You’re Not Old; It’s the Sugar

BarMixA friend of mine was complaining on the weekend about the hangover she had, and blaming it on the efficient servers at dinner who never let her wine glass get less than half full.  Another friend mentioned that it was drinking different types of alcohol in one evening that always got her.  They both then, rather depressingly, opined that it was simply old age that had made them unequal to the task.

I beg to differ.  In my experience, mixing drinks can indeed cause an issue, as can too much wine, but not for the reasons they believe.  I’m sure some hematologist (or toxicologist or whatever branch of medicine knows about this stuff) will tell you I’m wrong, but the real problem is how much sugar and other flavoring is in the beverage.

When I was a bartender in Montréal, we drank a lot of shots, but never seemed to have hangovers.  I believe the secret is that almost all of them were straight vodka.  The waitresses (sorry to be sexist, but they were  all women) who were prone to hangovers, drank sweet shooters like Fuzzy Navels (peach schnapps and orange juice), Alabama Slammers (Southern Comfort, amaretto, sloe gin, orange juice, bar mix), B-52s (Kahlua, Bailey’s, Grand Marnier) and such.

My rule of thumb is that the sweeter or darker your wine and spirits are, or the associated mix is, the worse the hangover.  So Port is worse than Merlot, rum is worse than gin, rye&coke is worse that scotch&water, and anything made with bar mix is deadly.  The friend with the bottomless wine glass above ended her evening with a Gin Fizz (gin, bar mix, soda water) – that was the real culprit (although lots of wine, particularly a heavier red like Bordeaux, CabSav, or Chianti, can be bad, too).

Bar mix is a bartender’s lazy ingredient to replace “sugar water” and/or lemon/lime juice in a cocktail recipe.  It looks like Kool-Aid and has a similar percentage make-up of processed sugar.  It’s mixed in a large plastic container with a pour spout on top, and usually kept on the speed-rail.  Depending on the number of “girly-drinks” a bar serves, a couple of litres of the stuff can last for weeks.  I think it’s gross, but it is a staple of classic cocktails like Tom Collins, Planter’s Punch, Singapore Sling and Zombie.

BTW, the other friend is right about mixing  drinks being bad, but only because one of the drinks in the mix is usually sweet.  Mixing lager, wine and armagnac has never hurt me, and I believe it’s because none of them are sweet.  In her case, Smirnoff Ice was the sugary culprit.  So remember – clear, unsweetend booze like vodka, gin, or white rum; with clear, unsweetened mix like soda, tonic or water.  Pale beers.  White or light red wines.  And I’d say “everything in moderation,” but I’m not a weeny.


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