Up until the early 20th century, mixtures of bitters, spirits and herbs were peddled by pharmacists as curatives. “They took holistic healing methods from Europe and the Caribbean and transported them around the United States,” says Warren Bobrow, author of “Apothecary Cocktails: Restorative Drinks From Yesterday and Today” ($22, Fair Winds Press). These days, prescribing a stiff Tom Collins to an ailing patient might well get a druggist fired. “When the Pure Food and Drug Act went into effect in 1906, it took alcohol out of the pharmacy.” Local bars, on the other hand, are free to continue administering cocktails made with ingredients believed to possess medicinal qualities. Sipping on water is obviously the healthier choice, but if you’re not willing to give up the booze, try these modern takes on classic curative cocktails.
The Problem: Stomachaches
The Drink: Off to Sea Once More ($12)
Iron Gate, 1734 N St. NW; 202-524-5202, irongaterestaurantdc.com
Long touted as a natural cure-all in Eastern cultures, myrtle berry is said to aid specifically with digestion. For this drink, beverage director Jeff Faile takes a myrtle berry liqueur made in Italy and mixes it with Buffalo Trace bourbon and Cocchi Americano. “The best way I’ve been able to describe the taste of myrtle berry is to imagine if a juniper berry and a blueberry had a hybrid,” Faile says. The result is sweet, herbaceous and tummy-pleasing.
The Problem: Tight Muscles
The Drink: Corpse Reviver #2 ($16)
Barmini, 855 E St. NW; 202-393-4451, minibarbyjoseandres.com
This classic stiff drink (pun intended) includes Nolet’s gin, lemon juice, Cointreau, absinthe and Lillet, a sweet aperitif wine from France that includes quinine. “Quinine is a bitter ingredient that is extracted from the bark of the South American cinchona tree,” says Juan Coronado, cocktail innovator at Barmini. “It acts as a muscle relaxant and has been used for centuries to treat malaria.” Though if you have malaria, we recommend you take it easy and lay off the hooch.
The Problem: Poor Circulation
The Drink: Lemon Thyme ($8)
Mothership, 3301 Georgia Ave. NW; 202-629-3034, facebook.com/mothershipdc
Owner/chef Stephan Boillon’s subtle cocktail consists of gin, lemon juice, soda and a house-made lemon thyme syrup. “Thyme is a killer of viruses and bacteria,” Bobrow says. “It also promotes circulation.” Add to that the healthy dose of vitamin C from the lemon, and this is a drink you can sip on sin-free.
The Problem: Sore Throat
The Drink: The Localist ($11)
Republic, 6939 Laurel Ave., Takoma Park, Md.; 301-270-3000, republictakoma.com
Brett Robison, beverage director at this new bar, uses locally produced Bee George honey in his cocktail. “Honey is commonly used as an inflammatory and cough suppressant,” Robison says. “It soothes a sore throat and reduces swelling of the face, and some believe it helps with allergies.” The drink also includes Green Hat gin, lemon juice, a candied grapefruit garnish and orange flame (gin and orange bitters lit on fire.) “The citrus flame opens up your nostrils, the lemon juice provides immune boosting vitamins and the candied grapefruit provides comfort.”
The Problem: Poor Diet
The Drink: The Detox ($9)
PX, 728 King St., Alexandria; 703-299-8385, eamonnsdublinchipper.com/visit/px/
Mixologist Todd Thrasher has reinterpreted the classic liquid detox diet. Instead of choking down water with lemon and cayenne, you can try his pleasant concoction, which is made with vodka, roasted lemon juice and cayenne-infused maple syrup. The taste is reminiscent of a spicy bloody mary without the tomato juice. “Everyone touts the health benefits of drinking wine,” Thrasher says. “But cocktails with the proper ingredients and preparation can also be healthy.”