Is there any Australian tradition quite like the annual Christmas meltdown?
A cheeky glass of sparkling while the rugrats eviscerate the tree; a couple of stubbies while tending the barbecue under an excoriating sun; a glass or three of pinot gris to pair with the kilo of prawns… and then for some mysterious reason, you’re sobbing and yelling at your stunned, sweet-faced nan.
We’re all at least vaguely aware of the health risks associated with alcohol: high blood pressure; heart and liver disease; increased risk of stroke and certain cancers — and that’s not to mention the effects on anyone experiencing even a hint of depression or anxiety.
Nevertheless, there’s intense social pressure to get on it, especially at this time of year.
To assist, we’ve come up with six lower-alcohol options to help you last through a long, hot summer’s day without dissolving.
- Mojito mocktail
- Aperol float
- Rosemary and bitters mimosa
- Low-booze beer
- Riesling spritz
- 9 Low-Booze Cocktails to Drink in Bars This Month
- 1. Nan’s A Doctor (Up & Up, New York City)
- 2. Stop Short (Le Farfalle, Charleston, S.C.)
- 3. Partisan (Easy Bistro & Bar, Chattanooga, Tenn.)
- 4. Police Action (Chao Chao, New York City)
- 5. Ghost of Cape Aperitif (Jazz, TX, San Antonio)
- 6. Belcampo Spritz (Belcampo, Santa Monica, Calif.)
- 7. Cactus & A Rose (Big Star, Chicago)
- 8. Penn’s Port Punch (The Wild Son, New York City)
- 9. First Tuesday in November (Acorn, Denver)
- Vermouth Cocktails
- Sparkling Wines
- Bitter Liqueurs
- MIXED DRINKS + COCKTAILS
- Best non-alcoholic beers
- The best non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beers
- Best non-alcoholic wines
- Best non-alcoholic aperitifs
- Non-alcoholic drinks inspiration
- Low and Steady: Low-Alcohol Cocktails for Summer Day Drinking
- Sunny Day Real Estate
- The Elder
- Haus & Juice
- Sugarlandia Spritz
- New Mule
- Peacock Buck
- Everything Zen
- Related Video: How to Use Fresh Herbs in Cocktails
- Low alcohol drinks
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You don’t need rum to make a mojito fun.(ABC Life: Tim Grey)
If you’re teetotal, you’ll have discovered it’s slim pickings for anyone with a palate over the age of 12. Part of the great genius of fermentation is that it produces wacky flavours from volatile compounds that simply aren’t available in a mix of sugar and water.
When I order myself a mocktail (can we find a better word, by the way?), I’m looking for something with similar qualities to my favourite booze: spiciness, sourness, acidity and funk.
Many traditional recipes call for the addition of sugar syrup, but we are adults. A dash of ginger beer gives all the sweetness you need, while lime juice is more sugary than you imagine.
Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume. Watch Duration: 53 seconds53s A rare non-alcoholic drink that has lost none of its flair — enjoy the lime, mint, ginger, and the ability to pick up the kids after school.(By Matt Garrow)
- 1 massive amount of mint leaves
- 5 limes
- 1 ginger beer, to top
- 1 sparkling water
- 1.Juice your limes into a cocktail shaker or jar.
- 2.Loosely tear the mint leaves and throw them in the shaker, and gently muddle with a mixer or spoon. Shake, but unenthusiastically.
- 3.Load up a glass with ice and pour over your limey, minty liquid. Top up with a half-and-half mix of soda water and ginger beer (if you’ve got a sweet tooth, just use the ginger beer).
Pro tip: For some next-level business, add a dash (and I mean a very, very small amount) of smoky habanero hot sauce to truly bring this cocktail into balance.
Prepare for bubbles!(ABC Life: Tim Grey)
My editor expressly forbade me from writing about the Aperol spritz, the drink publicists have been insisting is the flavour of next summer for three years running (“It’s just boozy Fanta!” my editor told me).
But he said nothing about an Aperol float, so technically I’m still within the brief.
Thanks to the creeping Americanisation of our language, the term “Spider” has fallen out of fashion, but that’s essentially what this is: boozy Fanta — with ice cream!
While most of our recipes have focused on more “adult” flavours, some summer nights just cry out for a tub of Neapolitan and a soup spoon.
Aperol’s an interesting ingredient because it has all the hallmarks of a spirit, but it’s not actually that high in alcohol. Sitting at 11 percent ABV, it’s less heady than most glasses of red, and about half the alcohol you’ll find in its cousin, Campari. And while it does have some of the hypercolour sweetness of post-war Germany’s favourite orange drink, it’s balanced by its powerful bitterness.
There are also some unusual botanicals thrown in there: gentian, rhubarb and cinchona, for instance.
So instead of reaching for the cognac at the tail end of your next dinner party, why not combine dessert and after-dinner drinks with this outrageously Instagrammable little number?
Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume. Watch Duration: 49 seconds49s It’s a spider with some alcohol in it. Need to say more?(By Matt Garrow)
- 1 scoop ice cream of choice
- 50ml Aperol
- Blood orange soda
- 1.Heat your scoop (or spoon) under hot water and make your best quenelle of ice-cream. Dump in your prettiest glass.
- 2.Pour over 50ml of Aperol, and top with blood orange soda. Be careful here — it’s going to bubble.
Rosemary and bitters mimosa
A glass containing sparking and orange juice — what’s not to love?(ABC Life: Tim Grey)
A mimosa is a cousin to the spritz, pairing champagne — or if you’re Australian, sparkling wine — with orange juice. Interestingly, freshly-squeezed orange juice is not strictly alcohol-free, coming in with a trivial, but not non-existent, 0.5 per cent ABV (alcohol by volume). So technically you were drinking in the morning anyway.
Despite its ubiquity, many of us find the standard-issue mimosa somewhat pedestrian, with its complicated champagney-ness overwhelmed by its sweet, viscous juiciness.
To our mind, it needs something herbal, something savoury, and something acidic. Give this a whirl.
- 1 bottle of champagne or sparkling wine (budget dependent)
- 4 oranges
- 1 lemon
- Dash of bitters
- Rosemary sprig
- 1.Because you’re an epicurean and wouldn’t dream of buying juice that’s been boiled at super-high temperatures thus ruining its flavour, squeeze four oranges to make some juice.
- 2.Take your tallest, fanciest champagne flute and fill it half with fizzy wine, half with OJ. Squeeze a small amount of lemon juice over the mixture — you don’t need much as your oranges are already acidic.
- 3.Roll your sprig of rosemary around in your hand, bruising the leaves to release some of its delicious oils. Add a few drops of bitters (Australian, if you can find them), then swizzle the entire concoction with your rosemary sprig. Swig.
A glass of ice-cold low-alcohol beer can still be refreshing on a hot day.(ABC Life: Tim Grey)
It’s mandatory to complain about how mid-strength beer has ruined cricket. But from Cricket Australia’s point of view, you can understand the preference fewer naked punters sprinting onto the pitch to vomit all over Pat Cummins (however an appropriate response to the state of the game that may be.)
The shocking truth is that alcohol-free beer has come a long way.
Alcohol-free beers are defined as anything less than 0.5 per cent ABV, which, for contrast, is about as much booze as you’ll find in a ripe banana (true).
They’re made exactly the same way as “normal” beer, but by using a variety of methods known only to wizards (fine, and chemical engineers), alcohol is distilled out of the fermented beer.
And unlike “real” beer, “pretend” beer may actually be good for you. A study by the Technical University of Munich found runners drinking alcohol-free beer were 3.25 less likely to suffer respiratory tract infections, and had less soreness and inflammation compared to a control group.
The only problem I can see with these increasingly tasty alcohol-free beers is their effect on Australian cricket culture, and the rude awakening we may be in for if we actually watch the Boxing Day Test.
There’s a concoction to suit every taste.(ABC Life: Tim Grey)
If you’re someone who in the past has looked sniffily down their nose at the aunt who splashes soda into a half-glass of wine while insisting “it’s how the Romans do it!” — take a deep breath.
Sparkling water is entirely neutral in flavour, and will only make a great wine subtly stretched, the way a long black can open up the characters in espresso or a highball will highlight the herbal, spicy notes in whisky (with the added benefit of fizz!).
Taking a relatively low-alcohol wine such as Riesling or Grüner Veltliner and topping it off with soda will take you down to about 0.75 of a standard drink.
Aromatic whites are the best choice for this kind of fizzy action: head toward the Semillon, the Riesling, the Rosé, the Pinot Gris. You could even give it a go with Soave or Albarino if you’re game. I don’t think it’d be so hot with your more oily whites like Chardonnay, but again: do whatever floats your boat.
If you want to see a sommelier faint, however, try ordering some Bordeaux and bubbling it up.
- ¼ glass wine of choice
- ¾ glass fizzy water
- 1.Take wine. Apply to glass until quarter full.
- 2.Either fizz water yourself, or purchase water pre-fizzed. Apply to glass also. Drink heartily.
Pro tip: If you want to put ice cubes in your wine, more power to you. It’ll subdue the more complex flavours in said wine, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be either delicious or, more importantly, pleasurable.
It’s easy to look sophisticated with vermouth in your glass.(ABC Life: Tim Grey)
Vermouth never gets the respect it deserves. It’s the kind of drink that sits at the back of the liquor cabinet, only coming out when a high-falutin’ dinner guest orders a martini. But the stuff is magical.
It’s perfumed and savoury, combining the fresh fruitiness of wine with the subtle esters and polyphenols found in spirits (translation: flavour).
First concocted by the Chinese around three thousand years ago, vermouth is essentially wine fortified with bark, roots, herbs, or whatever else you’ve got laying around.
Its versatility is part of the reason this stuff should be celebrated: when we talk about terroir, we’re referring to the flavour of a particular place. With wine, that particular place is expressed by two ingredients only: grapes and yeast.
The most famous vermouths come from France and Italy, and they’re the ones you’ll find in your big box bottleshops. But Australia has a small but vibrant industry of small-scale producers making excellent local vermouth, using native ingredients such as wattleseed, strawberry gum, river mint and sea parsley.
Take this as gentle advice or a direct instruction: buy Australian vermouth.
Most vermouth rings in at somewhere between 16-18 per cent ABV. In other words, slightly more alcohol than wine. But because its flavours are so complex, you won’t want a schooner of it.
Good vermouth is best consumed like a sipping whisky, usually on the rocks. But it’s also incredibly delicious with a splash of mineral water and an orange wedge. So to be the most sophisticated (and contented) punter at your next garden party, rock up with a picnic rug, a bottle of this business in an esky full of ice, a pocket knife and your citrus of choice.
There are national guidelines that aim to reduce your risk of harm from alcohol. These recommend that healthy men and women drink no more than two standard drinks on any day (to reduce your risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime), and drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion (to reduce your risk of alcohol-related injury on that occasion).
Most of us have been in this situation before: we arrive at cocktail hour, only to realize we’re hungry. Maybe we’re coming off of a long stressful workday that didn’t afford us the time for an afternoon snack, or we’re saving our appetites for a dinner we’ve got planned later that night. Either way, our bellies are growling right now, and while a drink is always a treat, consuming booze when you haven’t yet eaten is always a little risky.
Here are five of our favorite beverages for drinking on an empty stomach, ones that are relatively low in alcohol and won’t leave you woozy, and can even help to temper without fully quenching your appetite.
Campari and Soda
Bitter liqueurs such as Campari draw their flavors from a variety of herbal sources, but generally, the bitterness comes from such ingredients as quinine, gentian, and similar herbs. Campari and soda is a popular, easy-going drink in Europe, and is quickly catching on as a light pre-dinner drink in the States.
This cocktail is a mix of Aperol bitter liqueur, Prosecco, and club soda. Similar to Campari but a little sweeter, Aperol offers a unique taste since its derived from a mix of herbs and roots. Low in alcohol, this is a perfect aperitif to consume before heading off to dinner.
One of Britain’s best contributions to the drinking world, this classic fruit cooler is both refreshing and sophisticated. It’s very popular as a summer drink, along with Champagne, it’s the official drink of Wimbledon, and it has a relatively low alcohol content, so you can enjoy a couple of tall cool ones while still remaining clear-headed.
A shandy is a blend of beer and either fruit juice or soda. It’s light on alcohol and very refreshing, providing you with the full taste of beer while undercutting the heaviness.
Vermouth and Soda
Vermouth and soda is a classic low-alcohol, yet delicious drink, thanks to Vermouth’s complexity. Like Campari and soda, it’s long been enjoyed throughout Europe, and it’s time that more of us caught on to it as well! It works well with both white and red Vermouth, so simply pick the flavors you enjoy more.
9 Low-Booze Cocktails to Drink in Bars This Month
In light of the recent events of 2016, starting 2017 off sans alcohol seems absurd. Sure, cutting back makes sense, but a dry January? Ha! Well, in the spirit of a new month and year, a little change is in order, like a cocktail that’s lower in alcohol but still packs the proverbial punch. Look for winter spritzs, warm punches and a lot of fortified wine. Check out these nine low-ABV cocktails, all found on bar menus now, in a city near you.
Can’t make it to any of the bars serving these great low-ABV drinks? Try making the Grasshopper at home.
1. Nan’s A Doctor (Up & Up, New York City)
Made with Amaro Meletti, amaretto liqueur, crème de mure, lime cordial and seltzer, this low-proof cocktail is one of a few served at this subterranean Greenwich Village cocktail den. Amaro Meletti is an excellent digestif, but this drink is just right any time.
2. Stop Short (Le Farfalle, Charleston, S.C.)
The creation of Le Farfalle bartender and partner Brad Goocher, the Stop Short is a combination of Cynar, Cocchi Americano aperitivo, lemon juice and simple syrup. He muddles two orange wedges in a shaker tin, adds the rest and shakes and pours it into an ice-filled highball glass, then tops the drink with soda and garnishes it with an orange half moon.
3. Partisan (Easy Bistro & Bar, Chattanooga, Tenn.)
A fitting drink for the south, the Partisan is made with Cathead pecan vodka, Dolin Rouge sweet vermouth, lime and turbinado squash syrup. Bartender Brandy Cross’ cocktail is sweet but well-balanced and pretty to boot.
4. Police Action (Chao Chao, New York City)
At the new East Village Vietnamese eatery, it’s not all banana leaves and banh mi. Mixologist Tom Richter has created an array of cocktails made with sherry, beer, wine and sake. The Police Action is notable addition to the list, made with blueberry wine cordial, shochu, blueberries, lime, mint and sparkling sake.
5. Ghost of Cape Aperitif (Jazz, TX, San Antonio)
At Jazz, TX, a live music venue in San Antonio, bar manager Derik Cortez has a drink menu that’s as varied as the featured music (jazz, blues, big band, Texas swing, salsa, conjunto and Americana). The Ghost of Cape Aperitif is made with Capertif (a sweet wine similar to Lillet Blanc), Peychaud’s bitters and cava. Cortez tops the drink with an herbal foam (the base of which is made with steeped butterfly pea tea and Earl Grey tea plus juniper berries and thyme) and an orange peel for garnish.
6. Belcampo Spritz (Belcampo, Santa Monica, Calif.)
(image: Lauren di Matteo)
Los Angeles barman Josh Goldman may have had Angelenos in mind when coming up with this low-proof libation that’s friendly for year-round days of alfresco drinking. The namesake spritz is made with amber vermouth, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, amontillado sherry, sparkling wine and soda water.
7. Cactus & A Rose (Big Star, Chicago)
Tacos and bourbon may be Big Star’s specialties, but this cocktail, created by bartender Laurent Lebec, is a standout. Sweet, tart and bubbly, it’s made with Corazón tequila reposado, house chai and ginger syrup, and fresh lime juice. It’s topped off with Ballast Point Brewing Company’s amber ale and garnished with a lime wheel.
8. Penn’s Port Punch (The Wild Son, New York City)
(image: Robert Cesaro)
On The Wild Son’s drink menu, filled with low-ABV drinks, it feels appropriate to opt for a warm drink this time of year, and Penn’s Port Punch is where it’s at. It’s made with Lustau East India solera sherry, fino sherry, apple cider vinegar and demerara sugar infused with allspice and topped with nutmeg. The bar team recommends making a hot batch and serving it out of a Crock-Pot for parties.
9. First Tuesday in November (Acorn, Denver)
As fitting for mid-February as it is for early November, this nod to the start of winter is a creation of Acorn’s co-owner and beverage director, Bryan Dayton. He uses St. George Bruto Americano aperitivo, Aperol, Punt e Mes and orange bitters to create this toasty drink that’ll warm anyone up fast.
It’s fun to have a drink even if you’re not trying to get totally inebriated. Drinks with low alcohol content can be smart choices for keeping a mellow buzz—and they’re often more palatable, too. The key is to look for drink bases like vermouth, bitter liqueurs and certain wines that have a low alcohol by volume (ABV). Add some low-calorie mixers and interesting garnishes to create a light and refreshing cocktail.
The spritzer is a subtle and easy cocktail with an appealing flavor balance, perfect for sipping any time of day. The traditional recipe calls for wine, club soda and just a dash of lime or lemon, but there are lots of other options, many of which have European origins.
- Rivington Punch: Rosé wine (11 to 12 percent ABV), St-Germain (an elderflower-flavored French liqueur), framboise (French for raspberry), Aperol and club soda.
- Rosé All Day: Rose wine, Cocchi Americano (an Italian aperitif wine), papaya shrub, lemon juice and club soda.
You probably won’t find vermouth on wine lists even though it’s essentially a fortified wine. Often consumed as an aperitif, it has around 20 percent ABV; but once combined with other ingredients, a vermouth-based drink packs only around 8 percent ABV.
- The Americano: 1 1/2 ounces each of sweet vermouth and Campari (a bitter Italian aperitif), and 3 ounces of club soda.
- Marseilles Can You See: French white vermouth, pastis (a licorice-flavored French spirit), 1/2 ounce of orange juice, and 1/4 ounce of lime juice.
If you’re a beer fan looking to cut ABV, shandies may be the answer. They combine beer with different juices and spices to cut higher-alcohol brews to as little as half the ABV. Shandies are also incredibly versatile with regard to possible mixers and garnishes. The traditional shandy mixes beer with lemonade, but the options are endless.
- Shandygaff: Citrus soda mixed with lager.
- Michelada Gingembre: IPA-style beer with lemon-lime soda, ginger juice, simple syrup, hot sauce and sea salt.
Sparkling wines, usually around 12 percent ABV, are excellent bases for low-alcohol drinks, and they can be deliciously diluted.
- Mimosa: Champagne mixed with orange juice.
- Bellini: Champagne mixed with peach purée.
- Prosecco Punch: A mix of fruit juices, prosecco and ginger ale.
Champagne can also be mixed with other fruit juices and nectars like cherry juice, mango nectar and mandarin juice.
Bitter liqueurs are another low-alcohol option. The most recognizable bitter liqueur in North America is probably Campari. It’s bottled at 24 percent ABV, but once combined with other ingredients, it can mellow to as low as 5 or 6 percent ABV. Campari and soda is a popular drink in Europe—and with two ingredients only, it’s obviously very easy to make.
With summer comes the promise of day drinking: at the beach, at a cookout, on your front porch. And for day drinking—especially in the heat—you’re going to want a cocktail that’s light on the booze. Save your Old Fashioneds and Negronis for fall; summer is all about low ABV (alcohol by volume) drinks. We asked a few bartenders to share their favorites to get your summer started off right.
A.K.A. beer cut with something non-alcoholic. They’re often made with lemonade, but Jeff Hammett of Guild in Austin makes a shandy with wheat beer, fresh lime juice, and grapefruit juice. “It goes a long way on a hot summer day.” It’s also a great way to doctor up a beer you might not be crazy about drinking straight.
The spritz is a classic: a bit of booze, a bit of prosecco (or whatever sparkling wine you’ve got), a bit of club soda over ice. Yamilet Covarrubias of CostaBaja Resort in La Paz, Mexico explains the drink’s “popularity relies on its freshness and low level of alcohol.” Kristin Lozano of Sawyer Hotel in Sacramento likes the classic Aperol spritz, but she’s also got a soft spot for making them with Lillet Blanc: “it’s especially nice if you’ve been hitting the barbecue and poolside junk food too hard.”
This classic combo of Campari, sweet vermouth, and club soda can be a little hard to order at a bar, notes Andrew Woodley of The Street Food Hall in Waikiki, “especially if they have an espresso machine.” But it’s a low-ABV wonder. Gabriele Guidoni of Bond 45 in New York likes it, too, calling it “a classic Italian aperitif.”
This super-versatile cocktail is “essentially a Sherry Manhattan,” says Chris Resnick of Minnow Bar in Miami. Jeff Cleveland of The Rowan in Palm Springs agrees, calling it “an elegant drink”: “Plus you can try it with different sherries and vermouths, so it becomes different every time.”
And, finally, a classic for the gin fans. Suwadee “Pink” Petchamnan of Banyan Tree Phuket knows a thing or two about hot weather drinks, and for something low-ABV she can’t beat a Tom Collins: “It doesn’t hide too much of the natural aromas of the gin. You can easily have more than one glass, and with almost any meal. It’s also quite refreshing.” We’ll drink to that.
It’s easy to underestimate liquid calories. They’re unassuming and difficult to track—so before you know it, you’ve guzzled 1,000 calories in the span of happy hour.
In fact, your social drinking could be the lifestyle factor standing between you and six-pack abs.
“If you want to save calories while drinking—and yes, this sounds ridiculous—but choose what you don’t love,” says Keri Gans, M.S., a registered dietitian, nutritionist, and writer. “Think: What are you going to drink less of if you’re trying to cut calories?”
So maybe you’re not a scotch drinker. Instead of slugging back three beers, opt for one glass of Laphroaig—it’ll save you the calories in the long run.
“We’re so concerned with the portion size of our food, but portion is the biggest issue when it comes to drinking too many calories,” Gans adds.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, standard U.S. drink sizes are 12oz of 5% ABV beer, 5oz of 12% ABV wine, 8oz of 7% malt liquor, and 1.5oz of 40% (80-proof) liquor. So, with these amounts in mind, read through our guidline on drinking to keep your physique in check. And if you’re not keen on drinking something you don’t love, at least opt for the healthier options we’ve outlined.
“One 5oz serving of wine is about 123 calories for both red and white, give or take,” Gans says. So technically you can say that wine has fewer calories per houce than hard alcohol (we’re getting to liquor’s specifics in a bit). But you’re not going to sip on a shot of Chardonnay all night, are you? Exactly. Here’s what wine drinkers need to know:
Pay Attention to Alcohol Content
Wine can range from 100 to 150 calories, depending on the alcohol content (9-17% ABV). Aim for an ABV that’s lower on the spectrum, somewhere between 9–12%, since the amount of alcohol is what’s influencing the number of calories.
Realize Whites and Reds Are Comparable in Calories (when the alcohol content is the same)
You’ll read that whites tend to be slightly lower in calories. According to the USDA and Gans, they’re very similar, but whites tend to be lower in alcohol than reds, so that can account for varying calories:
Something else to keep in mind: rosé (a sweeter wine) comes in at about 130 and champagne has about 96 calories per 5oz.
But Red Wine Does Have Its Benefits…
Harvard Medical School researchers confirmed resveratrol, a compound found in red wine (or, more specifically, the skin of grapes), promotes longevity and blocks diseases by boosting cells’ energy production. One study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found people who drank 8-14 glasses of wine per week may reduce their risk of catching a cold by up to 60 percent; and the findings were stronger in men and women who drank red. And another study published in the American Heart Association Journal discovered alcohol increases levels of good cholesterol when consumed in moderation, and can diminish your risk of heart disease by 30 percent.
The higher the alcohol content, the higher a drink’s calories climb. So, if you’re out to dinner and want to enjoy just a beer (as in singular, one, uno), then splurging on your favorite brew is fine. If you’re out at a bachelor party or drinking your way through a nasty breakup, then you might want to do your physique a favor and opt for light beers that are lower in alcohol.
“I recommend beer, actually,” Gans says. “You know exactly what you’re getting, calorie-wise.” Actually, the four top brewers—Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors, Constellation Brands, and Heineken—have all agreed to add nutrition labels to their bottles by 2020; so, 80 percent of American-produced beer will have calories, carbs, protein, fat, alcohol content, even a freshness date and ingredients on display.
Of course, some guys might argue that those found-in-every-bar-and-gas-station light beers aren’t going to taste as good as beers higher in alcohol. In some cases, you’re right. But that could also be because you just have the mindset light beers will taste like you’re sipping on liquid cardboard. Experiment and find ones you like.
Be Wary of Craft Beers
Craft beer may be more appealing, but it’s higher in alcohol and can pack hundreds of calories. Some of the worst offenders:
Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA: 540 calories and 50g carbs (18% ABV)
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Ale: 330 calories and 32g carbs (9.6% ABV)
Sam Adams Imperial White: 321 calories and 28g carbs (10.30% ABV)
But, say you want some craft beers that won’t wreck your body. Try these eight.
If you’re day drinking (or in it for the long-haul at night), opt for these six lower-calorie, lower-alcohol brews.
Looking for a beer to drink post-workout to lower inflammation? We’ve got 12 that fit the bill—from refreshing brewskis to ones low-in-alcohol and big-on-flavor.
Trying to find a flavor-packed session beer that has a moderate alcohol content? These six hover around 160-200 calories.
When It Comes to Beer on Tap
“The size of the glass is everything,” Gans says. “Pilsner glasses tend to be smaller and pint glasses are bigger.” Sure, you’re probably tempted to go for the Oktoberfest Das Boot vessel—but that’s a huge amount of beer. Some pilsner glasses start around 7oz; beer mugs are about 10oz, as are goblets; steins can be anywhere from 12-16oz. Be mindful of how much you’re actually drinking if you’re trying to watch calories.
Be Careful With Hard Cider
Most brands are loaded with sugar (some can contain 7 teaspoons of sugar), so opt for low-sugar varieties or ones that are dry (they have less sugar and a higher alcohol content). Just know cider will have, for the most part, more sugar and carbs than beer.
“If it’s gin, vodka, rum, whiskey, or scotch, an ounce is 64 calories for 80% proof and 80 calories for 100% proof,” Gans says.
Make It Neat or On the Rocks
Both clear and dark liquor are pretty close in calories; as with wine, it’s a myth that they differ, she explains. But it’s always healthiest (lowest in calories) to drink your liquor neat (served with no water, without being chilled, or served over ice or any other mixer), with a splash of water, or on the rocks (over ice). You’ll keep your calories down.
MIXED DRINKS + COCKTAILS
“Most of the calories from cocktails comes from the size of the drink and what we put in it; otherwise, they start off pretty comparable in calories,” Gans says. Problem is, cocktails also come in a huge variety of glasses. Calories can vary tremendously. But follow these guidelines for ordering at a bar:
Be Mindful When Choosing a Mixer
The best mixers are obviously ones that don’t provide any extra calories. “Seltzer and club soda are by far the best, hands down,” Gans says. “Add a squeeze of lemon or lime, or throw in a wedge of either for a burst of flavor. Tonic may seem healthy, but it has added sugar, so it’s a step below.” Diet sodas aren’t too bad.
Only Add a Splash of Juice
Juices are sugar bombs. “There’s nothing wrong with a splash of cranberry or orange; but a juice-heavy drink is going to set you back,” Gans says.
Never Opt for Pre-Made Mixes
These packs are convenient, but they’re also loaded with sodium and sugar. Margaritas on the rocks aren’t too bad for you if they’re made from scratch; anything else will cause a steep rise in calories. If you can’t control what a bartender is using, opt for a simple drink, like a vodka soda.
Forget Anything Frozen
Anything blended with ice—mudslides, margaritas, rocket fuels—is typically high in calories because frozen mixed drinks tend to be served in goblet-sized glasses and sometimes made with store-bought mixes.
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The Healthiest Drinks You Can Order at the Bar:
Glass of wine
Glass of champagne
Scotch on the rocks with a splash of water
Rum and diet coke
If You Want “Specialty” Drinks, Try:
Margarita on the rocks
Vodka martini with a twist
Gin martini with cucumber
If You’re Making Your Own at Home, Make These Tweaks:
Use fresh tomato juice, not a pre-made mix. Opt for low-sodium tomato juice with no added sugars. Squeeze in lemon juice, a shot of vodka, some horseradish, and other veggies, and you’re basically eating a boozy salad.
Use agave instead of simple syrup. Muddle lime and fresh mint. Add rum, club soda, and a half-teaspoon of agave for added sweetness.
Combine tequila with fresh lime juice and serve over ice. Salt the rim if you wish.
Stray from anything creamy or super-sweet like cosmos and green apple martinis. Go with the classic: vodka or gin mixed with dry vermouth.
Gin and Tonic
Skip the corn syrup-laden tonic water. Mix gin with club soda and, if you want some sweetness, a splash of tonic.
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It’s hard to keep up with the headlines about alcohol. There was a study in The Lancet in August 2018 that came to the conclusion that there’s no safe limit and yet many studies have shown that moderate amounts of alcohol help prevent heart disease.
What is certain is that as a country we are drinking less. Rather belatedly, the drinks industry seems to have noticed that there is a large market for adult soft drinks. A few years ago a non-alcoholic drink festival would have been the punchline to a joke, but October’s Glasgow Mindful Drinking Festival shows just how quickly the category has grown. So we thought this would be the perfect time to have a closer look at what is on offer in the way of zero or low-alcohol beers, wines and aperitifs.
First the good news: low and non-alcoholic beers have improved dramatically, and though not identical to their full strength cousins, many are delicious drinks in their own right. With wine, however, things don’t look so rosy. Very few passed the ‘second glass’ test. The final category was a mixed bag with some excellent (if sweet) adult soft drinks as well as the new non-alcoholic distilled drink category, which I am not convinced by.
Before we get stuck in, don’t forget there are a few tried and tested homemade non-alcoholic classics such as lime and soda made with a mixture of fresh lime and Rose’s lime cordial, or just tonic water with splash of bitters (yes, it contains alcohol but you only need a drop) and a slice of lemon.
Best non-alcoholic beers
Some of these really impressed me and are likely to become regulars in our house. Low-alcohol beers can be made in two ways: some are brewed using special yeasts and low sugar malt to produce very little alcohol; whereas others have the alcohol removed. Alcohol doesn’t just affect you physically, it also provides functions as a vehicle for flavour and provides texture. To compensate for the lack of mouthfeel brewers can add sweetness – some of the big brand 0% lagers tasted of popcorn – or turn up the hops. The latter can work to an extent, but bitter hops without the warmth of alcohol can quickly get too much.
The best non-alcoholic and low-alcohol beers
This was a real surprise – fresh and clean with no sweetness or strange flavours, and tastes very much like the alcoholic version. It contains about 1 gram of sugar per 100ml, which is less than some full-strength lagers. It’s the best of the big brands and I’d buy again. We tested it in cans but it’s also available in bottles.
Available from Amazon (£39.99 for 24 cans)
Gadds’ No 11 (1.2%)
I’m cheating a bit here as No 11 contains 1.2% alcohol, but it has to be my favourite beer in the test. Brewed by Ramsgate Brewery, this is a pale ale with lots of zingy citrus hops flavour, but not too much. Thanks to that tiny amount of alcohol, you do have some body.
Available from Beer Zoo (£2.40 for 330ml can)
Erdinger Alcohol Free 0.5%
This has that characteristic banana smell that you get in a wheat beer. It’s certainly sweet but carries the sugar really well, especially if drunk with ice and a slice of lemon. Erdinger is widely available, so it’s a good friend if you’re driving to the pub.
Buy from Tesco (£1.30 for 500ml bottle)
Big Drop Stout 0.5%
Lots of stout character on the nose with notes of malt, dark chocolate and coffee, and nice and bitter on the palate with just enough sweetness to balance. This brewery is a master of low-alcohol beer, and their pale ale is also very good (for a low-alcohol beer).
Buy from Ocado (£1.30 for 330ml bottle)
The best low-ABV beer tried and tested
Best non-alcoholic wines
A word of warning: these wines are sweet, much sweeter than conventional wines. A normal off-dry white will have around 4-7 grams of residual sugar per litre, and many of these have the same amount per 100ml – not good if you’re trying to lose weight. They’re too sweet to cook with, too. Low or alcohol-free wines are made by creating a normal wine, removing the alcohol by using a spinning cone and then sweetening the resulting liquid with sugar or grape juice to give it some body. Many have a small amount of added flavouring in them, too. This was definitely the least satisfying category. The two that worked best were the prosecco and German riesling, perhaps because both are based on originals that are a) sweet and b) low alcohol. All prices are for 750ml bottles.
Rawson’s Retreat Cabernet
This is made by Australian wine giant Penfold’s. It has a dark spicy nose, and on the palate really tastes like wine, there’s some acidity, body and it’s not too sweet. Fades very fast though and then, poof, it’s gone. Less than 0.5% alcohol.
Buy from Tesco (£4)
Leitz Eins Zwei Zero Riesling
Smells a bit funny initially with some earthy notes on the nose, but on the palate it really tastes like a German riesling with peachy fruit and that characteristic blend of sweetness and acidity. This actually made me want another glass.
Buy from Waitrose Cellar (£6.99)
Torres Natureo Muscat
Along with Rawson’s, the Natureo range from Torres, one of Spain’s biggest producers, are probably the best widely available low-alcohol wines. This muscat is unashamedly sweet with notes of honey and flowers. It tasted best in a spritzer with ice and sparkling water.
Buy from Waitrose Cellar (£5.99)
Torres Natureo Rosé
This rosé from Torres is also pretty good. Again, there’s no doubt that it’s sweet (4.7g per 100ml) but the sweetness suits it and the finish isn’t at all cloying. If you like Mateus rosé (for those under 40, ask your parents), you’ll enjoy this.
Buy from Waitrose Cellar (£5.99)
Another very sweet one at 7g per 100ml but then again, most proseccos are sweet too and the taste isn’t confected. Give this to people ice cold and I’m not sure anyone would guess that it isn’t supermarket own-label prosecco. Great price, too.
Buy from Asda (£3)
Best non-alcoholic aperitifs
A whole new drinks category was created with the launch of Seedlip in 2015: non-alcoholic botanical drinks aimed at the gin drinker with packaging and pricing to match. These drinks cost the same as a premium gin but there’s no duty to pay. Apart from the outrageous prices, the other problem is, just as with beer, about transmission of flavour.
Without alcohol, too much botanical character will be aggressive but too little will be bland. I tried them all mixed with standard Fever Tree tonic water, ice and lemon, and two were completely overwhelmed by the tonic whereas one smelt like a granny’s boudoir. The ready-mixed adult fizzy drinks category is, for me, much more interesting. They do, however, tend to contain a lot of sugar and many are pretty pricey.
Square Root London non-alcoholic gin & tonic
Square Root is a company based in Hackney who make quality soft drinks from natural ingredients. There’s an ever-changing line-up including an excellent bitter Negroni-style drink. The G&T is in the core range and very good it is too – rather like a more natural-tasting version of Bitter Lemon with a mild juniper age.
Buy from Square Root (£1.80)
This was the best of the botanical drinks I tried. The botanicals, most noticeably cinnamon and orange, were strong and complex but not overpowering. When mixed with tonic water it made a harmonious and delicious drink. However, it’s pricey.
Buy from Wise Bartender (£28.49)
Jeffrey’s Yarrow, Rosehip and Elderflower tonic
This stuff is brilliant. It’s a syrup to make your own tonic, and you just add sparkling water. For me, it works brilliantly without gin. You can play around with lime juice, bitters and dilution to make a sort of cocktail. It comes in lots of different flavours, all distinctive and delicious.
Buy from Jeffrey’s Tonic (£7 for 250ml)
Thomas & Evans Sparkling Botanical Beverage
This functions a lot like a gin and tonic without tasting very much of gin or indeed tonic. It has strong distinctive grown-up flavours and doesn’t taste too sweet. A model for how to make an interesting soft drink aimed at adults.
Buy from Ocado (£2.55)
Shrb, lime and juniper
A shrub is a traditional drink that was popular in Victorian Britain and America, made by mixing fruit, spices etc with vinegar. This company has lots of flavours, but this is the one that will appeal to G&T drinkers. I drank it with ice and lemon, and loved the sweet and sour flavours.
Buy from Shrb (£29.00 for case of 12 bottles)
A great Aperol substitute. The flavour is halfway between child and adult tastes. Personally I would have preferred if it had a bit more bitter bite, but mixed with orange and grapefruit juice with lots of ice, it’s hard to resist.
Buy from Ocado (£2.55)
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This review was last updated in January 2020 If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at [email protected]
We’d love to hear about your favourite non-alcoholic buys. Share your suggestions in the comments below.
Low and Steady: Low-Alcohol Cocktails for Summer Day Drinking
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Summer is prime time for day drinking, but if you do it wrong, your whole afternoon will be wasted (in more ways than one). These low-alcohol drinks are perfect for sipping over many golden hours—and are a great choice for your Labor Day party if a cooler full of canned cocktails or spiked seltzer won’t cut it.
Drew Lazor wrote the 2018 book “Session Cocktails” and from his reporting, it’s clear we’re entering something of a golden age for low-alcohol cocktails. “Bars are offering more dedicated low-ABV sections on their cocktail menus than ever before,” says Lazor. Even nonalcoholic mocktails are gaining momentum. “Traditionally, here in America folks associate the value of a drink with its potency but that’s starting to change. Menus that do the legwork for the drinker help close that gap, encouraging us to step out of our routines and try new things.”
Related Reading: Everything You Need to Know About Mocktails
If you’re building a home bar to accommodate low-alcohol cocktails, Lazor suggests having a good bottle (or two) of vermouth on hand. “We’re quick to think of it as nothing more than an adjunct in a martini or Manhattan when it can just as easily be the star of a drink. There are some really cool American-made vermouths on the market nowadays, but I still think the best place to start is with a French brand like Dolin.”
Session Cocktails by Drew Lazor, $10.99 on Amazon
Low Alcohol Drinks for Any Occasion
When approaching low-ABV cocktails at home, “there is no hard-and-fast definition, but we worked off a few parameters in the book. First, use no more than 3/4 ounce of a strong spirit in your mix. This is generally enough to still feel the presence of the spirit in the glass, and you can make up the rest in lower-ABV additions.” Also, consider the style of the drink itself, says Lazor; “The spritz, collins, or kir royale formats, lengthened with sparkling wine or soda water, are such a natural fit for sessionability.”
Related Reading: Summer Spritz Recipes Are Fun, Bubbly, and Low-Alcohol
If you’re near Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Lazor recommends a stop at Nitecap where owner Natasha David has “always done an incredible job of showcasing and celebrating session cocktails.” And if not, here are a few low-ABV cocktail recipes to make at home this summer.
Sunny Day Real Estate
Recipe by Alex Day (originally published in Session Cocktails)
- 2 ounces dry vermouth like Dolin Dry
- 3/4 ounce raspberry syrup
- 1/2 ounce Aperol
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice
- soda water
Combine vermouth, raspberry syrup, Aperol, and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake until chilled. Strain into a collins glass with ice, top with soda water, and garnish with a lemon wheel.
- 2 slices of cucumber
- 1 ounce St. Elder elderflower liqueur
- 1/2 ounce lemon juice
- 1/2 ounce strawberry syrup
Muddle two slices of cucumber. Shake ingredients with ice. Double strain over ice in a collins glass. Top with seltzer.
Haus & Juice
- 1 ounce Haus (floral low alcohol spirit)
- 1 ounce fresh blood orange juice
- Splash of soda water
Build all ingredients in a cocktail glass and top with soda water. Garnish with blood orange wheel.
Seedlip Garden108 Non-Alcoholic Spirit, $37.50 on Amazon
Comparable to gin but without the booze.
Don Papa Rum
- 3/4 ounce Don Papa Rum
- 1 ounce Aperol
- 4 ounces Prosecco
- pinch sea salt
Combine rum, Aperol, and sea salt in a wine glass over ice. Stir until chilled, and top with Prosecco. Garnish with a roasted sprig of rosemary.
Italian White Wine Glasses, 4 for $22.99 on Amazon
For all your summer spritz needs!
Recipe from Sweet Liberty Drinks & Supply Company
- 1 ounce Aperol
- 3 ounces good Champagne like Champagne Ayala
- Soda water
Build in a wine glass with ice. Top with soda water
- 1 1/2 ounces KEEL light vodka
- 3 ounces ginger kombucha
- 1/4 ounce agave
- Squeeze of lemon
Build in a glass and serve over ice, stir and serve with a lime wheel.
Recipe by Nicolas Bennett (Cedric’s at The Shed)
Cedric’s at The Shed
- 2 1/2 ounces rosé like Domaine Zafeirakis Rosé
- 1/2 ounce Cinzano Dry Vermouth
- 3/4 ounce lime juice
- 1/2 ounce ginger syrup
- 1/4 ounce cane syrup
Shake ingredients and fine strain over pebble ice in a wine glass, topped with soda.
- 1 1/2 ounces KEEL light vodka
- 1 ounce pineapple juice
- 1/2 teaspoon matcha powder
- 3/4 ounce honey
- 1/2 ounce fresh lime
Combine all ingredients, shake, and strain over fresh ice into rocks glass. Garnish with a lime wheel.
Related Video: How to Use Fresh Herbs in Cocktails
Header image courtesy of Keel Vodka
Drinkaware is an independent charity working to reduce alcohol misuse and harm in the UK. We’re here to help people make better choices about drinking.
What counts as low-alcohol?
‘Low-alcohol drinks’ refers to drinks which have an ‘alcoholic strength by volume’ (ABV) of between 0.05 and 1.2%, whereas ‘reduced alcohol’ means a drink has an alcohol content lower than the average strength of a particular type of drink. This means that wine with an ABV strength of 5.5%, is a reduced alcohol wine, as opposed to a low-alcohol wine.
Why choose lower alcohol or non-alcoholic drinks?
Without realising it, the units of alcohol in your favourite drinks can quickly add up, taking you over the UK Chief Medical Officers’ (CMO) low risk drinking guidelines.
The guidelines advise:
- To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level it is safest not to drink more than 14 units a week on a regular basis.
- If you regularly drink as much as 14 units per week, it’s best to spread your drinking evenly over three or more days. If you have one or two heavy drinking episodes a week, you increase your risk of death from long-term illness and injuries.
- The risk of developing a range of health problems (including cancers of the mouth, throat and breast) increases the more you drink on a regular basis.
- If you wish to cut down the amount you drink, a good way to help achieve this is to have several Drink Free Days a week.
Choosing lower strength alternatives means (providing you drink the same number of drinks) you consume fewer units of alcohol and are more likely to stay within the guidelines.
The health benefits of switching to low alcohol or non-alcoholic drinks are clear. In the short term, you’re more likely to get a better night’s sleep; feel fresher in the morning and have a more productive day at work as a result. What’s more, some lighter products are lower in calories, so your waistline will thank you too.
Importantly, reducing the number of units you consume helps avoid the more serious long-term effects of drinking too much, including cancer, mental health problems, high blood pressure and heart disease.
When to choose lower alcohol drinks
Lower alcohol drinks can be a great way of cutting down on the amount you of drink at home or pacing yourself on a night out, helping to avoid the short term effects of drinking too much.
They can also form part of a sustainable approach to cutting down in the longer term. For example, if you regularly have a couple of glasses of wine after work, switching to a 5.5% wine instead of the usual 12-14% can more than halve the number of units you drink in an evening, making a huge difference over a week and reducing your risk of longer-term harm.
Find out simple strategies for cutting down on alcohol
Lower alcohol, high quality taste
The increase in demand for lighter, healthier drinks means there’s no shortage of options when it comes to high quality, lower strength wine and beer.
You can find ‘light’ wine, especially white, rosé and sparkling in all of the bigger supermarkets as well as lots of pubs and bars. There are also lots of lighter style reds on the market and keep an eye out for in-store promotions and new light ranges.
There’s also a growing range of lower alcohol beers on offer, with several citrus flavoured options.
Non-alcoholic and alcohol-free drinks
A non-alcoholic drink isn’t actually the same as an alcohol-free one.
As the name suggests, non-alcoholic drinks are those containing no alcohol at all. Drinks classified as ‘alcohol-free’ do contain a very small amount of alcohol but only at a strength of 0.05% or less.
Like lower alcohol drinks, alcohol-free and non-alcoholic wine and non-alcoholic beer are becoming more popular – and it’s not just for expecting mums and designated drivers.
Try these 5 delicious non-alcoholic mocktail recipes
Making a change
Introducing lower alcohol or non-alcoholic drinks to your routine is simple, and it doesn’t mean you have to stick to them all the time.
If you’re staying in, why not try switching to a lower alcohol alternative?
If you’re out and about, get into the habit of asking the bar staff which lower strength or non-alcoholic drinks they have. And check the percentage ABV of the house wine with your waiter before you order.
Learn how to cut down on alcohol when you’re out
So long as you don’t drink any more drinks than you were before, you may be surprised how easy it is to cut down a few units here and there. Then you can start enjoying the benefits of cutting down, such as getting a better night’s sleep or reducing your blood pressure.
To track your own drinking habits, download our free Drinkaware: Track and Calculate Units app or MyDrinkaware desktop tool.