Here’s a great money-saving tip for these depressing times: Next time you want to go drinking, head for the mountains. Alcohol packs a powerful punch at higher altitudes, at least on those of us who dwell near sea level. It’s like every bar is offering a two-for-one happy hour. You’ll cut your bar tab in half and still get your money’s worth of hangover.

This highly scientific observation is, of course, based entirely on the experience of others, as I hardly drink. Well, I’ll sip a purely medicinal glass or two of wine every day — just for the sake of my health, of course. (Sometimes I might even finish a bottle, because you can never be too healthy.) And I may have a Mimosa or two with brunch, and a cocktail or two with friends before dinner, just to be sociable. A beer or three at the ballpark. And maybe a glass or two of dessert wine, and perhaps a nightcap after dinner. But really, I don’t drink at all.

So there’s no reason I should know about this first hand, even though I visited Denver earlier this month for the annual meeting of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

But as it happens, I did have some slight experience with this altitude effect, for purely academic reasons.

The conference is an eclectic mix of writers, cooking teachers, chefs, food historians, industry reps, publishers, cookbook authors and all kinds of other folks connected in some way to the world of food, with program offerings that match that range. When you register, they ask you to sign up in advance for the sessions you want to attend. On any given day, you might find yourself choosing between simultaneous presentations on food photography, cooking in the Australian outback, sustainable sheep farming or recipe writing.

I dutifully checked the boxes for the topics that sounded the best to me. I thought I’d selected a fairly broad range, befitting my wide interests and absurdly short attention span. But when I got back my confirmation, I saw that my subconscious had been at work. More than half my choices centered on a single theme.

Apparently, I planned to drink my way through the conference. And not by hanging out at the hotel bar.

It started out slowly, with a session on writing about wine and spirits. But on the last day of the conference, I had signed up for a full immersion experience. In the afternoon, I would be attending a class on bourbon, complete with a tasting. That wasn’t the real challenge, though. It was the first session that made my liver quiver: A morning-long intensive workshop on innovations in mixology.

I felt some trepidation when I walked into the room at 9 a.m. and was immediately handed a Bloody Mary. But it was made with fresh heirloom tomatoes, yuzu juice and sake, among other things, and tasted terrific. The gorgeous array of fresh fruits and vegetables at the front of the room also allayed my concerns. It turns out the new mixology is about making drinks the way you cook, using bright, fresh flavors, herbs and spices in ways that titillate the tongue. The alcohol is almost an afterthought. Really.

As we muddled our first cocktail, a kind of mojito that included fresh strawberries, cooked rhubarb, agave nectar, balsamic vinegar and brown sugar along with basil and mint leaves and, oh yes, a bit of aged white rum, I started to relax. This was cooking, not drinking.

By the time we got to the third cocktail — cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, fennel and cucumbers, topped off with lemongrass soda, I was converted to this form of healthy eating. Sure, the fruits had been soaked overnight in gin, but that was secondary. I could almost feel the vitamins and healthy antioxidants surging through my system. The efficiency of combining a before-meal drink with the salad course struck me as genius. I couldn’t wait for the next brilliant combination. And the next.

Which is how I found myself drinking 10 absolutely delicious cocktails before lunch. At 5,000 feet above sea level. Before heading off to a bourbon tasting.

It gives a whole new meaning to the term “Mile High City.”

Passage To India #2

By Dänny Ronen, DC Spirits, Oakland

(inspired by David Wolowidnyk, West Restaurant, Vancouver, BC)

My interest in cocktails has been growing since I joined our local cocktail appreciation guild FOAM (Friends of Ardent Mixology). At our last meeting, ace mixologist Dänny Ronen introduced us to a delectable French ginger liqueur called Domaine de Canton that just might be my new favorite food. Like fresh ginger, it blends with all kinds of flavors, as in this cocktail, which is like a complete Indian meal in a glass.

1 3/4 ounces Domaine de Canton

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1 ounce mango nectar

1 slice jalapeno

1/2 ounce fresh lime juice

1/4 tsp. Madras curry powder

A small handful of fresh cilantro leaves

Muddle jalapeno, cilantro and curry powder while pouring in the fresh lime juice. Once it is liquid and there is very little mass left to the cilantro and jalapeno, add in the mango nectar and the Domaine de Canton.

Shake vigorously on ice and pour through a fine strainer into a chilled cocktail glass.

Garnish with a cilantro leaf.

Betty Teller will gladly mix you a cocktail if you’ll agree to take a certain cat off her hands. Contact her at amuse-bouche@sbcglobal.net.

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