“Drank a glass of cocktail [sic] – excellent for the head,” wrote a “lounger” in his diary, published in an American newspaper in 1803. This was one of the first known uses of the word “cocktail”. The concept of mixed alcoholic drinks as a healthy restorative is not new: the ancient Greeks mixed wine with herbs; in 17th-century London, physicians prescribed botanical tinctures to add to gin.
Even so, there’s been a rise in claims to the cocktail’s healthy potential. In Japan, traditional medicine has found a young audience at yakushu bars, where jars of spirits line the walls, each with a different infusion: aphrodisiacal snakes; lavender to wind down at night.
In London and New York, the health-food trend has been absorbed into the bar menu, with a range of superfood-based, vitamin-infused cocktails. Dimes in New York adds chlorophyll powder to drinks and uses liquid extraction techniques to create their signature wheatgrass martini. Notting Hill’s Farmacy has a range of cocktails infused with organic CBD powder, a cannabis extract, which has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective qualities. Nobody takes the trend as far as the First Aid Box in south London. I ordered a vitamin C-infused gin cocktail, which came with a syringe filled with the raspberry liqueur Chambord floating queasily within. Once the nausea caused by squirting it into the glass had passed, it tasted fresh, with undertones of plummy sweetness. A friend slurped her gin-and-saline soda, “Doctor’s Orders”, served in a drip, through a tube.
The revival of bitters allows you to play pharmacist at home. Shoots & Roots Bitters contain ancient herbs, including aphrodisiac Peruvian roots and an immunity-boosting north-Indian chilli pepper. But do not delude yourself that adding herbs to cocktails counteracts alcohol’s damaging effect. True health-seekers should look elsewhere.