Dark Liquors Cause Worse Hangovers. Still.

Glenn Reynolds passes along a Wired summary of a new report in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research which finds that whiskey produces worse hangovers than vodka.

One reason for the different effects of vodka and bourbon, Rohsenow says, could be that bourbon contains 37 times more toxic compounds than vodka does, including nasty organic molecules such as acetone, acetaldehyde, tannins and furfural. A good rule of thumb for liquors, she says, is that the clearer they are, the less of these substances they contain.

That stands to reason but I’m pretty sure I already knew that.

Maybe it’s because we seem to have reports reconfirming this finding every couple of years.  A quick Google search confirms that to be the case (although it’s harder to do this than it used to be because the search engine increasingly gives priority to brand new pages rather than older ones).   There are “about 19,200” results for “hangover clear liquor.”  Among them, a 2004 piece in Yale Daily News titled “Get smart about getting smashed.”

In reality, the color of your drink is thought to be crucial to how much you suffer from it.

Congeners — organic compounds in alcohol responsible for color, smell and taste — have been linked to hangovers. Dark liquors, such as brandy and whiskey, contain lots of congeners; red wine has more than white.

An exhaustive study of the effects of drinking, “The Alcohol Hangover,” was published in 2000 and co-authored by Jeffrey Wiese, professor and hangover expert at Tulane University. The study found that hangovers are less associated with transparent liquors.   “Congeners — increase the frequency and severity of hangover,” reads the study. “Clear liquors, such as rum, vodka, and gin, tend to cause hangover less frequently, which may explain why patients with chronic alcoholism use these liquors disproportionately.”  A controlled study of bourbon against vodka echoed these results. Wiese’s study cites a 1965 study that reported approximately 10 times the number of patients who consumed bourbon in amounts proportionate to their body weight developed hangovers when compared to those drinking vodka.

This doesn’t mean grain alcohol, transparent as it is, is a good idea. Purity should also be factored into the hangover severity, as any freshman who has ever had the pleasure of drinking Dubra or Aristocrat vodka already knows.

So, we’ve got studies going back at least 44 years confirming this.  And I’m guessing it wasn’t really news to people then, either.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. JKB says:

    Unfortunately, they mixed all the drinks with a sugary mixer, caffeine-free cola. In my experience, hangovers are much worse the more sugar in the drinks, whether by a mixer or liqueur. Using soda or water, even if colored, would have been better. I wonder about the blindness of this study as I don’t see how mixing tonic water and cola could ever mask, the quinine.

    An anecdote, a friend went on a low-carb diet to lose the half a pound she was obsessing over before her wedding. She reported a happy side effect, no hangovers after a night of drinking.

  2. rodney dill says:

    I insist on performing my own testing.

  3. I also believe sugar is an element in this. Worst hangover ever: vodka gimlets. I prayed for a swift death.

    Of course second worst was Scotch and hash. So maybe the point is just to avoid mixing anything at all into the drinking process. And it may be that smacking my face into the cobblestones added to the hangover effect. So probably that should be avoided too.

    I’d like to see the double-blind study for that.

  4. PD Shaw says:

    I’ve also always thought the sugar was an element too.

    The cola is probably bad anyway because the carbonation changes the absorption rate (speeding it up IIRC).

  5. GS says:

    I experience the exact opposite: vodka and gin absolutely murder me, both in effect and the day after. Whiskey, tequila, and dark rum, I can drink all night. Maybe it’s genes, or acclimation? Maybe it’s all in the head. Regardless, drinking=hangover is something nobody who ever climbs the mountain worries about forgetting.

  6. Drew says:

    Now correctly placed………..

    Fine diners:

    After the Bordeaux, comes 2 fingers of fine Scotch. For whatever reason I have gravitated to McCallan (12) and Talisker.

    That is all. Move along.

    For those who cannot escape the “wine-o-sphere,” yes, there is Suduiraut and d’yQuem.

  7. Billy says:

    Agree the mixer is the primary culprit. Drink neat scotch until your heart’s content, no problem. Pound cosmos for a couple of hours, and you’ll wish you were dead the next day (not least because you were having a ladies’ drink, but stil…).

  8. sam says:

    Agree the mixer is the primary culprit.

    Big ditto, there. I made the mistake one evening of asking the guy next to me at the bar what he was drinking. Said it was a local drink called a “Swamp Water”. Said it was pretty good, so I ordered one… I have to say, that as far as mixed drinks go, that was probably the most aptly named I’ve even been repeatedly run over by. Much safer, for me anyway, to drink a good bourbon neat. (Well, doesn’t even have to be a good one. I draw the line, though, at Old Tennis Shoe.)

  9. Anderson says:

    Since I drink my Scotch either neat (single-malt) or on the rocks (blended) and almost never have hangovers, I too find this research suspect. Bourbon goes down fine with me too.

  10. Interesting to see Sean Connery hawking Jim Beam. Probably ok since Bourbon is different from whiskey. It’d be a different story if he were sponsoring Jack Daniels as his fellow Scotsmen might not be too happy with that.