Lighter Spirits = Less Hangover?

Darcy O'Neil :: December 21, 2009 8:12 PM

There is an interesting piece of research going around that says lighter coloured spirits, like vodka, will give you less of a hangover compared to spirits like bourbon. I don't disagree with the researchers conclusion, and many people could point to personal experience and come up with the same answer. However, studies like this are bad so here's my peer review.

"Why is this research bad?" you ask. Because most people don't grasp the basis of the study, and only think how to put this information into play to avoid a bad hangover. The obvious answer would be to drink vodka.

No, I'm not going to go on a vodka rant. But, studies like this make people think that they can drink more and get less of a hangover. This isn't what the research said, but here's what people think they read:

"That means I can drink more vodka!"

The research compared equal amounts of dark and light spirits and came to the conclusion that dark spirits cause a greater hangover, the research did not say you can drink more vodka and get the same hangover as a bourbon hangover.

"Huh?"

OK, let me clarify. The study did not say 5 shots of vodka equals a 4 shot bourbon hangover.

The reality is that another 18 grams of pure ethanol (45ml or 1½ oz shot at 40% ABV) has far more hangover inducing power than milligram quantities of congeners. Remember, it's the alcohol that causes the majority of the hangover.

What the researchers should have attempted to quantify is what percentage of a hangover is caused by ethanol and what percent is caused by congeners.

"OK smartass, how do you do that?"

Step 1: Acquire analytical grade anhydrous ethanol (100% or at least 99.9999% pure). Yes it's possible.

Step 2: Dilute the ethanol to 40% with double distilled reverse osmosis water.

Step 3: Perform study as before using research ethanol (this is the control).

Step 4: Analyze the major congeners in spirits and acquire them from Sigma Aldrich or other chemical supply company. But Sigma seems to have everything.

Step 5: Add single congeners or mixtures at normal levels (bourbon, rum, etc.) repeat Step 3.

Step 6: Vary quantity and types of congeners and gather as much data as possible.

Step 7: Add an extra shot of research ethanol and quantify the hangover compared to congener hangovers. (important)

Step 8: Report data

Step 9: Create an Alcoholics Anonymous group for the lab volunteers.

This type of study would be able to say that a pure ethanol hangover is X percent less sever than a congener (rum or bourbon type) hangover. For example, the theoretical study could conclude that a 6 oz light spirit hangover is 20% less sever than a 6 oz bourbon hangover. But 7½ oz of light spirit creates a 60% worse hangover than 6 oz of bourbon.

To summarize, because of the original study thousands of people are going to go out believing that clear spirits will produce less of a hangover which means they can now drink more. The placebo effect may make this true for some, but the reality is that hangovers are going to be worse because the study looked at apples to apples and people think apples to oranges.


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