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A Bartender’s Guide to What You Should Drink When You’re Hung Over

You could say I’m prone to hangovers.

And that’s not because of some genetic failing or predisposition. It’s just that, well, I’m simply not a one-glass-of-wine-at-dinner kind of girl. Call it whatever you want — an occupational hazard, binge drinking, a lack of self-control — I prefer to think of it as a masterful ability to balance work and play.

This, however, has made for some particularly fuzzy mornings, especially whenever I have to close on Saturday only to have to open for Sunday brunch roughly six hours later. Those mornings, not long removed from the giant dent I put in a post-work bottle of gin, are fucking brutal.

But they’ve also taught me a lot about what to have on hand for a quick-and-speedy recovery. (If sitting down to brunch when your hungover sounds painful, imagine what making all of those Bloody Marys and Mimosas is like.) So here goes it — my personal list of readymade and DIY remedies that are guaranteed to cure what ails you.

Lemon, Honey and Angostura Bitters

Its Healing Properties: Angostura bitters, one of the oldest and most traditional forms of cocktail bitters, was originally developed in 1824 by Dr. Johann Siegert, surgeon general of Simon Bolivar’s army, to treat tropical stomach ills in Venezuela. The crimson tincture consists of a secret, highly guarded recipe of gentian root and other herbs and has been used to treat nausea for more than a century. (It’s also 44.7 percent alcohol which, in small doses, can curb your body’s craving for more booze.)

Lemon and honey is a classic cure-all for sore throats and chills, and lemon and water is the oldest and simplest detoxifying beverage on the planet.

Dosage: Mix a few hefty shakes of Angostura with ¾ ounce of lemon juice, ¾ ounce honey. Stir to mix, and top with ice and either soda water or ginger beer. Like bitters, ginger has been used to settle the stomach for more than 100 years, and the effervescence in either beverage also helps calm the toxic stew that’s making its way throughout your body.

To really kick yourself back into gear, add a wee bit of Fernet Branca, the now infamous — in the service industry at least — Italian digestif manufactured specifically to aid in digestion after a big meal, or for you to reintroduce just enough alcohol back into your system to keep the shakes at bay.

Level of Hangover Capable of Treating: The “oh my God why?” kind. If I’m at work and I’m hungover, the first thing I do after getting the day’s juices prepared and fetching ice is mix one of these for myself. That tiny bit of booze, plus the lemon and ginger, knocks the fog from my head within seconds.

When It Really Saved My Ass — Or the Asses of Those Closest to Me: This combination was introduced to me by another bartender, a woman who’s name I never caught, at Eastern Standard, one of Boston’s premier cocktail establishments. I don’t remember all of the details of what brought me in that afternoon, let alone the night before, but when I plopped down into a bar seat, I could barely look at the menu. My voice shook as I said, “I think I just a need a minute,” when she asked me what I’d like to drink.

She looked at me and came back, minutes later, with this tonic.

“This should help,” she said.

And did it ever.

Pro Tip: Use a true ginger beer, not ginger ale. You’ll want one that’s got a kick to it, like Gosling’s or Barritt’s.

Charcoal Lemonade

Its Healing Properties: Activated charcoal, the black powdery stuff you can now buy in capsules to aid in a cleanse or as a loose powder to help whiten your teeth, has been used for centuries to cure patients from poisons, parasites and upset stomachs. For good reason: It acts like a sponge for free radicals and toxins floating through your system. It’s also often used in water-filtration systems, sucking up and eliminating impurities the same way it does with the toxins in your body.

Charcoal, the black, lightweight remains of burned wood, peat or coconut shells, becomes “activated” by being exposed to various gases at a very high heat that infuses it with oxygen, increasing its porosity and available sites for toxins to bind to, as well as decreasing their ionic charge.

Activated charcoal is the first thing ER doctors and poison-control specialists administer to people who have consumed poisonous materials or have overdosed from prescription medications or aspirin, since it prevents these toxins from being absorbed into the bloodstream. For some hardcore proof of activated charcoal’s detoxifying properties, in 1813 French chemist Michel Bertrand drank 5 grams of the super deadly arsenic trioxide with charcoal — and survived.

Fresh lemon juice, once again, is a natural detoxifying tonic, and you’re definitely going to need to mix that charcoal with something — unless you like drinking water laced with sand.

Dosage: You can buy activated charcoal capsules from your grocery store or CVS for $8-$12. You can also order it wholesale online for about $2 an ounce. If you’re busting open capsules, do it over the sink — the fine black powder will fly high and far. Pour the contents of 2 to 3 capsules (for those using wholesale powder, a hefty teaspoon will work fine) into a 12-ounce glass of water and squeeze in the juice from half a lemon and add sugar or honey to taste.

Level of Hangover Capable of Treating: The “I think I’m gonna die” kind.

When It Really Saved My Ass — Or the Asses of Those Closest to Me: My friend and co-worker turned 24 in October, and I didn’t think she was going to make it through her shift the next day. She looked at the pint of ink black liquid I handed her like it might sprout legs, but she knocked it back like a champ and we all had a pretty good shift.

Pro Tip: Because the charcoal is so light and porous you’ll need to stir it with ice cubes, or if you have a mixing tin at home, add ice and shake it like a cocktail. Otherwise, it’ll all sit on the top of the water and go down like flour.

Fire Cider

Its Healing Properties: Made with organic apple cider vinegar and organic oranges, lemons, onions, ginger, horseradish, habañero pepper, garlic and turmeric, Fire Cider is a powerhouse of antioxidants and anti-inflammatories that, like activated charcoal, help rein in damaging free radicals.

Dosage: A 2-ounce shot — which costs around $4 at many raw juice bars — will burn your throat, incite the tear ducts and ignite the stomach. I purchased my first bottle for home use at Vena’s Fizz House in Portland, Maine, but you can also order it online directly from the makers, Shire City Herbals (retail price: $15 for 8 ounces).

I take mine straight, but you can add it to charcoal lemonade or the Angostura, Lemon and Honey combo if spicy isn’t your thing.

Level of Hangover Capable of Treating: The “I left part of my IQ on the floor of the bar last night” kind.

When It Really Saved My Ass — Or the Asses of Those Closest to Me: I first came across Fire Cider in a hippie-dippy all-vegetarian cafe in Cambridge and thought, That sounds like it’d be good for me — and has to taste better than wheatgrass. It did, but if you’re trying it for the first time — or spreading the gospel to friends in need — warn them about the heat: I gave my dad some once, and it knocked the wind out of him.

Pro Tip: Knock it back in one shot and take a deep breath before you do. You don’t want this stuff coming out your nose.


Its Healing Properties: Alcohol is an extraordinary diuretic — it encourages your body to shed water. Essentially, booze strips away your body’s natural reserves of H2O as it goes through your system, dehydrating your body at a much quicker rate than a sober trip to the bathroom.

Our bodies are made up of 70 to 80 percent water, and when internal water levels dip below what’s required to maintain that percentage, we feel dehydrated. Acute dehydration can cause nausea, headache, lightheadedness and chills — all the major symptoms of a long night on the bottle.

To really stay on top of preventing a hangover, drink plenty of water throughout the night. If that’s not happening, drink at least a pint of water before you go to sleep.

Dosage: It is possible to overhydrate, but pushing fluids into your body after a long night of drinking isn’t exactly one of those times. I drink water until my head doesn’t hurt anymore, and then go about being mindful of my fluid intake for the rest of the day. Daily activity, even just sitting in bed hating your life, uses up that vital liquid and requires continuous replenishment.

Level of Hangover Capable of Treating: The “I probably didn’t need that last shot” kind.

When It Really Saved My Ass — Or the Asses of Those Closest to Me: I woke up late for a brunch shift one day and had time to brush my teeth and make sure I had pants on before I left the house. When I got to work, I was sure I was going to throw up. I tried a tiny sip of water to test my stomach and ended up chugging like a camel. I put down three pints in quick succession and bolted to the bathroom, but only because I really had to pee.

Pro Tip: Keep the water in your glass more temperate than cold. You can drink more, faster that way.

Hair of the Dog

Its Healing Properties: I don’t always go for Hair of the Dog when I need a morning fix, but when I do it’s fortified white wine, like Cocchi Americano or a bianco vermouth. Fortified wines have a higher sugar content than standard wines, making them an easy sipper first thing in the morning, and the blend of herbs used to give vermouths their distinct flavor masks a fairly high alcohol-by-volume. While a beer usually runs 4 to 9 percent alcohol-by-volume and red or white wine 9 to 12 percent, fortified wines are in the 11 to 18 percent range.

Dosage: Two ounces, over ice or topped with soda, after a glass of water. You likely just got over the spins, so don’t have booze be the first thing to hit your system the next day.

Level of Hangover Capable of Treating: The “Whelp, I’m still drunk, I might as well” kind.

When It Really Saved My Ass — Or the Asses of Those Closest to Me: New Year’s Day 2016. Let’s just say there was still broken glass on the floor when I got back to work.

Pro Tip: Add a lemon twist or a squeeze of lemon. The citrus will brighten up the botanicals in the vermouth, and remember: Lemon is a detoxifying tonic. In other words, you’re almost doing something good for yourself.