KILLER COCKTAILS: How to Survive Drinking Overseas 

By Richard Carleton Hacker

No, this is not about my secret martini recipe–I’ll save that for another day.

Rather, it’s about how to keep from getting pukin’ sick–or croaking–from drinking imposter beverages in the wrong place and in the wrong country.

According to the latest TSA information, more than 2 million passengers are screened daily as they travel to other countries. Many have plans to partake of their cocktail cultures and consume alcohol during their stays. Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America Chairman Tom Cole says: “The U.S. three-tier alcohol marketplace is the safest and best-regulated in the world. As Americans resume travel to popular vacation destinations, many are unaware of the potential dangers because of that very success, and should exercise caution when consuming alcohol.”

Yes, we may sneer at government-mandated warning labels on bottles of booze and the caveat that drinking wine can get you pregnant (or something like that), but indirectly they are lifesavers, as they are assurance that there are no microbial dead rats or their ilk floating in our drink. Not always so across the border or overseas. 

“This can result in wine and spirits containing toxic substances like methanol, jet fuel and various narcotics that can cause illness, organ failure or even death,” cautions Cole.

Yes, nothing like a chilled Methanol Manhattan to cut your trip short. Does anybody remember the American tourist who was found dead, floating in the pool of a Cancun resort not so long ago after consuming poisoned alcohol? Or the alleged contaminated minibar incidents (there were nine of them) all originating at a popular Dominican Republic vacation spot?  

According to an April 10, 2021 article in Food Safety News, Dominican officials believe bottles of recognized alcohol brands in the Dominican Republic have been refilled with a product containing methanol. But let’s not pick on the DR, one of my favorite countries to visit (besides, they make great cigars). Again, according to Food Safety News, “… there is an ongoing health alert in Costa Rica for the sale of alcoholic beverages adulterated with methanol that involves 14 products.” 

And just a few weeks ago, one of my neighbors, vacationing in Cancun, ordered a Margarita made with a well-known brand name tequila at one of her favorite restaurants. Less than an hour later, after having only that one drink, she grew dizzy and almost passed out. Luckily, the next morning there were no side effects and she survived to tell me the tale.

So how do you keep from becoming a cask strength cadaver while still enjoying Happy Hour with the locals? The WSWA offers these guidelines, which they call the “Four P’s.”

1. PLACE: Always purchase wine and spirits from a bar, restaurant or retailer in the main shopping or business district. Avoid remote or “off the beaten path” locations. As an added precaution, check out the mix of the patrons. If both locals and tourists are shopping, dining or drinking, that’s a good thing.

2. PRODUCT: Stick with brands you recognize, although this is a tough one; everybody wants to try the local hooch. But see who else is drinking it and if they don’t change color and fall off the stool. Also, in countries with questionable potable water, stay away from ice.

3. PACKAGING: When ordering in a bar or restaurant, ask that your drink be made in front of you so you can watch the product being poured from its bottle. When buying a bottle to take home, check for poor labeling, misspelled words, and torn labels and seals.

4. PRICE: If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is, especially with already discounted products.

Given the global pandemic, many foreign vacation destinations for Americans saw governments shut down breweries and distilleries because they were deemed “non-essential.” This gave birth to thriving black markets, resulting in increased amounts of illicit alcohol entering local retailers that may include resorts and restaurants. So be smart about your booze intake. There are better things to hug on your vacation than the toilet bowl.