Surviving the hangover

Last night, I drank gin, whisky, Fernet-Branca, crème de menthe, pastis, mezcal and a fiery 80% ABV Austrian rum. But it was all for the sake of scientific research.

Journalists and people in the licensed trade were treated to a session of responsible drinking to test the efficacy of a new “alcohol health supplement” called Survivor which promises to minimise the misery of a morning-after hangover.

Currently seeking further funding ahead of a full launch, the product has been developed by young entrepreneur Laurence Cardwell in collaboration with Austrian physician Professor Dr Gertrude Kubiena, a former vice president of the Red Cross with extensive knowledge of traditional Chinese medicine, and Simon Williams, a food scientist and director of Nutraceuticals Group Europe, a leading provider of “nutraceuticals”, or health food supplements.

Laurence created Survivor after initial frustration at how hangovers impacted on his work productivity and his social life. “This has been based on desperation,” he recalls. But he soon realised it could be something that would work as a commercial product, highlighting research that suggests people in the UK lose an average of 24 days a year of optimum productivity due to the effects of alcohol consumption.

The team came up with a final recipe that is led by two key ingredients, dihydromyricetin (or DHM) which is extracted from vine tea (Ampelopsis grossedentata) and an extract of the flower of the Puerariae plant (Puerariae lobatae Flos). Added to this is milk thistle – a classic natural restorative for liver function – and a blend of 17 vitamins, minerals and electrolytes such as taurine and Vitamin C.

The red Survivor capsules currently come in a pack of 10, with the recommendation that you take two of them after every four alcoholic drinks, culminating in two before going to bed.

So Laurence, accompanied by drinks writer Douglas Blyde, led us through a carefully curated evening of drinking, with suitable food accompaniments, at renowned London restaurant L’Escargot in its top-floor Salon Noir.

The evening started with a Green Goddess – a cocktail made with Fishers Gin (40% ABV), cucumber, elderflower cordial, egg white and basil. It was served with the restaurant’s signature smoked salmon and spicy crab, presented in the shape of a snail, on mini toast.

Next was a measure of Oban single malt whisky (43% ABV), poured over a Scottish oyster in its shell. This was followed by a glass of French pastis Ricard (40% ABV), served with ice and water, accompanied by garlic-soaked snails flambéed using more pastis.

The test subjects were starting to relax by this point, entertained by Douglas’s readings about hangovers from Kingsley Amis, collected in the book Everyday Drinking. Amis wrote about not just the “physical hangover” but the “metaphysical hangover”: “When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover.”

To mix things up, the next drink was a Dr Henderson, made with two parts Fernet-Branca amaro (39% ABV) and one part crème de menthe (24% ABV) over ice. Despite the alcohol, this is in fact a hangover cure from leading chef Fergus Henderson, presumably based on the idea of “hair of the dog that bit you”. It was served last night with terrines of foie gras topped by jelly made with sauternes wine.

It was at this point that the Survivor packs arrived. We were each instructed to take two red pills with water, although, as they are in capsules, they can be taken with an alcoholic drink. The powder in the capsules has been found to be less effective if consumed directly mixed with alcohol, which is why this has not been launched as a liquid or powder.

Next was a spicy Bloody Mary, topped with mezcal (with ABV of over 40% but, at this stage, I forgot to make a note). It was accompanied by a rich and crumbly truffled sausage roll.

As Laurence is half-Austrian, the final drink was inspired by a Stroh Bomb – like a Jäger Bomb but using 80% ABV Austrian rum Stroh. This came as a long drink, mixing Stroh with Red Bull, over ice, served alongside a salted caramel profiterole.

It was too soon to take a second pair of pills so, for the sake of research, everyone lingered for more drinks in a less curated session. I sipped two excellent Martinis with generous measures of gin. After these I took two more red pills and headed home. Before bed, I swallowed my final two red pills.

I slept well. No funny dreams. No queasiness. No side effects. After waking the next day, my levels of tiredness and existential dread were no greater than a typical Friday morning. Writing this at lunchtime after coffee, I have not yet been overwhelmed with the urge to curl up into a quivering ball under my desk. So, on this first test, Survivor appears to have worked for me. And I have just enough pills left for a second test another time.

Laurence points out that Survivor is not intended to encourage excessive alcohol consumption. “This isn’t some kind of miracle cure. You can’t make drinking healthier. It’s fundamentally unhealthy. You can make it less unhealthy. That is the thesis behind the product. We see it as part of a toolkit in everyday life if you want to maximise everything you do: be successful at work, sleep like a baby and have a social life as well.”

Survivor is currently available online priced £12.99 for a pack of 10, with a larger pack also available for people to take to festivals, but the plan is to introduce it into high-street stores and make it available in pubs, bars and clubs.

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