Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Pure Drinks Party, Part 1

New Year’s is heralded in with everything from all-night parties to 5K runs these days.  If your night includes a party but you’d like to go for a run (or just walk upright) tomorrow, plan ahead on the drinks.  Pure selections including non-alcoholic ones will help you start the New Year feeling, well, new.

#1 Rule—eat something. Alcohol goes with food not an empty stomach.  Don’t pick tonight as the night to start any calorie pinching diet.  Pick real foods.  Eat a bit of protein, graze the vegetable platter and indulge in bean dips like hummus.  Bread and cheese can also be your friend tonight.

Hard Liquor
By now, most have heard that clearer alcohols like vodka, gin and silver or white rums are less likely to have adverse effects the morning after.  Clear alcohols have had their flavorful “congeners” removed,   (Congeners are impurities from grains and sugar produced during fermentation.)  One theory is that with fewer congeners, there are fewer toxins for the body to metabolize including sugars.   If you like mixed drinks, light colored alcohols are a good call.  However, many experts caution that alcohol is alcohol.  Quantity, proof (strength) and time all factor into its effect on you.  Whether you prefer to bid farewell to the old year with a vintage cognac or a martini, moderation is the best path.

Try something different this year to lighten up.  If you are a bit tired of wine spritzers, try a cordial or liquor mixed with seltzer.  A shot of pear or peach schnapps, crème de menthe with an orange slice or a coffee or chocolate cordial in a tall glass of ice and seltzer makes a premium soda that can be nursed.  Opt for seltzer over high sodium club soda.

Wine goes so well with foods and is for may the simplest choice at the bar.  Don't make it a complete no-brainer though.  Use your noggin to give yourself a great night.   Wine drinkers can react in two ways (sulfites and histamines) and some background on purity can help.

All wines contain sulfites but our labeling requirements tell us little about the quantity in any given bottle.  Old world wines—such as those from France, Italy and Spain use sulfites in the field on grapes to prevent spoilage.  Wine makers elsewhere also add sulfites at additional stages of wine making including harvest and fermentation.  If you’ve ever had a “red wine” headache, you may have imbibed a high sulfite wine, possibly from a new world winery. If red is your choice, try an old world or organic one tonight and you may note a significant difference tomorrow.   On the other hand, if you have imbibed too much wine, you may just have a plain old headache.  Remember that white wines also contain sulfites. 

The true sulfite reaction is related to an enzyme deficiency in some people and can display as an allergic reaction. In response, the body secretes adrenalin.  Prolonged infusion of even low adrenalin levels can cause headache, lack of sleep and that heart pounding feeling we associate with flight or fight moments. 

The other issue with wines is histamine.  Alcohol can interfere with the breaking down of histamines.  If your nose swells or your face reddens when you drink wine, you may be fighting (and losing) a histamine reaction.  Some recommend taking an antihistamine before consuming wine.  Check with your medical advisor if you have any concerns.  People who have this reaction can often find brands of wine that effect them less than others.

Champagnes and Sparkling Wines
Champagne headaches are considered one of the worst morning-after hangovers.  This category is high in sugar and the bubbles don’t help.  Best cure—avoid cheap champagnes that rely on lots of sugar for their “pop.” Go for extra brut or brut zero and brut natural if you can find it. Despite its name, dry and extra dry champagnes have 12-20 grams of sugar per liter versus bruts with only 6 grams or less.   I’ve found that among true champagnes, those with a more pronounced almond versus citrus flavor leave me less affected.  Many oenophiles believe real champagne causes little damage due to its purity but I’ve had nice evenings and splendid mornings with Spanish Cavas and American sparklers provided they are dry.  You can also find dry Prosecos from Italy. 

Experts also recommend staying clear of sweets if you are drinking champagne and other sweet sparklers.  This only compounds your potential for trouble.  Smoky foods, a great match, may also have an after-effect on some people.  Happily, there are plenty of foods to pair with champagne that don’t upset the apple cart from seafood to creamy soft cheeses to mushroom appetizers, quiches and fois gras.

Non-Alcoholic Choices
Make non-alcoholic drinks more inviting by jazzing them up and even naming them something appealing.  Many parties have a signature alcoholic drink.  As a host, provide a signature or themed non-alcoholic one too.  Pre-skewer some wedges of pineapple, orange slices and strawberries.   Fruit garnishes put everyone, drinkers or not, in a festive mood.

Plain water—the Alternator.  If you are the host, have pitchers and ice out and easy to get to so your guests do not have to ask.  Make water self-serve and you will have fewer tipsy friends.  If you are the guest, drink some water before you go arrive or as your first drink of the evening.  If you are very thirsty and drink alcohol first, you will quaff too much. 

Alternating a non-alcoholic beverage with an alcoholic one will slow you down, keep you mindful of your state and provide hydration throughout the night.  Hosts will also want to stock up on non-alcoholic beer and wine, soda, juices and sparkling water. Here are a few more non-alcoholic offerings that will help guests slow down and savor the night:

Barley Water is associated with Britain and was once served to tennis players at Wimbledon to whet their whistle.  It will remind you of lemonade with more complexity.  If you have a British export/food shop in your city, you might be able to find some bottled.  If not, it is easy to make and flavored with lemon, Barley Water will add authenticity to a 1920’s theme night.

Lemon Barley Water
1/2 cup pearl barley
lemon peel
juice of 1 lemon
2+ tablespoons honey
extra lemons

Rinse 1/2 cup pearl barley then steep it with the peel of a lemon in 8 cups hot water (brought to boiling then removed from heat) for 1 hour.   Strain and add 6 more cups of water, 2 tablespoons of honey and the juice of the lemon.  Refrigerate and serve over ice with a wedge of lemon.  I read a recipe for barley water that included dried figs in the steeping step and a pinch of salt to bring up the flavors.  I’ll be trying this with a handful of dried figs and apricots. 

Punch is fun to serve hot or cold.  Unspiked, it’s another easy way for guests to alternate their evening between alcoholic and non.  Here’s a base recipe for a fruit punch that you can get creative with, adding ginger ale, seltzer or even ice cream.  It tastes great plain too.  If you are serving it cold, add mint leaves.  If hot try mint leaves and cinnamon sticks. 

House Fruit Punch
1 quart applejuice
1 quart orange juice
1/2 quart cranberry juice
1/2 quart pineapple juice
8 oz grenadine or pomegranate juice (optional)

Combine ingredients in a large punch bowl (cold) or place the juices in a large pot, heat it over medium then transfer it to a slow cooker on low for the evening.  Don’t forget to supply a ladle.

Other nice non-alcoholic beverages at this time of year include eggnog and hot cider. One of my brothers recently reminded me how perfect leftover eggnog is for New Year’s Day French toast (with or without the rum).  All you add is the bread and some of the leftover fruit garnish you cut up last night.  As for leftover apple cider, what a lovely drink to welcome New Year’s morning. 

Read Pure Drinks Party, Part 2 covering beer tomorrow.