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How to Cure a Hangover

Published in Gourmet Live 11.30.11
James Rodewald polled bartenders for their secrets on softening the blows of overindulgence

Perhaps it’s a testament to the value of the altered state that, even knowing what we’ll be facing the next morning, we nonetheless agree to that nightcap. Punch bowls of money are ladled out every year on dubious potions and powders, some claiming to allow you to booze it up with no ill effects, others claiming to soften the blow of boozing it up if you were foolish enough to forget to buy the pre-boozing potions and powders. Medical experts—except those paid by the hangover remedy manufacturers—agree that the only way to cure a hangover is to avoid it in the first place. But while doctors have their place, when it comes to hangovers, there’s another group of experts whose advice we value—bartenders. We asked several of our favorites for their go-to revivers.

Like a well-made cocktail, a hangover is nothing if not complex. It starts with dehydration, which is why every bartender we talked to suggested drinking a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you imbibe. Scott Beattie, bar consultant and author of the stunningly beautiful Artisanal Cocktails, once dated a paramedic who had a more elaborate rehydration technique. “She’d go to these conventions where there’d be a couple thousand EMTs,” recalls Beattie. “The first night they’d all go out and get wasted. The next day they’d give each other IV fluids. I’m told it’s a 100 percent, surefire cure.” The saline solution will certainly address the dehydration, but that’s only part of the problem. Some EMTs prefer what is called a “banana bag,” an IV solution that contains thiamine, folic acid, and a multivitamin injection (the multivitamins give the liquid a yellow tint, thus the name).

“I don’t get hangovers very often,” says Beattie. “But absinthe gave me the worst one I’ve ever had, which makes sense. It’s got lots of sugar, high alcohol, and tons of flavor components. That was really painful,” he groans, the memory flooding back all too vividly. Beattie claims never to have taken advantage of his paramedic paramour’s expertise, preferring the hair of the dog to the drip of the IV. “The best cure I know is vodka and grapefruit,” he says. “It’s got the cleanest, purest alcohol and sugar that comes from a fresh, natural ingredient. You can also thin it with soda to get some extra water. Two of those is the best thing I’ve found for a hangover. Anything beyond that is BS.” Some of us would get a hangover from two of any drink, but, as Joan Acocella pointed out in a 2008 New Yorker piece on hangovers, “Unjustly, habitually heavy drinkers seem to have milder hangovers.” This is why it’s dangerous to bend elbows up with the pros. Or Australians.

Bobby Heugel, owner of Anvil Bar & Refuge, in Houston, doesn’t belong to the hair-of-the-dog school. Heugel just tries to survive and wait it out. “I like to wake up in the morning, have a glass of water, and go back to bed. I also love Thai food. It has lots of protein, lots of starch—it’s my favorite.” And that gets to the heart of the matter: When you feel like you’ve been run over by a truck, whether the aches and pains are your own damn fault or the result of a close encounter of the viral kind, you want soothing food. “I think the key is that when you’re feeling lousy,” says Heugel, “you should do comfortable things. Eat food that makes you feel better. People say that to combat a hangover you have to eat something, but I think the key is to eat something you really enjoy.”

LeNell Smothers, who until recently ran a sort of bed & booze (they called it a “bar with options for overnight stays”) with her new husband, Demián Camacho, in Baja California, Mexico, has often been quoted on her hangover remedies. One reason is her love of amari, those Italian bitters that can be made from all manner of things, from artichokes to wormwood, and are often sipped after dinner. “At Casa Cóctel we followed up every dinner with a digestivo,” says Smothers. “I dragged my whole bitters collection to Mexico, and I had a lot of Amaro Cora, which is relatively light, so we poured a lot of that.” Smothers is even better known, however, for not only recommending the consumption of a Prairie Oyster (a mixture that includes raw egg, Worcestershire sauce, and hot sauce) as a hangover cure but for demonstrating the proper preparation and ingestion…out of the belly button of a shirtless male. When pressed, though, she says her favorite hangover food is biscuits and gravy. “My quick and dirty recipe is two cups of White Lily flour, a stick of butter, and a cup of buttermilk—it’s got to be whole-fat buttermilk. I don’t roll ’em or anything. Just drop ’em in a hot skillet and throw it in the oven at 425° for about 25 minutes. There ain’t nothin’ like a good ol’ country breakfast for a hangover,” she says, in a full-on Alabama drawl, which is fitting, as she’s recently moved back to her home state, where she’s managing the beverage program at the soon-to-open Little Donkey, a Birmingham taqueria that’s going to have (pardon the pun) kick-ass cocktails. “When one of the guys said a cocktail I want to do sounds like a lot of trouble, I said, ’Dude, you’re grinding the corn for your tortillas! I’m just talking about doing an infusion.’”

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