In 2017, the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division issued an advisory, which warned that pure copper mugs should not be used to hold drinks with a pH level below 6.0. The pH of a traditional Moscow mule is “well below 6.0,” according to the advisory.
According to the advisory, the acidity of the ingredients can cause the copper to leach into your drink, and ingesting high concentrations of copper is poisonous.
Thankfully, there’s an easy way to get the copper aesthetic without sacrificing safety. “Copper mugs lined on the interior with another metal, such as nickel or stainless steel, are allowed to be used and are widely available,” the advisory states. (Most copper vessels which are protected from copper contact will have a label which states as much on the bottom of the glass. You can also contact the manufacturer to see if your mugs are protected.)
But this isn’t the only potentially dangerous cocktail convention. From lead-ridden vintage tiki mugs to ingredients that can interfere with your daily medication, there are a lot of things to think about when mixing something new.
A new database aims to educate cocktail enthusiasts about harmful ingredients
The CocktailSafe database is the brainchild of Camper English, a drinks journalist based in San Francisco.
It lists more than 60 potential dangers one can find behind the bar, including the types of wood barrels not intended for aging cocktails and which citrus shouldn’t be lit on fire.
“Bartenders today are obsessed with experimentation, which I think is for the best,” English said in a new interview with the New York Times. “But it’s often confusing as to what is safe and what is legal to use in beverages.”
The website provides information about the safety of common ingredients, as well as alternatives to those which may be problematic for some drinkers.
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“I don’t want to cause concern that bars are out there poisoning customers,” English tells Global News. “I hope that most items found on CocktailSafe will cause home and professional bartenders to think, ‘Oh I didn’t know that, I’ll do it differently next time.'”
Experimenting at home is fine, but research should be your first step
Sometimes, half a millilitre more of an ingredient can make the difference between a fun happy hour drink and a harsh reaction.
For example, homemade tonic syrup is often made with cinchona bark — and too much cinchona bark can lead to quinine overdose, commonly known as cinchonism.
“If the average bartender or at-home cocktail enthusiast is making their own tonic, they probably don’t know how much quinine is actually going in there because they’re not scientifically measuring it,” says Kevin Gray, a food and drinks writer and the editor of Bevvy.
According to CocktailSafe, cinchonism can cause vertigo, muscle weakness and incurable tinnitus.
Activated charcoal has become increasingly popular with bartenders who want to make cool black cocktails, but it can have unintended consequences if ingested by someone taking medication.
And, as CocktailSafe helpfully points out, activated charcoal doesn’t really add anything to a drink’s flavour — it just changes its colour.
It’s important to know what we’re putting into our bodies
The CocktailSafe database has been a welcome resource for writers like Gray.
As a drinks writer, Gray wants to ensure that his recipes are thoroughly researched, and that he doesn’t popularize something that’s potentially dangerous.
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“On Bevvy, the Moscow mule is one of our most-viewed recipes,” Gray explains.
“When people started talking about copper toxicity, we did some research and we added a note to the recipe about using unlined copper mugs. It’s the kind of thing that most people aren’t going to have an issue with… but I’d rather put that out there so people can know and do their own research.”
“I think that, overwhelmingly, experimentation behind the bar has been positive, but it’s very smart to pay attention to what we’re doing whenever we’re ingesting something.”