Let them drink cake

Wrote this for the Indo about getting druunkish on cake –

The Kerry TD Danny Healy Rae once said that eating a big meal before driving could be a factor in causing accidents. It came as a surprise, not only to the scientific and medical community, but also to the people he was addressing at the Oireachtas Committee on Transport,as they were discussing drink driving, not dinner driving. Deputy Healy Rae – who is a publican – said that after he finishes work he won’t eat a large meal because he knows it would make him sleepy on the drive home.

There is, however, a perfect storm brewing between both the facts on alcohol – it is a factor in 38% of all road fatalities in Ireland – and Deputy Healy Rae’s folksy musings: What about food with booze in it? Granted, cooking removes most of the alcoholic content in food, but there is one course that is the final bastion of boozy dining – dessert. Desserts like tiramisu or sherry trifle are famous for their drink content, so the question posed here is – can eating desserts put you over the drink driving limit? According to a study by All Car Leasing, the answer is yes – two portions of tiramisu can put you over the limit. Their study also covered lesser known foods like orange juice, which can contain tiny amounts of alcohol which is produced as the orange ferments – but boozy desserts are the most direct way to inadvertently go over the line. So this was the test – just how easy is it to get over the drink driving limit by eating treats?

The initial step in any scientific endeavour is to seek the advice of an expert. The first warning sign that this might not be the most important piece of investigative journalism since Watergate was that the medical expert I consulted didn’t wish to be named. “I just don’t see the merit in what you’re doing,” they said. I took this as a sign that I was on the right track – if the medical community was against me eating desserts until I was hammered, then there was something here that was just waiting to be blown wide open, either a looming war on liquor-laden desserts from the neo-prohibitionists, or possibly just my belt. My so-called medical advisor pointed out that as I am six foot and weigh 13 stone, I would need to consume a very large amount of dessert to actually get that much alcohol in my system, and would possibly just make myself sick in trying. Challenge accepted.

The first time I got drunk, it was on sherry trifle. The story became family lore, of how after my dessert I was singing, waving out the window and trying to open door while the car was moving. I was 11. The lesson I took home from this is that sherry trifle is wonderful, and that booze makes me hilarious. So I set about finding a sherry trifle with which to start my test. It turns out that most modern sherry trifles now don’t have sherry in them, but rather have sherry flavouring. After a pathetic trek asking various supermarket staff if any of their desserts had booze in them (‘I’m a journalist’ I told them, as if this explained my tragic quest), I tried Midleton’s The Farm Gate, where the local petit bourgeoisie go to get sozzled on cake. I was relieved to find they had a delightful sherry trifle which had a decent whack of sherry. After that it was off to Aldi and Lidl – the Germans know how their booze, and they also know their desserts, and there I picked up any dessert that had an alcohol warning on the front label. Then it was off home to gorge.

First up was the Aldi Irish Cream Liqueur Cheesecake, which contains an impressive 15% of Irish cream liqueur. It’s meant to serve four to six people, but as I hadn’t eaten all day, I downed it all in about five minutes. I used my AlcoSense breathalyser – which, at 80 euro from Boots, is a solid purchase for any dessertaholics – and it told me I was still well under the limit for learner or new drivers, which is 0.02% blood alcohol concentration (the level for full license divers is 0.05%BAC).

So it was on to two portions of Aldi profiteroles, which still failed to take me over the lower limit. It was time to take a more direct route – a box of Aldi Mister Roth Whiskey Truffles, eaten in the most joyless way possible. At this stage I was wondering if this was all a terrible mistake, but I knew that this was being done in the name of science. I waited half an hour and tried the breathalyser – I was at a solid 0.029%BAC, easily over the limit for learner drivers. I didn’t feel especially under the influence of anything other than the sugar screaming through my bloodstream, but the breathalyser doesn’t lie – I would have been unfit to drive.

I knew that if I was to cross the upper limit, I would need to go to Defcon One – with a Marsala wine-soaked tiramisu from Aldi. Meant to serve four to six people, I sat there alone, forcing down its rich creamy goodness as I broke a mild sweat. I waited, puffed into my breathalyser and saw that I had pushed myself to 0.037%BAC, a worthwhile return for the horror of gulping down a platter of tiramisu. Next was a box of Lidl Deluxe Cocktail Truffles, ten chocolate malty balls infused with spirit. Eating them was akin to the boiled egg challenge in Cool Hand Luke, but I got there in the end, and while I was still able to sit upright in my chair, I shoved a number of Marc De Champagne truffles down my throat, and another portion of Aldi profiteroles just to be certain. With the last wheeze left in my bloated, corpse-like form, I huffed into my breathalyser, which gave me the warning beep I was praying for – I was at a decadent 0.058%BAC, over the limit for driving in Ireland. I was also yearning for the cold embrace of the grave due to the amount of treats I had consumed, but the facts were clear – it is possible to get over the drink driving limit by eating a large amount of desserts.

There were two take-homes from this – one is that the majority of Irish people understand that drinking and driving is not acceptable. The staff in The Farm Gate said that many diners will deliberately avoid any dessert that has alcohol in it, so the days of getting trolleyed on desserts appears to be disappearing fast. Alcohol is rapidly becoming an indulgence that we enjoy in the comfort of our homes, and there is nothing wrong with that.

The second takehome was that it was easier to get over the limit than I thought – I never would have considered tiramisu was being something that could possibly influence my ability to drive, or to consider it as a potential unit of alcohol – but it is. There are, as Deputy Healy Rae pointed out, many factors that can influence our ability to drive safely – tiredness being one of them – but the days when we can pretend that consuming alcohol in any form and getting behind the wheel is an acceptable practise are gone. Anyone who does it and ends up in a motoring mishap of their own creation is simply getting their just desserts.

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