Cocktail Hour: Just What the ‘Doctor’ Ordered
We tend to overindulge during the holidays. “The more the merrier” is the prevailing theme, after all. So wouldn’t it be great if a cocktail could cure what ails the holiday partygoer?
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Alex Ott thinks so. An organic chemist and master mixologist who has created cocktail menus for restaurants and bars around the world, Ott’s new book, “Dr. Cocktail: 50 Spirited Infusions to Stimulate the Mind & Body,” offers entire sections devoted to hangover cures, healing juices, anti-stress cocktails and health elixirs.
He learned a lot about natural flavors and scents native to India, Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe and the South Pacific as a child, traveling the world with his parents (she a nutritionist, he a musician), soaking up obscure ingredients.
After earning a degree in organic chemistry, he launched the cocktail menu at Buddha Bar in Paris and has since served as the brand ambassador for Svedka Vodka, New Amsterdam Gin and Moët Hennessy. He later made a name for himself in New York City, his current home, at Sushi Samba (even appearing in the TV show “Sex and the City”).
His goal in the book is to focus less on the alcohol and more on the natural spices, herbs and flavor compounds used in the cocktails. He considers his chapter on anti-stress drinks to be the most important one of all.
After surviving a plane crash in Thailand in 1998, he says, “I was left with extreme post-traumatic stress. For the next three years, I tried everything physicians told me to take to relieve my anxiety of flying, heights and the recurring nightmares I began having.”
He spent the next 10 years experimenting with alternatives to strong medication. The result is a dozen anti-anxiety elixirs included in his book, including Tranquili-Tea, a drink that blends chamomile and Armagnac, a brandy from the region of the same name in southwest France.
“Chamomile relaxes the muscles in the body, particularly muscle spasms caused by stress,” Ott explains. “A main compound in chamomile is apigenin. In the central nervous system, apigenin reacts the same way a pharmaceutical tranquilizer such as Valium would, thus relaxing the mind and body without the side effects or risk of addiction. It also works as an excellent sleep aid.”
Chamomile flowers also contain an important compound called azulene, a blue crystalline substance used since early Roman times as a calming aid. Ott adds that chamomile also stimulates digestion.
“My grandmother suffered from severe migraines and stress — raising a ton of children, dealing with the war, and generally looking after everybody,” Ott explains. “My mother took after my grandmother and also suffered from migraines and stress from running her own business. Whenever they needed to calm down, they drank chamomile tea. I can still smell the scent and it calms me down today just thinking about it. This drink is dedicated to the strong women of my family.”
Courtesy of Alex Ott
8 ounces water
1 bag chamomile tea
3 teaspoons sugar
2 ounces Armagnac or Cognac
2 ounces apple cider (or apple juice)
Splash of fresh lemon juice
Slice of apple
- Boil the water in a small saucepan.
- Once the water boils, add the chamomile tea bag and sugar.
- Reduce heat and stir. Simmer for 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat and let cool.
- Combine 3½ ounces of the cooled tea and remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
- Shake vigorously and strain into an ice-filled rocks glass.
- Garnish with an apple slice.
Note: This cocktail can also be served hot. Instead of shaking, combine all ingredients in a small saucepan with a lid and heat slowly. Serve in a tea glass.
Photo: Tranquili-tea. Credit: Reprinted with permission from Dr. Cocktail ©2012 by Alex Ott, Running Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group.