Diet cocktails speed up blood alcohol

Cocktail drinkers who use mixers containing artificial sweeteners may be doing themselves more harm than good.

Despite reducing total calories in the drink, a new study says artificial sweeteners lead to a high rate of alcohol absorption, resulting in a greater blood alcohol concentration.

The study was done by a team at the Royal Adelaide Hospital in Australia, and presented this week at the Digestive Disease Week meeting in Los Angeles.

Dr. Chris Rayner, who headed the research team, said the artificial agents accelerate the emptying of the stomach.

The team studied eight healthy male volunteers. On one day, Rayner said, the subjects consumed an orange-flavored vodka drink made from alcohol and a mixer sweetened with sugar containing 478 calories. On the second day, they drank the same amount of alcohol with a diet mixer containing 225 calories.

The researchers measured the rate of stomach emptying using ultrasound technology and took blood samples at 30-minute intervals for three hours. The time to empty half of the diet drink from the stomach was 21 minutes, compared to regular drinks which took 36 minutes for the same degree of emptying.

Peak blood alcohol concentrations were substantially greater with diet drinks at an average of 0.05%, while regular drinks measured at 0.03% blood alcohol concentration.

Rayner said drinks of this type tend to be consumed at times other than meal times, when food would slow gastric emptying.

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Coming to a glass near you ...

The tequila pandemic is going strong. One example: The impending debut of another contender in the ultra-premium category.

La Certeza, an estate-crafted tequila, is being shipped to selected test markets around the country. It has been created from blue agaves grown on the 3,500-acre Beckmann estate near the town of Tequila in Jalisco state. The products are a joint venture between the Beckmanns, the former co-owners of Jose Cuervo, the Boissets and the La Certeza family, a group of tequila artisans.

Price points: blanco for $40, reposado for $45, añejo for $60.

The Beckmann name is an icon in the Tequila area. The family has owned the land since 1758 and began producing "vino de mezcal," the precursor to modern tequila, in 1795 under the first government license ever issued for the product.

The La Certeza brand is twice distilled in traditional Cognac stills and double-aged in bourbon and French oak barrels for both flavor and color.

Elsewhere, Blavod Extreme Spirits' tequila brand, El Diamante del Cielo Tequila, has added retailers in nine U.S. states to its network.

These are just two examples of the increase in both vendor points and brands of tequila. In 2004, tequila sales surged by 8% in the U.S., outpacing all other distilled beverages. Revenue last year rose by 11% to $1.06 billion, according to figures from the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS). Overall sales by volume were up by 20.6% for the last two years, and sales of high-end premium brands grew by an astonishing 51% in the same period.

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New drinks pour into the niches

Forget for a moment the familiar labels in the whiskey world. No more Jim Beams, Canadian Mists, Glenfiddichs and the like.

Not that they are going to disappear from vendor shelves, but if you look past the obvious you may be seeing several newcomers looking to create, and then fill, some consumer niches.

Take Piedmont Distillers, for example. The Madison, NC, operation is the state's only legal distiller, yet its biggest push is for something it calls Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine.

If you're old enough to remember film icon Robert Mitchum, the label may conjure up images of him driving dusty backroads in his '51 Ford, trying to evade federal agents as he transported moonshine from place to place in 1958's "Thunder Road."

If that's too far back for you, then just go for the novelty of it all -- a clear whiskey made from an old recipe for an illegal mix, yet now fully legal and made in small batches in copper stills in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Piedmont is keeping the formula under wraps, but traditional moonshine used corn mash, a mixture of corn, malt and sugar. And this particular product ($19.95) is sleekly packaged in a tall, glazed bottle rather than the traditional clear moonshine bottle or jug.

Across the Atlantic, a tradition much longer than that of moonshine making was revived several years ago when the Welsh Whisky Co. (no "e," please) was created. That returned the manufacture of single malt whisky to a land that had done it for centuries, then let the art die out.

The company recently installed a 'round-the-clock production process that will allow it to increase the output of its Penderyn whisky by half, to a quarter-million bottles a year.

What that means is that the company will be able to moves its products to vendors in the United States and elsewhere at a greater rate than before. Company chairman Brian Morgan said it has been exporting a mere 20 percent of its Penderyn.

If your taste runs in directions other than the brown whiskies, and if you prefer having the beverages brought to you rather than having to seek them out through a spirits vendor or helpful middleman, keep an eye on what several other foreign producers are shipping here in large numbers.

Jose Cuervo International, riding the crest of the tequila boom, is coming out with three flavored tequilas -- citrico, oranjo and tropiña. All have a blend of fruit flavors, with lime the dominant one in citrico, orange in oranjo and pineapple in tropiña.

They'll be released in major U.S. markets in June and July, then begin nationwide distribution. They'll be available in various sizes, priced from $16.99 to $18.99.

Not to be outdone in the competition for consumer dollars, more and more flavored vodkas are hitting the market. Absolut, for example, is releasing its eighth flavor, ruby red grapefruit, in June.

Fris vodka, owned by the same company that owns Absolut, is letting cocktail club owners and consumers get into the act with its infusion program.

In addition to its original, lime and apple flavors, Fris is supplying key test establishments with three-ounce servings of vodka infused with a wide range of flavorings running the gamut from sweet and exotic to savory and dry.

The year-long program is being overseen by Ryan Magarian, a mixologist with a growing reputation that was enhanced when Food & Wine magazine selected him for its 2004 list of "34 under-35 Tastemakers."

Magarian's tips on infusions -- using such disparate flavorings as coriander, cranberries, pears and cumbers -- are available online.

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