At last, some research into the effects of alcohol that's actually useful. Apparently vodka really does give you less of a hangover the next day than bourbon - but it makes you just as incompetent.
The culprits in all this are what's known as congeners - complex organic molecules with toxic effects including acetone, acetaldehyde, fusel oil, tannins, and furfural. Yum. Bourbon has 37 times the amount of congeners as vodka.
"While the toxic chemicals called congeners could be poisonous in large amounts, they occur in very small amounts in alcoholic beverages," explained Damaris J Rohsenow, professor of community health at the Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies at Brown University, encouragingly.
"There are far more of them in the darker distilled beverages and wines than in the lighter colored ones. While the alcohol alone is enough to make many people feel sick the next day, these toxic natural substances can add to the ill effects as our body reacts to them."
Researchers recruited and paid 95 heavy drinkers to participate in one acclimatization night, followed by two drinking nights. (Unaccountably, they didn't call us.)
"First, while alcohol in the beverage did increase how hung-over people reported feeling the next morning compared to drinking a placebo, bourbon made people feel even worse than vodka did," said Rohsenow.
However, while people felt worse after bourbon, they didn't actually do any worse at tasks than the vodka drinkers. So my editor has absolutely nothing to complain about.
Results will be published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.