Photo courtesy Fox News

“We have some herbal ingredients that will satisfy both the need for something healthy and the need for something delicious.” - Chris Kilham, Fox News Health

Healthier Holiday Cocktails

Dr. Manny Alvarez of Fox News Health and I now have an official tradition that’s two years old. We get together around the holidays and drink cocktails. So what’s a big deal, right? Most people do the same. Our challenge, though, is to add ingredients that make the cocktails a bit healthier. All the usual caveats remain in place.

The Rules: drink responsibly, don’t drink and drive, and never drink and talk politics. After that, it’s time to get creative.

This year we got together with a mixologist named Gardner Dunn. No, they don’t call them bartenders any more. They are mixologists (who knew?). At the R Lounge in New York’s Times Square, we converged for some thoughtful, healthier cocktails. Gardner brought a terrific array of expensive and very tasty liquors, fruits and exotic flavorings. And living up to my medicine hunter reputation, I brought some exotic ingredients of my own, including Rhodiola rosea extract, Panax ginseng extract, a hemp and maca liqueur, and an herbal beverage from the Dominican Republic called Palo Mamajuana. Manny informed me that mamajuana refers to male sexual potency. With Gardner’s exquisite libations and my special herbal ingredients, the wizardly mixologist turned out several delicious cocktails, including one ominously named “death boat.” It was smoky and strange. Don’t drink that and drive a boat!

Manny and I learned that no matter how healthy the ingredients, drinking four cocktails at noon on an empty stomach results in a bit of confusion – ours. Manny also attempted to talk politics after the third drink, but was gently distracted from that course. Refer back to The Rules above.

Nobody can claim with a straight face that any special added ingredients will make any cocktail entirely healthy, but I will argue in the holiday spirit that the herbal additions I brought along at least helped in that regard. You can get all of these but the hemp and maca liqueur, which I made and cannot be found anywhere. But here is what I know.

Rhodiola rosea – This root from the far northwest of China and throughout Siberia is also called golden root. Human clinical studies show that Rhodiola rosea enhances energy, endurance, stamina and strength, improves cardiovascular and immune function, possesses potent anti-depressant activity, and also delivers surprising sexual stimulation. Not bad for a root! The liquid extract is blood red (looks good in a drink), and has a pleasant and very astringent flavor. If you want to try some of this, you can obtain either Gaia Herbs Rhodiola extract or Herb Pharm Rhodiola extract at natural food stores, including Whole Foods.

Panax ginseng – The first herbal plant I ever tried, Panax ginseng, also from Asia, is a root that enhances mental function, improves mental clarity, and additionally is proven to enhance sexual function. Ginseng makes you feel good. It has a slight bitterness to it, and Manny reminded me that we drank some of this in New York’s Chinatown, and he wasn’t much of a fan. But Gardner liked the flavor, and he made it disappear in one of his special concoctions.

Hemp and maca liqueur – Dr. Manny asked me what the hemp was good for, and when I replied “general protection,” he pointed out that I always say that. It was a fair comment. To make this strange stuff, I took a maca liqueur that I brought back from Peru as a starter. Maca is a root like a turnip that is legendary for enhancing energy and sexual desire. Into that liqueur I blended about a pound of fresh (non-psychoactive) hemp leaves. I strained the combination several times until I had a golden liqueur, and that’s what we used. It had a floral aroma, a sweet and exotic flavor, and no, you can’t get it anywhere. You will find some maca extracts at Whole Foods, though.

Palo Mamajuana – In the Caribbean, herbalists make what are known as “root tonics.” Palo Mamajuana is basically a good-tasting Caribbean root tonic, with seven healthful herbs including a variety of ginger and some honey to taste. It has a woody, spicy flavor, and mixed well with one of Gardner’s special blends. The drink is slowly making its way into the market.

So what can the savvy reader deduce from all of this? First, Dr. Manny and I are perfectly willing to experiment with a variety of cocktails at noon. Secondly, we make attempts to “healthy them up” with various herbal ingredients. The take-away? Try different things at home.

Here are Gardner's recipes – infused with some special ingredients:

The Dandy
2 oz Wild Turkey bourbon
¾ oz cinnamon honey
½ oz fresh lemon
¼ oz Antica vermouth
1 muddled strawberry
Palo mamajuana (optional)
Shake served in a high ball. Garnish with Strawberry

Ginger in the Skyy
1 ½ oz Skyy Ginger Infusions Vodka
½ oz pear brandy
¼ agave
1 ½ oz pear juice
½ oz fresh lemon
Panax ginseng (optional)
Mix all, serve up with a pear slice
Sprinkle of clove dust

Clove daiquiri
2 oz Flor de Cana 7 year dark
¾ oz velvet Falernum (clove liqueur)
¾ oz fresh lime
Rhodiola rosea (optional)
Shaken served up with a slice of lime

Barco de le muerte (Death Boat)
1 ½ oz Espolon Reposado
½ oz fresh lime
¼ oz Agave
¼ oz orget (almond liquor)
2-3 black berries
Hemp and maca liqueur (optional)
Shake, serve up
Inverted lime half Frozen. Floats on top and filled with Mezcal

I must say that when Dr. Manny and I returned to FOX News headquarters after our noon happy hour, we were immediately handed breath mints and told that we could be detected from across the room. Thus chastened, we freshened our breaths, ate some food, and got back to work.

In conclusion, I want to wish you all very happy holidays. Keep it safe, keep it healthy, and enjoy the time with friends and family. Make time for the people you love, and remember to be thankful for any blessings in your life. After all, isn’t that really what the holidays are for?

December 2010