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March 27, 2008

Good for what ails you - Can a cocktail be good for you?  Brad Stanton likes to think so.

"Mixology is important from the bar point of view, but it goes back farther than that to the apothecary who was trying to concoct potions to alleviate ailments," says Stanton, beverage manager at the Opus Hotel and Elixir."  And they opened their doors to their friends and neighbours, and that was the precursor to what we do. 


"Stanton may work with cocktail shakers rather than test tubes, but he sees himself as a sort of pharmacist, dispensing concoctions that make his guests feel good.  And what could make them feel better than a delicious drink filled with healthy ingredients and heart-friendly spirits?  But hold on a minute.While Europeans have traditionally used spirits such as brandy or bitters to treat various illnesses, it's a different story on this side of the pond.In North America, where the shadows of Puritanism and Prohibition still loom, we tend to see spirits not as a healthful drug, but as a recreational one -- and a dangerous one at that.


The Mayo Clinic website, for instance, admits that moderate amounts of alcohol -- two drinks a day for men, one for women -- "may provide some health benefits," such as reducing the risk of heart disease.Then it lists the many, many ways alcohol can be bad for you. It can cause, for instance, cancer, stroke, miscarriage, heart failure, liver disease, sudden death and suicide. Cheers!  Of course, those terrible conditions are the result of alcohol abuse, not the convivial experience of partaking in a drink -- or even two -- with friends.In moderate amounts, alcohol relaxes the mind, soothes the heart and settles the stomach.


Stanton takes those health benefits even further: he's hand-crafting cocktails loaded with vitamins and anti-oxidants, such as the Minto Matcha, made with mint, green tea and gin."There's no limit to what we can bring into the cocktail realm,"  Stanton says.  His is a very modern approach that looks back to the 19th century and the golden age of the cocktail, when apothecaries like France's Giffard family were transforming patented medicines into palatable beverages.


"With alcohol and how it's portrayed in our society . . . alcohol is forgotten as a form of medicine," Stanton says. Most importantly, he notes, "People are drinking less, but drinking better."  And with that, we'll all drink to your very good health.


The Opus Hotel and Elixir are at 322 Davie St., 604-642-6787,,

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