The Diabetic Bartender

Welcome to my webpage! The intention of this site is to serve as a vehicle for something gravely missing in the craft cocktail community – sugar free and low carb drinks. Not another gross premix margarita. Not a diet and rum or vodka soda. I wish to welcome you to an entirely new concept for the diabetic community; to provide you with the tools to produce your own artisan crafted and carefully concocted drinks in the same fashion as the leaders of the industry, whether as a patron or bartender. As soon as these techniques are in the hands of the people that need them, a whole new world of entertainment and recreation can be made available to a community that has never gotten much of a fair shot (pardon the pun).

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My name is Doug Strain, and I am a craft bartender. I spent a good deal of time honing my skills at The Berry & Rye, working my way up from the bottom and learning from the best in the industry. After 18 months of apprenticeship as server, bar back, stand in bartender, etc – I was as ready as I could be. Our sister bar, Laka Lono Rum Club was soon to open and I was offered the opportunity to represent Omaha, Nebraska’s first craft tiki bar as head bartender. I was so excited to be a part of this program and could not wait for October 2016 to come! A week before I was to formally start I received a phone call from my doctor demanding that I come in immediately to discuss some lab results…never a good thing. It wasn’t.

The Berry & Rye of Omaha, NE

I was diagnosed with Type One Diabetes, an autoimmune disorder that causes your body to attack it’s own pancreas, killing all of the insulin producing cells in your system. If you’re wondering which type it is, it’s “the bad one” as several call it. In the simplest terms and in the most unceremonious way possible, I was made aware that without injecting a needle full of insulin into my stomach multiple times a day, along with regular finger sticks to check my blood sugar, I would die and soon. Great.
I mean, just imagine the irony – I devote two years of my life to learning how to put sugar, ice and alcohol into pretty glasses for people and right before I get my chance to help lead a program to put LOTS of sugar, ice and alcohol into pretty glasses I find out that it’ll kill me if I drink it. Ha.

So I began to scour the internet, desperate to feed on any information available on T1D, continuous glucose monitoring, insulin pumps, and one of the passions in my life – food and drink.
I found out that there is a multitude of information available for food – Google “Diabetic Cookbook” and you will realize the same. I learned that with Type One, opposed to Type Two diabetes, counting carbs isn’t as important for a healthy young adult as KNOWING how many carbs are in a serving and what KIND of carbs they are, so you can take the appropriate amount of insulin for it. This was encouraging to me, to know that while a healthy lifestyle is important I could still enjoy my life in a relatively normal way, so long as I maintained careful watch of my numbers.
So I was super stoked to find all of the numerous resources available for diabetic friendly cocktails! Said no one ever. That’s right – try to do some digging and you will quickly realize that there are little to no resources available for craft cocktails that are safe. Of the few things I could find in T1D forums and online research, most of it had to do with one of three mostly bad ideas:
1. Just drink beer and wine so you can count the carbs – I love beer and wine as much as the next guy, but I got into the beverage industry because I was interested in cocktails and their history.
2. Just drink vodka soda or diet cocktails – Ew.
3. Just drink what you want! - …And suffer the health consequences. Whether it is now, lying on a buddy’s couch while you “sleep off” your diabetic coma that your friends think is you drunk OR going blind by the time you’re 50 years old because of all the untreated highs you indulged in.

No. No. NOOOOOOOO

Sadly, a troubling number of diabetics I’ve met, especially Type 2’s take the easy (right now) route of #3. But I can’t completely blame them – as easy as it is to look in from the outside and play doctor for someone with this condition, you have no idea until you have it how hard it is to watch other people eat and drink what they want without direct consequence. Sure they might be fat in a decade, but at least they won’t die. We are social creatures, and drinking is typically a very social experience. It’s painful to feel left out, especially when it comes to craft cocktails and the artistry they hold in their design.
I know I’m not a doctor. Certainly not an endocrinologist. Or a dietitian. Or even a very smart guy. But I know that if I put my mind to this, using the tools that my mentors already gave me to become proficient at this craft that I just might be able to make a small difference in over 30 million people in this country living with diabetes. Or the 86 million people in this country living with pre-diabetes. Or the majority of the country just trying to live a little healthier. Just maybe there’s a chance, even if the task is huge and daunting.

Bradley Moore, Pirate Bartender at Laka Lono Rum Club of Omaha, NE
Uncle Bradley wants YOU to make more sugar free drinks!

That’s where you all come in; I cannot do this alone. But the more people I meet that deal with this grievous condition, or that specialize in treating it, or that have already experimented with these concepts in bartending or food and drink, the more of a possibility there is of incorporating this into not just Omaha, NE but every bar in the world. I hope you will be kind enough to give me feedback and criticism when you see opportunity and help me spread this idea to as many people needing it as possible.
I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your support and look forward to sharing what I have learned with you all.
Your friendly diabetic bartender,
Doug Strain