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BERGER: Parties bring risk of excess

The fact that it's the holiday season is no reason to abuse alcoholic products. But let's face it: Most holiday parties will offer more wines, beers and spirits than at any other time of the year. And most people in a festive mood will consume a bit more than they normally would (or a lot more), often with consequences we'd rather not face.

In addition to keeping moderation at the forefront of our thinking, there are a few tips we can pass along that will make for a festive season with less risk and more sanity.

Start with the fact that mixing drinks (such as having some beer, followed by wine, and finishing off with spirits) in and of itself is not a formula for a hangover. It's the sheer volume of alcohol consumed that counts and creates most of the problems.

Some may recall an odious and misleading alcoholic beverage company campaign some 30 years ago that said all drinks were equivalent. That is, it said that a shot of whisky, a glass of wine and one beer were the same in their effect.

What was missed by that bit of information was the way the beverages are typically used. Wine is usually used with food, and as such its alcohol is absorbed more slowly by the body. Whisky is often consumed alone, and thus the body has no barrier to rapidly absorbing the alcohol.

Moreover, a glass of a German Riesling, with its 8 percent alcohol, clearly has half the alcohol of many California red wines. So the German Riesling is a lot saner choice at holiday parties — not to mention a superb drink! And watch the alcohol of all wines you consume. Port typically has 20 percent alcohol, for example.

A good rule of thumb is to start any party with a substantial glass of water, and then eat food and consume water regularly throughout the event. My rule is: One eight-ounce glass of water for every six-ounce glass of wine.

Also, alcohol-free wines are a good way to remain steady and avoid morning-after headaches. Ariel and Fre are two such products that have been improved over the last few years. No, they are not a lot like wine, but they have better flavors today than in the past. Best bet: Try those white alcohol-free wines with Muscat grapes in the blend.

One area to investigate and carefully consider is the mixed drink, such as the Manhattan. Many of these concoctions call for the use of a distilled spirit (or two) mixed with sugar. It also may have sweet vermouth. Thus the sweetness of the drink makes it that much easier to consume, and one result is the possibility of over-consumption.

That's why some consumers prefer to sip a single-malt Scotch slowly rather than indulge in two or three larger, sweeter mixed beverages.


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