Stairway to Hangover: What you should (and shouldn’t!) be drinking

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone! Today I’m here with a quick data visualization that will take you through some of the most common drinks out there and their respective alcohol content so that, when you’re out at the bar, you can drink responsibly and wake up the next day feeling good instead of groggy.

Here’s a list of the drinks I’ll be covering:
* Manhattans
* Martinis
* Old Fashioneds
* Negronis
* Margaritas (of course!)
* Daiquiris
* Gin & Tonics
* Vodka Sodas
* Wine
* Beer

I’ve used classical recipes for the cocktails above, which means a 2-parts spirit to 1-part vermouth for the Manhattans and Martinis, 2-parts spirit to 1-part sweet to 1-part sour for the sours (i.e. Daiquiris, Margaritas), 2-parts spirit to 4-parts mixer for the highballs (i.e. Vodka Sodas, Gin & Tonics), and the classical 1–1–1 ratio for Negronis.

For wine and beer, I’m assuming a fairly standard 12% alcohol for the wine and 5% for the beer. That said, if you’re a beer geek who enjoys strong brews or who likes 500ml or 1L steins of beer instead of a plain ol’ bottle, you’ll want to keep those factors in mind when looking at the visualization below.

Okay, enough caveats — let’s get to the data!

As you can see, for our common drinks the one that packs the most punch is the Manhattan, though not by much; both a Martini and an Old Fashioned are right on its tail, with the Old Fashioned having the highest effective ABV in the entire bunch. That ABV though will decrease as the ice in the Old Fashioned melts of course, as is the case with a few other drinks on the list: Negronis, Margaritas (the way many make them), Gin & Tonics, and Vodka Sodas.

You might be able to see why the last on that list — the Vodka Soda — is such a popular drink with people looking to keep the night light and who want to watch their calories. Not only does the Vodka Soda have 0.80 ounces of alcohol, second lowest only to a standard glass of wine or a beer, but its soda component (with ice!) makes for some extra calorie-free hydration along the way.

Now, if you want to drink in low-cal, hydration style but don’t like vodka, you might try a cousin to the Vodka Soda: the Whiskey Highball. The concept is the same — 2-parts spirit, 4-parts (or more) of soda water — but the spirit is, obviously, whiskey instead of vodka. Lots of whiskeys will work here, from bourbons to ryes to blended scotches to Japanese whisky. The trick is to pick something lower ABV (40–43% is a sweet spot, I find) and to pick something cheap, since you’ll be mixing it with soda anyway. Currently I’m a big fan of the Toki whisky that Suntory makes, and always find Dewar’s White Label to be a (relatively) cheap choice.

In general, if you’re trying to stave off future hangovers, a good strategy is to also think about the sugar content of your beverages. Sugar, like alcohol, is processed in the liver, and the more sugar you take in, the longer it takes your liver to break down that sugar and the alcohol, which means the alcohol stays in your system longer. This leads to increased dehydration from the alcohol as well as increased exposure to the nasty byproducts of alcohol in your system, all factors leading to a much worse hangover than you would’ve gotten without the sugar.

I haven’t listed the sugar content above (that’s an exercise for another visualization), but an at-a-glance look identifies Negronis as a possible sugar-leader, thanks to the sugar content of Campari and Sweet Vermouth. That, along with its relatively high ABV, means you might want to keep the Negroni and Negroni-like drinks to a minimum.

Hopefully you’ve learned a little something about your favorite (or not-so-favorite) beverages today, and you use that knowledge to drink more wisely and safely. No matter what though, if you’re going to be drinking please don’t drive. It’s not just your life behind the wheel, but anyone else’s in your car and on the street/road around you.

Enjoy Cinco de Mayo!