I am in pain, a lot of it. It's 8 AM in Louisville, Kentucky, the capital city of bourbon country. About an hour outside of town are America's most prized bourbon distilleries. I am in so much pain because of the products they distill, and yet, according to the experts around these parts, there doesn't seem to be any way of avoiding this fate.
Yesterday started casually enough with a 9 AM tour of the Jim Beam American Stillhouse in Clermont, a picturesque town nestled in the green rolling hills of the Bluegrass State. Jim Beam produces 50 percent of the world's bourbon, which is a goddamn lot of bourbon.
If there's a guy who knows a thing or two about drinking whiskey, it's Fred Noe. He's the seventh-generation master distiller of the Beam brand, and started learning the family business when he was about five years old.
With the rise of American whiskey's popularity, Noe ended up living quite a different life than his forefathers who started the company in 1795. He's traveled all over the globe, spreading the word of whiskey, and never found a helpful cure for hangovers in the process.
"I don't think there's any cure for a hangover. I haven't found one," Noe told me in his disarming Kentucky drawl. "I've heard all of them and tried everything. Greasy food? That just gives you indigestion. I think drinking a lot of water helps, to be honest. An absolute cure? No."
As Noe got older, his drinking habits changed as hangovers got worse. In his twenties, he could drink until three in the morning and make it to work by 6:30.
"When I was younger I thought I had to drink every drink with every salesman and every account. I learned you can't do that shit. The human body's hard to kill with good clean fun, but you can sure make 'em limp a little bit," he said. "As I hit 40, things kind of slowed down as far as getting over feelin' bad. When I hit 60, I make damn sure I don't feel bad. Sleep becomes more important as you get older."
Noe took us through a tasting of Jim Beam bourbon before heading downstairs to a conference call. I chugged my water.
Back in the city, it was time to take advantage of the endless opportunities for amazing bourbon sampling Louisville has to offer. One of those places is Haymarket, a dive bar that happens to have more than 400 whiskeys on its menu. I drank about 399 of them and a sad, single cup of water.
Next was The Silver Dollar. I drank bourbon cocktails and asked bartender Kyle Gadgis about hangovers while Dolly Parton crooned from a record player.
"Brunch for hangovers seems to be a really big thing," Gadgis said of observing hangover-fighting customers. "They take a shot or two, eat some greasy food, and then they're fine."
Gadgis personally goes for an ibuprofen, a packet of Emergen-C, and fast food.
"Fast food the next day is helpful. It's greasy, kind of gross," he said. "If you're feeling crappy about yourself, you want to feel worse. It's like a self-loathing kind of thing, too."
In no way did I need to keep drinking more bourbon, but it was off to Freddie's 220, another classic dive. It's cash-only, so I fumbled around with my wallet looking for bills to pay for the poison.
While it was way too late to take any of the advice to heart, I asked Freddie's bartender Jack Heazlitz if he had any tips for fighting a hangover. He laughed.
"Other than hair of the dog? I generally just recommend having a bloody mary," he told me.
Heazlitz will make himself a bloody mary at home, then walk to a diner near his house for scrambled eggs and bacon. "It's a good place to get some breakfast and nurse your hangover and get ready to face the day."
Freddie's stays open until 4 AM, but by 2:30 it was best for everybody's sake to call it a night. I went home and chugged three glasses of water as though that would help. If the pros of bourbon country didn't have any cures for hangovers, I considered myself doomed.