Photo: Chris Shields
the old-fashioned way, with help from some 150-year-old recipes
There’s nothing quite like tasting gin after a burp. At 10
in the morning. On a weekday. At a meeting. How does one explain
that kind of thing to their boss?
Thankfully, no explanation is necessary. This morning’s unsavory
repercussions are the product of a long evening of drunkitude
that the man in charge totally signed-off on—and participated
in. Not that that makes the hangover any more comfortable,
but still, it’s nice to know someone else is in the same boat.
This is a history lesson of sorts: Today’s is a hangover for
the ages, the wrath of 150 years, thanks to an adventurous
stroll through cocktail history and a forgiving bartender
who was kind enough to play tour guide. After stumbling upon
a reprint of Jerry Thomas’ 1862 booze bible The Bartenders
Guide or How To Mix Drinks: The Bon-Vivant’s Companion,
I became curious. I wanted to find out how 19th-century America
got its drink on.
Here’s how: With egg. Peoples got to get their protein somewhere,
and in the mid-1800s they got it over the bar. Flip through
the pages of Thomas’ book and you’ll find an inexplicable
amount of recipes that feature egg, white-only or whole. It
seems unimaginable today, what with salmonella being an undesirable
side effect, but back in Honest Abe’s day, apparently this
was the norm.
So my mission seemed tainted from the get-go. Not many bartenders
would even dare to serve up a pink rose fizz (gin, egg, grenadine,
lemon juice, cream) or a millionaire cocktail No.2 (gin, absinthe,
egg, anisette). In fact, due to certain ingredients being
unavailable—our old friend absinthe, another frequently listed
component, is not-so-legal these days—and others being more
or less antiquated (kümmel, anyone?), the big list was quickly
whittled down to a manageable group of recipes deemed “doable.”
The list and I made our way to the bar at Lark Street restaurant
DeJohn’s, where bartender Hal Hughes, always a good sport,
agreed to accompany me on this journey—although his initial
reaction was more along the lines of, “You’re not gonna do
this to me all night, are you?”
First up, appropriately, was the Journalist Cocktail. This,
er, interesting concoction combined French (dry) and Italian
(sweet) vermouth, dry gin, plus dashes of lemon juice, curacao,
and bitters. (A more recent variation substitutes triple sec
for curacao.) The color was an awful, putrid green, and it
smelled about as bad as it looked (gin has that reputation).
To taste, it was only slightly more appealing. The gin simply
dominated (it also has that reputation) and I had to push
it away before long. The green funk made a trip around a table
of colleagues, where it got a variety of responses, most of
them of the “yuck” variety. “Tastes like grass,” said one.
“Minty grass,” added another.
So it was on to something else. Hal perused the list and spotted
the Cablegram Highball. A simpler piece of work, this was
simply whiskey shaken over ice with powdered sugar and lemon
juice then mixed with ginger ale. It was on the sweet side,
due in part to the substitution of simple syrup for plain
sugar, but it was a welcome palate-cleanser after that first
mess. I could see drinking this in the summertime, mid- afternoon,
while avoiding things like responsibility and the outside
world. This one went fast.
The Straits Sling was next. Another gin drink, this one included
lemon juice, cherry nectar, bitters and Benedictine, mixed
with seltzer. Hal used his improvisational skills here, subbing
B&B (Benedictine and brandy) in lieu of straight Benedictine,
and dropping in an extra smidge of cherry juice to improve
the flavor. But it’s bright red, never a favorite color for
an alcoholic beverage, and the prevailing opinion on the taste
from the peanut gallery was “cough-syrupy.”
Next, Hal, having decided that my well-being was forfeitable,
tracked down an egg and stirred up an Elk’s Own Cocktail:
one egg white, whiskey, port wine, lemon juice and sugar.
He labored over the mixture, carefully separating the egg
and muddling the lemon slices; when finished, he commented
on the suggested presentation: “After all that shit, a pineapple!”
The process piqued the interest of several folks at the bar,
a few of whom commended me on having the “balls” to try a
drink with raw egg in it. Strangely, these same people then
asked to sample the drink when my reaction was short of falling
down seizing. Gone in no time flat, it really wasn’t half
bad. However, the first three had started to take hold by
now, so my judgment may have been impaired. The egg flavor
reminded me of the milkshakes my mother made when I was a
kid, but overall it blended in with the other ingredients.
Speaking of blended, I don’t recall much about the Chinese
Cocktail (grenadine, Jamaica rum, bitters, cherry juice, curacao)
or the Up-to-Date Cocktail (sherry wine, whiskey, bitters
Grand Marnier) besides that they were sweet, and that I was
having trouble standing. I was shot, and Hal, who had been
sampling each concoction as we went along, was ready to close
up shop. I never got a chance to try my intended finale, the
Fallen Angel, which I would have tried simply to test the
limits of my gag reflex: dry gin, bitters, crème de menthe,
and lemon juice.
What, no egg?
Photo: Chris Shields
reporter does what it takes (not really) to explore the bar
scene in Troy
only made it to three bars,” he taunts me. “I thought you
were on a crawl!”
Yelling over the din of the one-man acoustic hair-band set,
my buddy reminds me that I’m not just out looking for a good
time. I am out looking for a story.
right—I be working!
What do you mean?” another friend asks in between chugs of
am writing an article about a pub crawl in Troy,” I say, pleased
with myself. I got this all figured out—drink, work, drink
don't get it. What’s the article about?” he asks.
crawls in Troy,” I shout.
you’ve only been to three bars!"
Pub crawls in Troy are a seasonal affair, I offer, trying
to make up for my lack of ambition. There are so many good
bars, but they are so spread out.
Warm summer nights afford a hop-scotching path from one cluster
of bars to another, from the homey North Troy haunts through
the all-business downtown posh to the South Troy dives (RIP
Mom’s), curling back around to end at Positively 4th Street.
But on nights like tonight, unseasonably cold and predictably
dreary, each bar is oh-so- difficult to leave. Packed in and
warm, who wants to hoof it the five blocks it takes to get
to the Ruck when the beer is already flowing?
So skipping the long haul and making for the shortcut from
Ale House to P4, with a stop in for a custom hefeweizen at
Brown’s, I argue, is a reasonable jaunt.
wants to hear some Poison?” shouts the British guitarist,
up in the raised backroom, his bleached-blond, overstyled
hair glimmering in the stage lights, the padlock hanging from
a chain around his neck an apparent hypnotic trigger for the
lone 20-something girl in his audience of six people.
A woman hoots. Most people in the bar ignore him. A little
woman throws herself bodily across the lap of my more tolerant
friend and asks the four of us if we are “faggots.”
do you want to know?” my buddy snickers.
we are,” I say, adding, “now go away”
She is a very little woman, not much taller than a yardstick,
with a ripped-up ’80s metal look, and she tells us that she
wouldn’t care if we were homosexuals. She just wants to make
time with a man, she says, as she curls into my friend’s lap.
are so many ways to approach a pub crawl in Troy,” a buddy
reasons, turning away from the unsightly barroom lust. The
Ale House route that we took tonight is good because, well,
the Ale House has damn good sandwiches, and a night of drinking
demands a strong constitution, but one could just as easily
start at Daisy’s.
you can go the Golden Fox, maybe, maybe swinging down to Ryan’s
Wake or Jose Malone’s or Brown’s,” my buddy continues. Holmes
& Watson makes a starting point, I add. Or for those of
us from south-South Troy, there is Mahr’s, or Nature’s if
you’re hardcore. But more than once, that final blearily ordered
can of $1 beer for the bender-driven clan has been made right
here at P4.
P4 has descended into that crazed pitch late-night drinking
can bring to life, and more crawlers from other bars are spilling
in from the outside cold.
As my buddy orders the sixth round (it is for research, after
all), he tells me that if you can drink six beers in one night,
you probably have a problem. We have been on a few of these
crawls before, and I am planning on a few more before I give
up drinking for a life of restraint, but yeah, right now I
tell him, I do got a problem. “And that problem is called
Photo: Chris Shields
the Booze Away
reporter explores the desperate world of hangover cures
assume you actually bothered to wake up. You lost your valiant
stand against your favorite bar’s stock of high-grain alcohol
last night. And now you are wrestling your crusted eyes open,
the stinging morning light punishing you for your commitment
to hit every last call you possibly could before collapsing
on the nearest available couch. After your eyes adjust, the
pain starts to creep in from other places: maybe a headache,
perhaps some shakes, that overwhelming feeling that today
the world is simply not a place you want to be. And then the
spins start, a sense of overwhelming regret and the feeling
that if you had a time machine you might just take care of
this so called Jack Daniel’s guy before he could start this
disastrous chain of events that has left you here half-sober
and broken. So what could you have done the night before?
If you could hit a button (as in some obnoxious Adam Sandler
flick) and turn back time (as in an equally obnoxious Cher
song) to just before you passed out, too tired to take off
your socks—what could you have done to prevent all this suffering?
No, Mom! (I can hear her dry advice right now.) “The best
cure for a hangover is not to not drink at all.” Not drinking
is simply not an option—any self-respecting writer like myself
could tell you that.
During the course of my thorough investigation, I discovered
there are truly only two legitimate schools of thought on
hangover prevention. And those schools of thought are represented
by two types: the stomach coaters and the obsessive hydrators.
The stomach coaters—those are the ones who feel the need to
counteract the beer and booze and their nasty clawing on the
stomach with some sort of chow. My vegetarian friend Tom always
suggests a can of V8. I suggest to Tom that a can of V8 would
do as much to prevent barfing for me as eating for a week
at Taco Bell. Other friends of mine have made a habit of breaking
in the middle of their binge drinking to slam some greasy
burgers or fries from an all-night dive, or that been-on-the-counter-all-day
pizza from I Love.
Does this strategy actually work? Well, experts do say that
drinking on a full stomach will ensure that the alcohol is
absorbed by all those digesting bits of burger, thereby giving
your stomach a break. Also, having all that food lodged in
your innards will almost certainly ensure you won’t be able
to chug as many brewskies as you might have otherwise. And
yet, ordering food at greasy, open-all-night pizza places
in Troy almost always gets me in trouble. (It’s not just the
knife fights.) For some reason, barbecued chicken cacciatore
pizza always sounds good when I’m half-cocked. So the hydrating
strategy is a much more reasonable option for me.
The hydrators—these are the folks who keep their Poland Spring
bottles strapped to their sides on any trip to the bar so
they can alternate between cheap grain alcohol and the sparkling,
Personally, I despise these folks and their lack of commitment.
If it’s time to get shitty, it’s time to get shitty, no frills
necessary. If you have enough faculties to remember to keep
sipping water, you simply aren’t drunk enough. And yet, truth
be told, these folks are doing themselves a huge favor, as
alcohol-induced dehydration is what leads to those awful room-spinning
headaches that make you regret that last shot of Goldshlagger.
The one no-no of hydration is caffeinated drinks like coffee
and coke. They will only help dehydrate you.
Furthermore, hydrators sometimes like to throw painkillers
like Tylenol into their routine—one big bottle of water followed
by a handful of gel-caps. The problem with this strategy is
that these drugs contain Acetaminophen, which is reportedly
not so good for your liver in high doses or when mixed with
large quantities of alcohol. While I personally understand
this is a concern, if you are willing to do your liver damage
to get trashed, you probably don’t have much of a problem
damaging your liver to feel better.
Of course, the most interesting hangover cures are the ones
that creatively combine proven strategies, or just altogether
ignore them. Take, for example, a recent encounter I had with
a friend, whom we joined at 10 PM on St Patrick’s Day. “I
hopeth youss don’t mind but I already sthhhtarded,” he slurred
to us. I mentioned I was on the lookout for hangover cures
and that it looked like he would need one sooner than later.
“I’ll tell yah,” he further slurred, “buthhh firsthh, car
bombsthh!” I protested briefly, wanting to hear this cure
when sober. But quickly I capitulated. We dropped shots into
drinks, and then we were off to the bars. In between drunken
fits of laughing, my nameless friend cupped his hand over
his mouth and said, “Pedialyte ice-pops and Vitamin Water!”
Yes, that Pedialyte. The stuff meant to prevent dehydration
in children with diarrhea. “You’re gonna make me puke!” I
told him, going back to my drink.
Around 3 AM, I found myself at a diner slinging back a big,
greasy egg breakfast. Finally, at 5 AM, about to climb the
stairs to my apartment, I hesitated, deciding to cave in and
try the Pedialyte cure. I trudged back to a Price Chopper,
grabbed a Vitamin Water and a bottle of Pedialyte. I rushed
through the cash register line, beginning to feel a bit queasy.
I fiddled with the Pedialyte, looking down to see the face
of the happy bear on the bottle. “Bears don’t drink,” I thought
to myself. “That’s why he’s smiling and I’m about to hurl!”
My stomach started to rumble. Drunk as a skunk, I raised the
bottle to my mouth as though it were some sort of miracle
cure that could suppress the raging bile rising up in my gut.
And then I puked.
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