shaker with ice and add the gin, lime juice, Curacao, schnapps and sugar. Shake well for at least 30 seconds. Pour out ice and water from martini glass, and poor in the mixture through a strainer. Garnish with lemon zest.