Bartender Basics: How to Cure Hiccups Like a Bartender

Animation by Eric DeFreitas

From serving cocktails called “tonics” to acting as neighborhood therapists and dispensers of anesthetic-by-the-glass, bartenders have often jokingly roleplayed the part of unqualified amateur doctors. While you should never accept actual medical advice from someone whose primary responsibilities include pouring shots rather than injecting them, there are a few areas where years of expertise has given bar professionals insight into DIY remedies.

The most useful? How to cure hiccups.

After testing many popular hiccup treatments (sipping ice water slowly, drinking from the opposite side of a glass, holding your breath), we’ve settled on three bar tricks that actually work. Here’s our completely unscientific assessment.

Method #1: Bitters and a lemon wedge

This is the old bartender standard, the hiccup cure equivalent of a Beatles song. The technique is simple: Take a thick lemon wedge and douse it with 6–8 dashes of Angostura bitters (alternatively, pour bitters into a small plate or saucer and allow the lemon wedge to soak in it for a few minutes). Take your bitters-saturated lemon wedge, and eat it as you would an orange, grapefruit or anything else that tastes better. Voilà, hiccups gone.

For some, it helps to sprinkle sugar over the bittered lemon to help it go down. However, in anecdotal experience, the better you make things taste the less a chance the cure will take hold, so we recommend forgoing the addition and suffering through the two-ingredient combination as is.

Everything You Need to Know About Bitters, Including How to Use Them

Method #2: Bitters and soda water

This is simply a take on another bartender cure-all, the bitters and soda. Long used to settle upset stomachs, ease hangovers and fill in for cocktails during sober months (trace amounts of alcohol notwithstanding), the combination also can do an admirable job at managing hiccups.

Fill a glass with ice and add four to six dashes of bitters. Top with unflavored seltzer and enjoy.

The key here is to add the bitters before the soda. This causes the final combination to foam up more vigorously as the carbonation trapped within the water reacts with the emulsified oils present in the bitters. Translation: It makes bubble-water bubblier, which many self-proclaimed bar savants say is what causes the combination to diffuse hiccups so well.

Bottles of bitters for a guide to bitters
Initially created for medicinal purposes, bitters have primarily become a cocktail ingredient, but are still used in many at-home remedies / Photo by Tom Arena, styling by Julia Lea

Method #3: Bitters, soda water, lemon, a straw

This is our preferred method, as it combines elements from both of the above, with a dose of extra technique and/or needless bartender razzamatazz.

Fill a highball or a Collins glass with ice. Add 8 dashes of Angostura bitters, and squeeze in the juice of one lemon wedge, dropping the shell into the glass. Fill with soda water and place in a straw in the glass. Immediately drink the entire mixture through the straw in one go, without pausing, until all the liquid in the glass is gone.

If you want to increase the potential for success, ask a trusted friend or bartender to plug your ears for you while you chug.

In years of anecdotal experience, this technique has almost never failed. The completely unscientific theory, based on nothing but made-up half-inebriated bar assumptions, is that forcing the mixture through a straw agitates it to make the combination it even bubblier. Meanwhile, forcing yourself to consume the entire drink without pausing to breathe overwhelms whatever the hell mechanism causes hiccups in the first place.

As for plugging the ears…that’s probably just misdirection to take your mind off hiccups while your friends laugh at you. But hey, it can’t hurt.

Pro-tip: Once you finish drinking, promptly face away from your companions and/or bartender. You’ll immediately let out a burp powerful enough to shake the foundations of any nearby prewar buildings. You’ve been warned.

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Unverified claim: Half a shot of straight Angostura bitters

We’ve heard this used as a cure from other bartenders before. However, we’re classifying it as “cures that are worse than the disease.” Still, if nothing else works and you’re feeling desperate, fill a shot glass halfway up with Angostura bitters, hold your nose and drop it down the hatch. It’ll still taste better than a shot of Malört.

Final notes

These remedies tend to primarily work for hiccups caused by alcohol consumption, rather than those that come about from other means (emotional stress, actual medical complications, etc.). Also, while you can substitute any brand of bitters, we default to Angostura here. As with most cocktails, Ango just works better.

Published on October 15, 2021
Topics: Health and Wellness