The Pain Killer, the Penicillin, the Doctor—some cocktail menus lean heavily on the idea of “self-medication.” But for millennia, alcohol was medicine. Weak beer was safer to drink than water, and eau de vie was distilled from any number of fruits to treat colic or a cold. Though the ancient Greeks wrote at length about the medical applications of wine, even earlier uses for fermented beers and beverages appear on Sumerian tablets, Egyptian papyri, and Vedic texts. Cocktail connoisseur Camper English, who has been covering the drinks industry for more than 15 years, turns his attention to this long and storied history in Doctors and Distillers, which traces modern mixology back to its therapeutic roots.
Go beyond the episode:
- Camper English’s Doctors and Distillers: The Remarkable Medicinal History of Beer, Wine, Spirits, and Cocktails
- Read English’s series on four bitter botanicals: cinchona bark, rhubarb root, wormwood, and gentian
- English’s blog Alcademics has a wealth of cocktail-related articles, including how to make your simple syrup last for more than six months and how to dehydrate liqueurs (aka his Solid Liquids Project)
- Ever had a drink with crystal-clear ice in it? Raise a glass to English, who discovered directional freezing in 2009
Camper English’s Preferred Gin & Tonic:
Keep your gin and tonic in the refrigerator for the crispest medicinal cocktail:
- Start with a lime wheel at the bottom of a double Old-Fashioned glass and press down to express the citrus oil and a little juice
- Fill the glass with ice, then add 3 ounces of gin
- Top with 2 ounces of tonic water and gently stir
- Resist the urge to add more garnishes!
And for the less gin-inclined, the Chrysanthemum:
- Fill a mixing glass with ice
- Add 2 ounces dry vermouth, 1 ounce Bénédictine, and 3 dashes of absinthe; stir until well-chilled
- Strain into a coupe glass and garnish with an orange twist
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