Neat with a Twist: Your Hangover and You


Neat with a Twist explores drinking and the culture that surrounds it. Click the logo for the archives.

Neat with a Twist explores drinking and the culture that surrounds it. Click the logo for the archives.

Every month, Museum of the American Cocktail presents Mixology Night. Find the next seminar here…

Hangovers are an interesting phenomenon, one of those reminders in life that there are consequences for irresponsible behavior. The relationship between drinking excessively and feeling awful the next day is one that just about everyone understands, science supports, and many suffer from. But what exactly is a hangover? I recently attended a seminar entitled “Your Hangover and You”, presented by Wayne Curtis to gain some clarity into the whole hangover mystery thing and see if there’s any cutting edge science easing mankind into a blissful world where there are no consequences for excessive drinking.

It turns out that, while hangovers affect everyone differently, the main culprits are dehydration, withdrawal from alcohol, and your body processing the toxins from all that booze you drank. The first one is pretty self explanatory, because who really tries to drink water while they’re slurping delicious cocktails? And beer, at least the cheap beer found in abundance in hot weather, tastes enough like water it would seem redundant to have a glass of it beside you. While you’re drinking alcohol, though, you’re not only NOT drinking water, but you’re also getting rid of about double the amount of liquid than normal when you go to the bathroom. Hence the headaches, laziness, and extreme thirst the next day.

Withdrawal is a little scarier to comprehend. Apparently your body gets pretty used to alcohol very quickly, and when you drink enough and then wake up after a few hours of not drinking, you suffer from withdrawal symptoms. Your body is out of balance and your nerves are excited, and you just don’t feel right.

Hangover day. Photo by  Álvaro Canivell, via Wikimedia Commons

Hangover day. Photo by Álvaro Canivell, via Wikimedia Commons

The process of your body breaking down the alcohol is where we get the upset stomach and abdominal pain, because this isn’t the easiest thing to do for your poor systems. You’re trying to break down the ethanol into something you can process, which is where all the pain and nausea come in. There’s a biological explanation that I’m not really qualified to give, so I’ll direct you to the internet, and especially this link:

Now everyone knows that the best way to not get hungover is to never drink, but that seems a bit too “abstinence only” middle school health class for us cocktail-loving, consenting adults. Mr. Curtis provided us with a few other ideas of prevention, ranging from eating a meal before going out (always a good idea) to wearing a garland of parsley (seemingly ineffective, unless you were counting on others buying your drinks). Sticking to a vodka-only menu would be OK since it’s mostly ethanol and therefore easier for your body to break down, but then you might just go home from boredom. Surprisingly, it seems that the old “beer before liquor, never been sicker” adage of frat boys all over the world might be accurate, considering that the bubbly beer will allow alcohol to be absorbed faster into your system.

After giving us all this information, Wayne Curtis proceeded to ply us with drinks that were supposed to be the cure-all for even the worst of hangovers. Since it was a seminar on a Monday at 6:00PM, I don’t think too many of us were qualified to judge if they were effective or not, but some of them tasted as though they could kick any hangover’s ass they met. We sampled Moxie, which is a New England soda made with Gentian root (same root used to make Angostora bitters!) that was originally a cure-all tonic. Mixed with Laird’s Apple Brandy and garnished with a lime, I quite enjoyed it and thought a trip to New England could be justified to pick up a case or two to keep on hand. The Bullshot, made with beef bouillon, lemon, Worchestershire sauce and vodka, was a little out of my comfort zone. I can see drinking it warm if you’d like to get the vomiting out of the way so you can start the recovery process, but otherwise I was not convinced that this would cure anyone of anything. The last drink was a Vampiro (recipe at the bottom), which is what Wayne swears by after his excessive nights out.

Egg McMuffin or hangover panacea? Photo by Evan-Amos, via Wikimedia Commons.

Egg McMuffin or hangover panacea? Photo by Evan-Amos, via Wikimedia Commons.

I’m in a peculiar position to write about hangovers, since I’m lucky to escape their worst attributes the majority of the time I drink. Don’t get me wrong, I do drink, and occasionally to the point where most of my friends complain bitterly the next day. I simply don’t seem to suffer to the same extent that most people do and, dare I say, a part of me actually enjoys the bodily turmoil of being hungover. It reminds me of my own human frailty, of karma, of consequences. I personally treat my minor hangovers with a jog (if I’m feeling really motivated) or a bacon, egg and cheese on an English muffin, both of which are other options on Wayne’s Cure list.

Living in this non-hangover world probably seems wonderful for those of you who suffer badly the next day. There are some drawbacks, however, that come with this so-called freedom. One of the biggest is that I don’t have a fear of being hungover, which makes me far more likely to overindulge. Wayne points out that this is one of the potential reasons that hangover research is not a billion dollar industry—it should be, but if we were to cure all consequences, there would be no repercussions for irresponsible drinking! America was founded by Puritans, so it could be their influence continuing to seep through.

In any case, it seems like hangovers are here to stay, and so if we are going to drink, we’d better be prepared with plenty of beef bullion, Moxie, and tomato juice for the next day. And, just for fun, a preventative garland of parsley.


  • 2.5 oz tomato juice
  • 1 oz orange juice
  • 1 oz tequila (silver)
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon onion, finely chopped
  • 3 thin slices hot pepper
  • 1 or 2 dashes Worcestershire Sauce
  • salt (to taste)

Stir all ingredients well in a tall glass with plenty of ice.

Curing hangovers crosses cultures. Patsás (Greek: πατσάς), a Greek hangover fix made of tripe, very similar to the Mexican menudo. Copyright © 2005

Curing hangovers crosses cultures. Patsás (Greek: πατσάς), a Greek hangover fix made of tripe, very similar to the Mexican menudo. Copyright © 2005

Still hurting? Here’s another hangover drink to try:


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