I think I said something last week about it being really cold. Everyone: I was wrong. Now it’s really cold. The wind chill tomorrow morning is supposed to be -15F. If I didn’t have to leave the house FOR SCIENCE! (and, let’s be honest, because with the experiment I’m running the earlier I get in tomorrow the more likely I am to be home before midnight) I would be very tempted to not leave it at all.

Fortunately, I have recently been introduced to a traditional New England remedy for both being cold, and, allegedly, winter ailments of all descriptions: ginger brandy.

Well. Ginger "flavored".

For once, the internet isn’t very informative about this probably-dubious alcohol; this is all good traditional word-of-mouth (although Google auto-suggesting “ginger brandy for colds” as a search suggests that this is a well-spread word-of-mouth.) It’s nothing fancy; none of the bottles in the liquor store go for much above fifteen dollars, unless you’re buying quite literally litres of the stuff. My guess is that it’s just low-quality brandy that’s had ginger steeped in it until it takes up the flavour – ginger would reliably cover a lot of low quality.

What I am told by my friends – neither of whom are actually from New England, to caveat accurately – is that ginger brandy is renowned for stopping an incipient cold in its tracks if taken judiciously before it worsens. I haven’t had a chance to try this out, although I know perfectly well that viruses are entirely unbothered by alcohol when it is applied orally to their victim, and the story definitely wasn’t “clean your doorhandles and other often-touched surfaces with ginger brandy”. But as cold preventatives go, it sounds tempting.

It’s also supposed to help warm you up when the weather is trying to kill you quite cold out. From a purely scientific viewpoint, this is also unlikely to be true. From a folklorish  standpoint, the combination of alcohol (seems like it should warm you up! does just the opposite!) and ginger (the hottest form of flavouring traditional New England cooking recognises) should keep you nice and toasty. Something to do with how humans are really, really awesome at making specious associations between unrelated things and then using them to try and kill themselves.

Thing is, though: on a cold winter’s evening, this stuff is damn tasty (and is the perfect way to alcohol-ise any ginger beer you have on hand, for maximum gingery goodness.) That’s worth any number of scientifically dubious excuses to drink it. Especially when the weather is trying to kill you really cold out.

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One Response to Colds

  1. Phil Stewart says:

    Truly a 21st century scientist! I like the way you rationalise your way right THROUGH the science, right back to where you started – a tasty and relatively harmless way to pretend you’re warding off winter chills. Enjoy your internationally acclaimed brandy – it reminds me of the poor man’s brandy I drank as a youngster: Horse’s Neck. Not recommended.

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