The First Lady of Vodka

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the first lady of vodka

Meet Claire Smith-Warner. Director of Spirits Education for Moët Hennessy – kind of a big deal in the world of tipples!

We chat to the First Lady of Vodka about the importance of taking consecutive days off from drinking, what she loves most about her job and her war on sugar (that includes agave!)

What are your views on ‘Dry January’?

Personally, I think that it is more important to find balance daily. I always aim for 3-4 consecutive ‘days off’ from drinking every week. This allows my body the time to repair or recover from the effects of consuming alcohol.

While I understand the appeal of Dry January, I see far too many people abstaining for a month, only to ‘reward’ themselves with a binge the following month. Responsible consumption of alcohol should always be the focus, rather than an all or nothing approach.

I would always advise anyone who has abstained from alcohol for a period of time, for whatever reason, to ensure that if and when they decide to return to enjoying alcohol responsibly, they slowly and carefully re-introduce it.

What are the benefits of drinking little and often as opposed to binge drinking?

Alcohol affects everyone differently and there are often conflicting or confusing reports about how much alcohol we should or should not be consuming. It’s safe to say however, that alcohol can be both a tonic and a poison. The difference lies mostly in the dose.

There is little doubt that binge drinking is deleterious to health and should be avoided. Drinking in ‘moderation’ has been shown to have some positive effects on health and longevity, however given the complexity of alcohol’s effects on the body and the complexity of the people who drink it, blanket recommendations about alcohol are out of the question.

Because each of us has unique personal and family histories, alcohol offers each person a different spectrum of benefits and risks. Whether or not to drink alcohol, especially for “medicinal purposes,” requires careful balancing of these benefits and risks.

What is the best part of your job?

The variety, as well as the contact I have with some of the most inspiring and creative people in the drinks industry today. No day is ever the same, and I am lucky enough to work with passionate and exciting bartenders, bar owners, chefs, distillers and restauranteurs, who each have an enormous amount of creativity and imagination.

My role is challenging, but exciting and being able to work with some of the best spirit brands in the world ensures there is an unending amount of professional inspiration that I hope to be able to share.

Can you advise us on some ‘better’ tipples?

Firstly, how about some tipples to avoid? Eye your morning OJ with suspicion! The dark secret in your glass of sunshine is that when fruit is stripped of its skin, pulp, flesh and other fibrous parts, it’s distilled down to its sweet essence. That means that orange juice has roughly the same amount of sugar as the demon of the nutritional world, soda — about 5 to 8 teaspoons per cup.

A glass will also deplete your immune system for 48 hours and puts a hefty stress on your system as 100% fruit sugars (fructose) are metabolised via your liver. Try cutting your daily glass with 50% water, or drink sparingly (particularly if you’re starting to feel under the weather). Agave syrup is also 100% fructose, and while marketed as a health food, it is anything but. Again, avoid at all costs, particularly if you’re trying to reduce your consumption of sugar and think that this is a ‘heathy’ alternative.

Drinking ‘better’ should mean drinking responsibly and we should be doing that throughout the year, not only in January. Personally, I am currently enjoying slightly lower ABV cocktails such as the Belvedere Spritz (25ml Belvedere/25ml Dolin vermouth/poured over ice in a large wine glass topped with half soda and half tonic water. Garnish with fresh citrus fruits.

For more information about responsible drinking guidelines, visit

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