The Secret Ingredient
Hint: It's Not a Bloody Mary
Once upon a time I used to be able to drink my body weight in cheap beer and booze, sleep a few hours, and wake up the next day ready to tackle the world. This was in a magical land called “College,” during which time I could also fast for twenty-four hours and drop a dress size. Ah…youth.
In this land, all that was required after a particularly fun night of said cheap alcohol consumption was a liter of water and something with plenty of carbs to soak up the residual booze in my system—like a stack of pancakes, say, or a greasy cheeseburger.
Of course, once I left this sparkly world of classes, parties, and parental support to function on my own, I was armed only with a Bachelor of Arts in English Lit and a metabolism that was depleting as rapidly as my bank account. In this Brave New World of Independence, the booze was still by necessity cheap but that whole get-up-every-morning-at-six-and-be-fully-functioning-in-order-to-earn-paycheck thing was a real shocker.
It was no longer wise to party on a random Wednesday night and expect to sleep until ten, at which time the official hangover avoidance program would kick in (see above: carbs and water). But what I didn’t quite grasp yet was the fact that, as I advanced further into the Overrated Thing that is Adult Life, my super perfect, secret sauce hangover cure no longer worked.
I’m sure you’ve heard your fair share of sure-fire, double-secret hangover cures. There’s a new book devoted to one man’s quest to try them all and how that goes (Hungover, by Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall—it’s a hoot. I highly recommend it). There are many websites promising a guaranteed cure, most of them promoting various forms of snake-oil in exchange for your hard earned dollar.
Let’s review some basics. First, “hair of the dog.” That tried and supposedly true method of pouring more booze down your throat in order to stay inebriated and hence, skip the hangover. Because this is a serious column designed to provide you with serious answers, I looked into the etymology of this phrase. It’s short for (as you might already suspect) “hair of the dog that bit you.” Sort of an odd thing to say to someone suffering from the sort of vise-grip headache and icky-stomach that makes them wish they’d turned down those last two appletinis.
The phrase can be traced back as far as ancient Greece (some claim). The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable attributes the quote to the Greek playwright Aristophanes, who might’ve said, “If this dog do you bite, soon as out of your bed, take a hair of the tail the next day.” Then again, he might not have said that.
Apparently it was once believed that if you got bit by a dog with rabies, you could be cured by drinking a potion that contained some of that dog’s hair. This makes about as much sense to us in 2018 as mercury cures, bloodletting, and my personal favorite, using vibrators to cure hysteria (no, really this happened.) But beyond all the people dead from rabies and drinking dog hairs, the phrase has come to mean something that, honestly, is just about as effective.
I’ll admit to trying the Bloody Mary cure at times. Which leads to the one true secret to “curing” a hangover. But more on that in a moment.
During the course of my exhaustive research into this topic, I learned about “congeners.” Congeners are toxic chemical by-products that are formed in small amounts during the process of ethanol fermentation, when sugars are converted into carbon dioxide and alcohol. Different alcoholic beverages contain varying amounts. They are most present in whiskey, cognac and tequila with bourbon being the worst. They are less so in gin, rum and vodka. If you stick to the white liquor (except tequila which I recommend as a general rule anyway) you might not have as much of a hangover than if you’re pounding out a Don-Draper-level Old Fashioned bender.
When it comes to beer and wine, there are any number of “wine before beer, you’re in the clear”-type nonsense rules, most of them debunked by actual science. But I have found the following to be true, based on years of personal research. I’m now prepared to pass them on to you, bearing in mind that the only thing to keep you from having a hangover at all is to drink in moderation. And the fact that all of this is just what works for me, and I’ll admit to having a higher-than-normal tolerance based on said years of training:
1. Never mix large amounts of red and white wine in one evening. I have no idea why this is but I’m here to tell you, you do this at your own risk.
2. Always keep water handy and consume it while you’re boozing. Yes, you will visit the bathroom more often but a hangover is 90% dehydration so why not head that off at the pass?
3. Remember that when you “fall asleep” while you’re legit drunk you’re really only passing out. Your body is still hard at work, processing the booze you assaulted it with. When you wake up, you’ll still be tired.
4. Start slow, if you can, with something low-octane like a beer (lower than 7% ABV). If you’re drinking cocktails, sip, don’t gulp. That booze will hit your brain like a locomotive, which can lead to Bad Decisions, including drinking more and/or consuming three Hot ‘n Readies at midnight.
5. Carb-loaded food does not help soak up alcohol and cure your hangover. Coffee makes you more wide-awake and aware of your agony. Coffee the night before will simply make you wide-awake while drunk.
6. Only water, sleep and time cure a hangover but the greatest of these is time. The longer you can sleep “past” the painful wake-up, the better. But if you have to get up and function at six a.m., it’s best to plan some quality shut-eye later in the day.
Again, the bottom line: drink in moderation, drink water, don’t ever drink and drive. But most importantly, put a pickle and some bacon in that Bloody Mary the next morning. It might not cure what’s ailing you but it will make it taste better!
Onto the Review Section of this week’s Substackin’….and it’s a beer, since we are talking about booze after all.
Now that I’m a resident of South Carolina, I’m making a point to keep my reviews to the many options presented to me in the “drink local” section of the grocery. I’m headed to a few actual breweries this coming weekend and will have draft reviews of a few options next Sunday so stay tuned for that.
For today, in anticipation of warm weather drinking season, we have a helles.
First, lets’s set the ground rules. I’m going to taste these beers and compare them to what are the accepted style guidelines. But because the whole craft beer thing has turned us into Tiny Beer Snobs some days, alternating with “I can put whatever the eff I want into this mash because the craft beer world sez so” artists the next, I’m also going to not diss a beer just because it doesn’t adhere to said style guidelines. I will diss a beer if it tastes like it is oxidized, like buttered popcorn (UNLESS it’s supposed to, yes this is confusing just bear with me) or sulfur, or is skunky and light struck.
FISHIN’ BEER from Brewery 85 right here in Greenville is our test subject.
It might not be fair to start here since this is my second favorite style after Czech pils but here we are. “Helles” means “light in color” which by style, this beer should be, which is to say (technically, being the Almost Cicerone that I am) between 4.5 and 5 on the SRM (color scale). It should be on the low side of bitterness, 18-25 IBUs (International Bitterness Units) and with an ABV (Alcohol by volume) between 4.8 and 5.6%. Session-able, in other words, like many/most lagers.
You might think it would be easy to churn out a few gallons of a beer like this but you would be wrong. A proper helles is a symphony of balance between sweetness and spice and is not an easy style to get right. The fermentation process has to be strictly controlled in order to achieve the clean finish combined with the proper bite of spicy hops. It’s got a bit more to it, flavor-wise, than a light lager or a regular pilsner, and it is the perfect beer to pair with lighter fare like seafood or salads.
Okay thems the rules. Now let’s dive into it and see where it takes us, shall we?
Fishin’ Beer is bright and spicy-sweet with a lovely bread-like base. It’s nice and fizzy at first, with second and third sips reinforcing the fact that on many levels, Brewery 85 nailed this hard-to-nail style. It’s not over-hopped (like some helles I’ve tried) and the malt bill tastes uncomplicated, like it should be, while the super clean and fizzy finish proves that this brewer understood the tricky fermentation rules. My only issue with it are probably a function of pouring it from a can. A helles lager should have a nice, foamy head but this one was a bit thin and disappointing—something I’m willing to bet is not an issue on draft.
4.5 stars to FISHIN’ BEER from Brewery 85, located at 6 Whitlee Court, Greenville (my fair city) South Carolina. Check them out here.