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5 Hidden Dangers of Mixed Drinks

Forget dirty martinis—designer cocktails and craft brews dominate the drink menu of every bar in town. But as bartenders come up with evermore creative techniques and fancy ingredients to hone the perfect drink, you need to be even more careful—and not just because of the booze.

Depending on who makes your drink, how it's combined, and especially what goes in it, your drink could make you sick, says Guillaume Le Dorner, expert mixologist and bar manager at 69 Colebrooke Row, famous for creating award-winning cocktails in its "drink lab." Make sure you're sipping safely with these five rules. (And observe these 7 Healthy Boozing Tips From Bartenders too.)

Check the Fancy Ingredients
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As elaborate mixed drinks become more fashionable, bartenders go to greater lengths to make something that has never been done before. And, unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to ingredients that no human should ever consume, Le Dorner warns. For example, eucalyptus leaves are becoming popular, but many bartenders don't realize these are poisonous when cooked. They're fine as a garnish but skip the cocktail if they're on the ingredient list. Also take a pass on anything that includes energy drinks as a mixer—the combo can be toxic.

Ask for Proof
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The proof of a label is a designation of how much alcohol is in the bottle. A drink listed as "40 proof" is 20 percent alcohol by volume. Most people are used to how standard-proof libations, like beer (12 proof), wine (30 proof), and whiskey (80 proof), affect their body. But people often don't realize that proof can vary widely, Le Dorner says. This is especially true in custom-brewed drinks. Perry’s Tot, a 114-proof gin made by the New York Distilling Company, is one-third more potent than regular gin, for example. The alcohol content can also be ratcheted up in custom drinks by adding things like a booze-soaked pineapple slice to the rim. (8 Signs You're Drinking Too Much Alcohol)

Scan the Prep Area
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White Russians—a mix of coffee liqueur, vodka, and cream—get a bad rap for causing stomach pain, but that only happens if the cream isn't properly refridgerated. Similarly, the Pisco Sour contains raw egg, which can give you food poisoning if not stored properly. Even basic garnishes like olives or lemon wedges can add bacteria to your drink if cut on an unclean surface. The risk is especially high when the bartender is working out of a place that doesn't have a formal bar like, say, an outdoor wedding. Le Dorner reccomends checking that perishable ingredients are kept refrigerated or cooked and that all surfaces are kept clean. "If a bar is clean and tidy, there is a fair chance that the guy in charge cares about the customer," he adds.

Vet Your Bartender
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Any Joe can pour a beer on tap. But if you want to try a fancy designer cocktail, you're safer with an experienced professional. While there are many talented bartenders creating genius new drinks, the title of "expert mixologist" has recently emerged for bartenders who have advanced training in the science of both chemistry and drinks, Le Dorner explains. Not only do they understand how different tastes work together, they understand how the ingredients work together—including how to avoid a toxic combo. If you can't find an expert mixologist, ensure your bartender is working from a precise recipe at least. Don't be afraid to ask about their expertise. Many bartenders are proud of their craft!

Say No to Surprises
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Wannabe drink makers love to play "guess the secret ingredient." While that might work with those brownies you made from black beans, it's a really bad idea with mixed drinks: Not only do you run the risk of having something dangerous added to your drink, but even benign ingredients (like milk) could cause a problem for someone who is lactose intolerant or rye whiskey to someone with a gluten allergy, Le Dorner explains. Save the surprises for birthday presents and Saturday Night Live guests and make sure you know every single thing that goes into your drink. 

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