Alas, My Poor Brother
’Tis the season to be jolly, they say, and the 30 or so nights between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day are a target-rich environment if you’re hell-bent on jumping for Joy or trying to make Mary. But be forewarned. Lurking in the bushes, behind every clump of holly or bouquet of mistletoe, awaits the great Leveler of Revelers: The Hangover.
Work may indeed be the curse of the Drinking Class, but the hangover is its scourge. And while the suffering of the Striving Man’s bottle fatigue is an intensely personal thing, it’s also ruthlessly democratic. The same affliction that makes heavier the head that wears the crown also cripples the serf in the field; the rheumy eyes of the executive mirror those of the kid in the mailroom; the priest and the rabbi pray for the same mercy as they struggle out of bed. The hangover is a universal experience that binds us the same way, say, hating our cell phone contract does.
“The real way to deal with a hangover is to deal with each of its constituent parts,” Andrew Irving recommends in How to Cure a Hangover. Sounds like a reasonable approach, but what is it exactly that makes us hungover?
• Dehydration: Alcohol is a diuretic and it stimulates the kidneys to produce urine. No matter how much you put in, even more will come out.
• Brain Damage: Relax, it’s not the permanent variety: the stumbling and drooling went away as soon as you sobered up. But your brain was swollen and then it shrank back to its original wrinkly size. That’s gotta hurt, and that’s where your headache came from. (Don’t worry about killing brain cells, by the way. You probably didn’t, but even if you did, they were the weak ones, so you basically culled the herd and got smarter — yeah, right!)
• Hypoglycemia: Alcohol triggers the production of insulin and a heavy session will leave a body with lowered blood sugar levels. Symptoms include sweating, chills and tremors.
• Chemical Gastroenteritis: Again, take it easy. This is not the kind that kills — you haven’t got a virus, just poison in your guts. The symptoms are the same, though: nausea, vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea.
• Shame and General Malaise: In various proportions.
• Alcohol Withdrawal/Anesthesia: These are two descriptions of the same phenomenon. As alcohol numbs the senses, the body compensates by turning up the sensitivity of the sensors. After the alcohol is metabolized, the sensitivity levels remain heightened and the result is a hyper-sensitivity to stimuli: lights are too bright, sounds are too loud, etc.
The first couple symptoms can be dealt with simply. For your dehydration, water will do the trick, but Pedialyte is even better. It was designed to combat dehydration in diarrheic babies, and if there was ever an apt description for the way you feel, it’s probably that. Brain damage requires actual medicine. Don’t bother with aspirin, it’s not up to the task. Ibuprofen is the way to go. But please, please stay away from acetaminophen. In combination with alcohol it can be extremely toxic to the liver, and there are bodies in the morgue to prove it.
The last symptom is most likely the reason “hair of the dog” cures are the most commonly prescribed hangover remedies and the most effective: they allow the body to slowly and gingerly recalibrate its sensitivity levels. The better ones also address one or more of the other aspects of your malady, so let’s traipse through the half dozen or so volumes in my collection of hangover literature and try to pick out a few decent dog hairs.
(Again, be forewarned: as The Bollard staff discovered after the photo shoot for this feature, it is possible to get a hangover from hangover cures, so tread lightly.)
The combination of Angostura bitters and club soda is a fairly well known settler of queasy stomachs, but for a four-alarm case of the katzenjammers, something more robust is in order. What you need is a good slug from the potable bitters cabinet. These include Averna, Underberg, Cynar, Zwack and (surprise, surprise) Jägermeister. All are available in Maine, but for the most revered of the cat-silencers you’ll have to venture to Away. Fernet-Branca has a cultish following in the U.S., with Boston and San Francisco its cultural hubs, and everywhere you look in the literature of morning-after suffering, you’ll find it; scores of recipes feature Fernet.
Bitters are chockfull of the medicinal herbs, and a pony (or two) will go a long way toward settling your irritable innards — enough that you may even try to choke down a light breakfast. With an alcohol content ranging from 40 to 80 proof, bitters also help quiet the racket clouds make as they slide past one another in the late-morning sky.
Drinking tends to strip the body of B vitamins, and beer is a pretty good source for replenishing them. Beer by itself, however, seems too much like continuing last night’s misbehavior, so I give you these simple variations…
A hot shower has remarkable, though fleeting, restorative powers. Add a can of beer to the equation and you’ve got lightning in a bottle. Scrubbing bubbles on the outside, scrubbing bubbles on the inside. Hold the ice-cold can against your forehead.
The Black Velvet was probably concocted in 1861 to commemorate the passing of Prince Albert — like an alcoholic version of a black crepe armband. This is a stunningly effective fixer-upper that also utilizes some of the champagne left over from the previous evening. Guinness is saturated with B vitamins and its gentle effervescence makes it an easy addition to a volatile and gassy system. The champagne gives the alcohol content a wee boost.
The Red Eye, a.k.a. Red Beer, a.k.a. Bloody Nose, is nothing more than beer and tomato juice. For people like me who despise the thick, saucy texture of tomato juice, this is the way to go. The nutrient-rich juice will help get your blood sugar where it needs to be, and the beer will provide a gentle re-alcoholizer. The first one goes down kind of slowly, the second’s like mother’s milk, and a third is rarely required.
The literature is lousy with recipes involving tomato juice, most of which are variants of the Bloody Mary: Bloody Bull, Bloody Caesar, Bloody Maria, and so on. Salvatore Calabrese, easily the most dapper and accomplished barman ever to come out of Italy, created one of the more interesting Bloody variations and included it in his book, Hair of the Dog: How to Cure a Hangover. The name itself is fiendishly wicked: The Bloody Swedish Blonde. It’s based on Aquavit, a caraway-flavored spirit from Scandinavia usually drunk by Europeans straight from the freezer after a big meal. Salvatore adds fennel seeds, noting their high mineral content and ability to calm the nerves.
The Bullshot tends to remind people of a Bloody Mary, though it suffers from a noticeable anemia: there’s no blood. Substitute beef bullion for the tomato juice and you’re in the ballpark, but I suggest you go the extra mile and try to score some Bovril. The thickest, richest and meatiest beef extract you can readily find, Bovril has had a storied history amongst Britons for over a century. It’s easily turned into a fortifying tea, and once, in New Orleans, I survived for four days almost solely on free drinks and Bovril. The protein will help restore your blood sugar without causing an insulin bounce. This drink is powerful magic, and delicious, to boot.
If your system is too afflicted to manage the eating of eggs, drinking them is always an option. Leftover eggnog might seem like a good idea, but the milk and cream will signal the stomach to neutralize it with acid, and your stomach is already acidic enough, trust me. What we need here is a good old-fashioned flip. The Boston Flip is simple and quick to make, and the Madeira makes for a nice bit of nuttiness to offset the sting of the bourbon. Again, the protein is what you’re after.
That and the alcohol, naturally.
half sparkling wine
half tomato juice
Bloody Swedish Blonde
1 oz. Aquavit
4 oz. tomato juice
pinch toasted and ground fennel seed
2/3 oz. lemon juice
pinch caraway seed
Combine the Aquavit, tomato juice and ground fennel in a mixing glass and swirl it around gently. Strain into a highball glass filled with ice cubes. Add the lemon juice. Garnish with caraway seeds and a twist of lemon.
5 oz. beef bullion
dash of lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
Tabasco to taste
1 oz. vodka
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
Shake all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker till well chilled. Strain into a double Old Fashioned glass and garnish with ground pepper and a lime wedge.
1 oz. bourbon
1 oz. Madeira
1 whole egg
1/4 oz. simple syrup
Shake all ingredients in an ice-filled shaker until thoroughly mixed and well chilled. Strain into a glass and garnish with nutmeg.