America. It's a place of proud drinking history. Our forefathers foraged for roots, chipped bark from trees and raised fields of grain all with the aim of finding a way to get altered on fermentations and distillations of those ingredients. But sometimes we find ourselves a little too altered. And so, the next morning, more fermented and distilled roots, bark and grain are required to recover. It's our frontier way. So as a public service to the hungover, every week we track down the best bartenders in America and ask them to share their favorite hair-of-the-dog remedies. This week, a hangover cure that men in tri-corner hats and hipsters would enjoy all the same.
THE SPECIALIST: Jeremy Skehan, bar manager of Halyards in Gowanus, Brooklyn
HIS ELIXER: Root & Ginger Beer
ITS HISTORY: Root liqueur—or root "tea"—is an all-American digestif. In the 1700s, colonial settlers tried to mimic European liqueurs using the ingredients available to them in the New World. They based their drink on Native American recipes, incorporating wild roots, herbs, birch bark, sassafras and sarsaparilla into a potent amaro. The herbal drink was supposed to be medicinal like how Europeans deployed bitters. But as Yankees upped the tea's potency, it became more and more customary to drink sans doctors' orders.
Then came the Temperance movement of the late 1800s. Philadelphia pharmacist Charles Hires concocted a virgin version of the root tea, carbonated it and renamed it root "beer." (The difference between root beer and birch beer? Root is made from sassafras, birch from birch bark.) The alcohol-free "beer" has been a fixture at kids' pizza parties ever since. Root tea, on the other hand, disappeared until a few years ago, when a distillery in Philadelphia—obviously feeling guilty about the whole Temperance debacle—revived the alcoholic version. Their all-organic liqueur includes traditional herbs and spices ranging from anise to cardamom to orange peel to wintergreen.
ITS HEALING POWERS: When you wake up hungover, sometimes the last thing you want is more booze. "The smell and taste of alcohol can give you bad flashbacks," Skehan says. However, his rustic Root & Ginger Beer concoction—a shot of root liqueur in a glass of ginger beer—has the same conventional benefits of a morning shot of spirit, yet tastes and smells like benign Barq's. "This drink is 80 proof, but it doesn't taste like alcohol at all," he says. And the fizzy ginger beer is akin to ginger ale, which, of course, many of our mothers gave us as kids to soothe a roiling stomach.
I'M AFRAID OF AMERICANS: "People who grew up drinking root beer can go through three at a time, easy," Skehan says. Europeans, who don't grow up drinking root beer, think the drink tastes like medicine. That's fine. We'll keep this American folk remedy all to ourselves.
1 1/2 oz. Root liqueur
THE METHOD: Pour root liqueur over ice in a Collins glass. Top with ginger beer. Stir. Recover.
Alyson Sheppard is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Mental Floss, McSweeney's, National Geographic Adventure, the Boston Globe and more. Follow her on Twitter @amshep.
Photo by Alyson Sheppard