Imagine walking into a bar and discovering that three of the liquor bottles behind the counter are laced with cyanide. You’d probably look elsewhere for a drink (right after a few expletive-laced remarks to management and a call to the authorities). But for me, there is no elsewhere. This is every bar I go to for a drink.
Most people don’t think of alcoholic beverages as posing a risk to those managing food allergies, but for someone like me, who is deathly allergic to tree nuts, amaretto (almond liquor), Frangelico (hazelnut liquor), and Dumante (pistachio liquor) may as well have a skull and crossbones on the label. One sip and I’d be hightailing it to the hospital.
Dozens of popular cocktails contain these ingredients, so rather than risk ordering the wrong drink, or having a new bartender accidentally grab the wrong bottle, I avoid cocktails altogether and stick to beer or wine.
But that wasn’t always the case.
Over the years I’ve had a few close calls. At a party in my early-20s, someone handed me a shot. Right before tossing it back, I turned to the guy who handed it to me and asked him what it was. Amaretto, he replied. To this day, I look back at that harrowing moment and thank the high heavens that I knew amaretto was almond liquor. Had I not, that night would have probably played out very differently.
Drinking presents unique risks to those managing food allergies—it impairs your judgment AND compromises your ability to evaluate risk. You’re more likely to carelessly toss back a friend’s French fry (guilty) or accept a drink without knowing its contents (also guilty). For this reason, excessive drinking is particularly risky for those with food allergies and is best avoided. It’s also important to have survival strategies in place.
Here are a few of mine:
1. Look up the names of all liquors and drinks you need to steer clear of and commit them to memory (and keep a cheat sheet in your bag or wallet)!
2. Stick to drinks you know are safe, and double-check their contents with the bartender before taking a sip.
3. If you’re drinking and eating, avoid even moderately bold food choices, and stick to low-risk foods. I tend to go for pizza, as it poses a lower risk for my allergies. Pro tip: pack a snack in your bag or purse before heading out for the night!
4. If someone orders you a shot or cocktail, politely pass the drink along to another thirsty patron.
These bar tricks have served me well over the years, and they’re ones that I wish someone had told me earlier on in life. In the end, the key to avoiding these dangerous drinks is properly navigating and mitigating the risks.
— Abi and the Allergy Amulet Team