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Whiskey as Medicine: Drinking My Cowboy Remedy

I’ve been under the weather lately with a bug that just won’t let go.  It started as a head cold, turned into a sinus thing, and then got bored with my nose and decided to check out my lungs.  It’s not anything that’ll kill me (I’m with Jim Henson on this), but it’s annoying to have mild body aches and lungs that burn a bit when I cough.

Folklore has it that whiskey is good for you when you’re sick, so I decided to give it whirl.  Little did I know how much history there is behind booze as medicine.  

Alcohol has been used medicinally forever.  And by forever, I mean like starting 20 minutes after the first distilled spirit was made and someone with a cold took a sip.   Okay, I’m speculating, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that spirits can make a sick body feel better.

In the 16th century the Swiss combined distilled alcohol and herbs to make remedies, and in the 17th century brandy became a popular form of medicine in France.  Whisky was used as a medicine and antiseptic in Northern Europe, and actually gets its name from the Galic uisge, which is a shortened version of uisge beatha or “water of life.” That’s what I’m talking about!

Whiskey is also a great pain reliever.  Dr. Harold George Wolff from Cornell did a study in which showed two ounces of 90 proof whiskey will raise the threshold for pain by 45% for two hours.  Add in a five-grain tablet of aspirin and the pain can be dulled for hours.  I’m sure if you add a few more ounces of whiskey the tolerance goes up even further, as do the chances of waking up with a faceful of profanities etched in Sharpie.

What I know about whiskey as medicine comes from westerns.  Your cowboy pal got shot up by a nasty vaquero? Splash the wound with whiskey and give him a shot or two before you dig the bullet out.  Little half-pint laid up with a nasty chest cold?  Give her a couple tablespoons of Old Crow and rub some menthol on her chest.

Armed with this sketchy knowledge and desperate for some relief, I cracked open a bottle of Four Roses Small Batch and poured myself a nip.  The heat of the whiskey instantly made my chest feel better, and after a few sips I started to feel human again.  I’m sure this was due to getting a bit tipsy, but who cares – relief is relief.  I repeated with a second glass of whiskey and felt great, so I decided to stop there.  I didn’t feel drunk, just good, and I woke up without any lingering effects.  The whiskey definitely did the trick.

I happily self-medicated for a couple of evenings until my wife decided my cold had been hanging around too long.  She pressured me into seeing a doctor, and I’m now on an inhaler and antibiotics and already feel much, much better.

But while these miracles of modern medicine might have alleviated my symptoms, they cannot match the pleasure and relaxation of self-medicating with good old-fashioned Bourbon.  Whiskey – It’s good for what ails ya.

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Categories: Lifestyle, Whiskey

Author:Jim

Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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17 Comments on “Whiskey as Medicine: Drinking My Cowboy Remedy”

  1. Matt
    January 12, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    A few weeks ago I made a hot toddy from the standard recipe 1/4 cup whiskey, juice of one lemon, a bunch of honey and hot water to top it off. It did the trick for an hour or two, but didn’t knock anything out of my system. I woke up just as sick the next day, but man was that hot toddy good.

    • January 12, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

      I did the same thing, but without all the non-whiskey ingredients (only so much room in the glass!). I was still sick the next day as well, but I felt great that evening. It was nice not to feel like hell for a bit.

  2. January 12, 2011 at 1:28 pm #

    Yo Jim!

    Glad to hear that you’re finally feeling better!

    I had a similar experience a couple years ago, but my “drug” of choice was a big bottle of Booker’s. It definitely took the edge off and helped me get to sleep. Sadly though, it didn’t really help the cold, and by morning, I still felt like crapola. A decongestant, ibuprofen, and expectorant cocktail throughout the day was the real cold relief, but it certainly didn’t taste as good or make me feel as happy as that glass of Booker’s. Mmmm… bourbon! 🙂

    G-LO

    • January 12, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

      Yeah, it’s like Tylenol PM for the discerning drunk!

      • January 12, 2011 at 3:15 pm #

        Hey now! Drunk??? That’s just soooo negative. We’re connoisseurs and aficionados! Much more fun to say after a few stiff drinks. 🙂

        • January 12, 2011 at 3:16 pm #

          That’s what I meant. I just shortened it. 🙂

  3. January 12, 2011 at 6:09 pm #

    Wild Turkey American Honey!!! Best cough medicine ever. I suppose you could heat it up if you wanted to, but I seldom have the patience for that. Turns out I’m not a very good patient.

    • January 12, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

      I didn’t think of that, but American Honey would be perfect for that. All the sweet stuff is already in there!

  4. David T
    January 12, 2011 at 6:20 pm #

    One of the things they taught us in pharmacy school to recommend for parents with teething infants is to dip a cotton swab in whiskey and rub it on the affected parts of the gums.

    • January 12, 2011 at 6:28 pm #

      Did they say anything about the parents self-administering a “mental health” dose as well? 🙂

    • January 12, 2011 at 7:34 pm #

      That’s how my dad dealt with every issue I had until I turned 14, at which point I was on my own.

      • January 12, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

        Must’ve been tough to figure out what to do between 14 and 21, what with being too young to buy medicine.

      • January 12, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

        In Missouri, we buy what’s called “Frontier Medicine”. You can buy it at most ages.

        • January 12, 2011 at 8:26 pm #

          Lemme guess, there’s a Scofield pistol dangling from a neck hanger on each bottle.

  5. July 24, 2012 at 10:39 pm #

    I am wallowing around my house sick….thought about drinking whiskey to help this cold along, so did what all modern people do, googled whiskey and colds(to get some support in my theory of whiskey cures colds), and here i am at your site which is saying yes go pour yourself one…cheers
    to good health

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