Parker’s Tonic, established around 1890, was advertised as a “purely vegetable extract.” It was recommended to cure coughs, consumption, and asthma by rejuvenating the blood. It basically claimed to stimulate and restore the body without intoxicating you. In those days, alcohol was often thought to be a stimulant.
This tonic, then, was recommended for alcoholic or ‘inebriates.’ However, when the Massachusetts State Board of Health checked into Parker’s Tonic in 1902, they found that this stimulating, non-intoxicating nostrum contained 41.6% alcohol. That is 83 proof!
In fact, although many of the tonics, bitters, and other remedies they checked contain a good deal of alcohol, this “purely vegetable” tonic that would not intoxicate you contained the most, and would have been the best of the lot for getting your whiskey on, second only to Richardson’s Concentrated Sherry Wine Bitters at 47.5%, and Hostetter’s Stomach Bitters at 44.3%. Of course, concentrated sherry wine downright screams alcohol and neither it nor Hostetter’s made any claims as to intoxication.
The bitters normally contained a good deal of alcohol and there actually could have been a practical basis for this. Alcohol is a pretty good way of masking bitter flavors, just as bitter flavors could be a good way of masking the awful taste of some of the quite toxic rotguts sold during prohibition.