It's probably best to begin by saying any of the claims made in the following post apply only to moderate alcohol consumption. In case you didn't know, overindulging in spirits and cocktails is actually bad for you. Go figure.
Acting as the spirit guide, Last Drop bartender Travis Nass schooled me on some of the purported benefits, both past and present, of imbibing liquor. Whether or not you believe it is up to you, but there is certainly scientific evidence to support some of it.
While alcohol has been found to have stress relieving benefits (duh) and can function as a sleep aid (double duh), overall, studies find that moderate drinkers tend to live longer. However, here are some specific ailments that may or may not be prevented or cured for those drink or two a day type folks:
Arthritis I remember a few years ago I told my mom about my incurable love of gin. My mom then told me that her aunt used to soak raisins in gin to help soothe arthritis pains. I didn't believe her at all, but rather I just assumed that was a free pass to gin it up. However, according to Nass, this arthritis cure is actually pretty common.
Type 2 Diabetes A collection of 15 studies concluded that drinkers were found to be 30% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Malaria Quinine, which is extracted from cinchona bark, is found in tonic syrup, as well as a few different liqueurs and fortified wines like Cocchi Americano. Quinine was used as a cure for malaria back in colonial times.
Blood Clots Since alcohol is a blood thinner and has been shown to increase HDL or good cholesterol levels, it can also help prevent strokes, heart attacks, and other issues from blood clots.
Memory Disorders Another study found that the ethanol in alcohol can prevent Alzheimer's and dementia by helping the brain resist wear. However, long-term excessive drinking can lead to alcohol related dementia. During a series of problem solving tests, male drinkers were found to perform better than non-drinkers.
Frostbite? My favorite alleged spirituous cure is that of brandy's. It's a common myth that St. Bernards would help save injured skiers in the Alps with small barrels of brandy strapped to their collars meant to keep them warm. While it isn't true because the blood thinning properties of alcohol would make you freeze faster, hopefully it's only a matter of time until dog-delivered barrel-aged cocktails become a thing.
All Manner of Gastrointestinal Issues Basically, bitters were made to be medicine. They're alleged to cure all manner of gastrointestinal issues--everything from dysentery to stimulating enzyme production in the pancreas to help your body break down certain insulins. However, like herbal liqueurs (which are typically much higher in sugar content, making them potable), the benefits are, as Travis Nass puts it, limited to whether you trust that the herbal remedies behind them actually work. If you're a St. John's Wort kind of person, gentian root might be a no-brainer cure for everything from digestive issues to anemia and even cancer.
Then there are amaros like the ubiquitous after-dinner shot of Fernet Branca. The strongly herbal concoctions are made to aid in digestion and, while the herbal benefits are debatable, the shot of alcohol does increase those enzyme secretions in the pancreas and gall bladder. For more information on herbal liqueurs and their health cures, check out Amy Stewart's book The Drunken Botanist.
Nass notes that while not everyone will be willing to put credence in the herbal remedy factor of these drinks, as many of the purported benefits are found by the herbal supplement industry, there is something to be said about the lack of the "bitter" element in the modern diet. Even "it" greens like kale and chard that are strongly bitter are often sautéed and caramelized and cooked out of their bitterness.
The Common Cold Some claim that the anti-microbial properties of booze are the cure for the common cold, though research to prove that is conflicting to say the least. However, the cocktail has a long history of purported medicinal functions in general.
In a very basic sense, cocktails were concocted to help the medicine (a.k.a. bitters) go down--just add a spoonful of sugar, some water, and your favorite spirit. During prohibition, one of the only legal ways to get your mitts on some booze was to be prescribed it by a doctor. Before becoming the minty, whiskey beverage we associate it with now, juleps were actually a medicinal tincture. Gimlets and navy grog, kind of like a big punch, were made to prevent scurvy, since you could keep citrus from rotting in liquor.
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At Last Drop Bar, when Hermosa Inn hotel guests are feeling under the weather Nass puts on his doctor's hat and makes them his take on a toddy:
Travis Nass' Cure for the Common Cold: The Fernet Toddy 2 ounce Fernet Branca 1/2 ounce ginger syrup 1/2 ounce lemon juice Top with camomile tea
Serve heated in an Irish coffee mug.