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MORE Dangerous Cocktail Ingredients - Yes, Even Grapefruit!

A copper mug, a chilled glass with dry ice, a split grapefruit, a weed leaf, a bottle of gin and a container with cinchona bark

Hello Friends of Cocktails, let’s start with story time! There once was a bartender keen to impress his friends, so he went out and got fancy new mugs to serve them a Gin & Tonic with the homemade gin he made, and of course paired it with homemade tonic. For a bit more flavor he added a bit of fresh grapefruit juice, and to make it look cooler he threw in some dry ice. Pretty cool, right? Well, yeah, perfect for the ‘gram, but this story can also be really dangerous, for many reasons. 

Today we’ll go over a few more dangerous ingredients, techniques and equipment that could be harmful when making your next signature cocktail. We’ll talk about using juniper, quinine, bitter almonds, cannabis, copper, crystal, dry ice, liquid nitrogen, and even grapefruits. We’ll discuss why they can be dangerous and how to use them safely, and if it’s even worth it. As always, is a resource you should always check when thinking about using an ingredient you’re not sure about, and that’s where most of today’s information came from. 

I’ll start by making a simple G&T to have something to sip on while we discuss, using quality ingredients made by professionals. It’s Cocktail Time!

copper mug with dry ice inside

Gin & Tonic

● 60mL · 2oz KI NO BI Gin

● 22.5mL · 0.75oz Liber & Co. Tonic Syrup

● Soda Water to top

● Lemon Peel

So into a highball glass filled with ice cubes I’m adding gin, Tonic Syrup, and topping it up with really well chilled soda water. Mix gently, express essential oils from a lemon peel and enjoy. You can now take a sip before we dive into our first dangerous ingredient, juniper. Cheers!

So, is making gin really as simple as throwing some juniper berries and some citrus peels into vodka and calling it a day? Far from it, and since it can appear so easy a lot of people like to give it a try. We’ve talked about why it’s important to use organic citrus for infusions in the first Dangerous Ingredients post, but what about juniper, the botanical basis of all gin?


Just like with so many other gifts of nature, juniper berries can differ from one species to another, and not all of them are suitable for consumption. All Juniperus communis, the common juniper, are generally recognized as safe and can be used to flavor drinks and food, but some species like Juniperus Sabina, or savin juniper, are toxic. So if you’ll be harvesting juniper berries you should make sure you can identify the plants correctly. 

And even with the edible varieties, juniper might affect blood sugar levels and should also be avoided if pregnant or trying to become pregnant - so check with your doctor before going for that non-alcoholic G&T. Speaking of tonic, it’s also something that can trigger red flags in the cocktail community when homemade and for good reason - tonic water gets its bitter taste from quinine, a compound found in the bark of the cinchona tree.

But if you’re using unknown and possibly unsafe quantities of quinine, it can lead to chinonism, an ailment with symptoms like vertigo, muscle weakness and incurable tinnitus. The problem is that different varieties of cinchona contain varying amounts of quinine, and if you’re using the powdered form of the bark, it can be challenging to completely filter out the powder after the flavor has been extracted for the tonic syrup. So what are the alternatives, if you’d still like to use tonic syrup? 

One is to use other bittering agents, like gentian or quassia bark, which is what I used for what I called the Spring Tonic Syrup. The other, easier option, is to get your hands on Liber&Co’s Premium Tonic Syrup. They have their ingredients and amounts down to a science, so their tonic syrup is made with natural quinine, zesty citrus and pure cane sugar. It’ll give you a refreshing but strongly bitter taste that’s fun to pair with different dry gins or even vodka. 

Up next on our dangerous ingredients list, bitter almonds and apricot pits. While sweet almonds are mainly used in orgeat syrup and falernum, its bitter cousins provide flavoring for amaretto liqueurs.  You’ll find some recipes online for homemade amarettos with unsafe quantities of bitter almonds or other kernels, like peaches, cherries, or apricots. That’s because they contain a compound called amygdalin, which breaks down into cyanide when ingested.


Peaches, bitter almonds and apricots also have different levels of amygdalin, so toxic quantities are hard to estimate, but it’s more dangerous when they’re chewed, crushed, or used for making infusions or syrups. I’d suggest using flavored food-grade extracts, like I did for the Clear Orgeat a few months ago. It’s easier, chearper, and most importantly, safer. Also, since we covered tobacco in the first episode, let’s take it a step further, with cannabis. Marijuana. Pot. Weed. 

Thanks to legalization of recreational use of marijuana in many US states it has become a part of daily life in a lot of places, and hemp-infused beverages have been on the market for quite some time - but mixing alcohol and THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, is not allowed so you’ll never find two in the same bottle. If you’ll decide to enjoy them both, remember the wise words of James Giordano: “Booze before weed gets you higher indeed. Weed before drink, you had more than you think”.

So alcohol increases THC absorption, and THC can change how alcohol is metabolized in the body, delaying its effect. Do with that information what you will, but remember to stay hydrated… and to use Marijuana as a gateway, let’s take a look at the coca leaf. In Peru and Bolivia, coca leaves are chewed and brewed into teas. And of course they are also the raw material for cocaine. It is illegal to bring coca leaves into the U.S. for any purpose, including to use for brewing tea or for chewing.

Somehow Coca-Cola still uses coca leaf extract, but there’s no cocaine in it and the process is tightly overseen by the authorities… according to Coca-Cola. Long story short, don’t use coca leaves for your cocktails. But for the drink you do make, be sure to serve them in safe glassware, so avoid using unlined copper mugs and vintage crystal glasses and decanters too often, to avoid copper and lead poisoning. 

If you have copper Moscow Mule mugs, shakers, or even punch bowls they can leach copper into your drink when it’s acidic.. and they usually are. As for leaded crystal, which is usually much heavier than your typical glassware, it can contain around 24% of lead. When used often, especially for storage, lead can leach out into the drink. So don’t drink that whiskey you had sitting in the crystal decanter for months. 

With both copper and crystal it of course depends on the frequency and the length of contact of the drink and the vessel. Luckily, most copper vessels nowadays are either lined or coated on the inside, to prevent beverage contact with copper. Same for crystal, you can find lead-free crystal glasses and decanters as well. You’re probably not surprised by hearing that it’s best to avoid mixing alcohol with other drugs or metals that can leach into your drink… but what about grapefruits?


As many of you pointed out after the first episode, grapefruit can alter the effectiveness of many medications. Additionally, bergamot and seville oranges affect the same enzyme as grapefruit juice.   They can delay, decrease, or enhance absorption of certain drugs including cholesterol and heart medications. Make sure you’re always clear on using these juices in your cocktails, and don’t label it as just “citrus” or “citrus mix” if you use a combination of them. 

With that we’ve reached the Bottom of The Glass. Today we’ll talk about something you don’t want at the bottom of your glass as you’re enjoying the drink - dangerous ice. Yeah, liquid nitrogen and dry ice are cool, but they’re also super dangerous. Both can cause severe burns on skin, asphyxiation or even explosions if not handled properly. 

People had severe medical problems due to swallowing dry ice and liquid nitrogen, so avoid serving it to anyone, and be extremely careful if you’ll be using it yourself to make your cocktails look extra cool. If there’s other ingredients you think home and professional bartenders should be careful with, I’d love to find out more about them! Feel free to add them to the comments of the full episode on YouTube and let’s spread the knowledge. I’ll see you next time, Friends of Cocktails!

1 commentaire

Tween Ior
Tween Ior
24 févr.

Nice article! There is a website called Cocktail Safe that has an extensive list of dangerous ingredients

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