ModCocktailer’s Guide to On-Premise Drinking (Drinking Outside Your Own Four Walls)

As I’m writing this, the Coronavirus has us firmly in its grip and there’s no end in sight. In anticipation of more widespread health and safer drinking-out conditions, I want to provide some suggestions for lower-carb, lower-sugar drinks you can order if and when you’re ready to brave the bars again. How can you keep the sugar at bay without pissing off the bartender with your myriad requirements?

Shots and Highballs

As you may know by now, most hard liquor has no carbs. Zero. So you’re welcome to have a shot of liquor straight, on the rocks, or with a splash of water if that’s your jam. Just don’t forget that liquor still has calories AND that your tolerance for alcohol will most likely be lower if you’re eating very few carbs. Watch yourself!

Some tips and gotchas:

  1. The liquors with no carbs include brandy, gin, rum, tequila, vodka, whiskey…and more.
  2. Watch out for sweeter or flavored liquors. Sometimes they are completely fine (like Ketel One Botanical vodka—the grapefruit rose flavor is my favorite), and sometimes they have added sugar (like some sweet tea vodkas). If you’re not sure, do a quick check online.
  3. Watch out for liqueurs like amaretto, Irish cream, Campari, Frangelico, Kahlúa, St-Germain, Sambuca and so forth. They tend to be full of sugar and thus carbs.

Cocktails

If you’re not the straight-liquor type, the good news is that there are a lot of cocktail options which are already lower in carbs:

  1. Just about any hard liquor and plain soda water. I often have my Grapefruit Rose Ketel One Botanical vodka tall, with soda. I ask them to muddle lime in it, too, for added tartness. I consider this my personal version of hydrating…but seriously, drink some water with your cocktails as you go. It may slow you down and keep you in the game longer.
  2. Just about any hard liquor and diet soda. Pretty much every bar will have plain soda water and diet cola. If you like a rum and cola, just substitute the diet version. Get your pirate on!
  3. Scratch margarita on the rocks, with very little simple syrup/agave syrup/Cointreau or whatever sweet thing they’re putting in it: you should just be getting the tequila and lime juice, with a tiny splash of sweetener. Better yet, if you find that you can do without the sweetener at all, just the tequila and lime make a smashing margarita.
  4. A martini, with your preference of vodka or gin. This is mostly hard liquor, with a splash of low-carb vermouth. If you like olives, there’s some extra fat in it for you.
  5. An Old Fashioned, again making sure they keep the simple syrup or other sweetener to a minimum. And no cherry.

Stay away from the other mixers:

  1. Tonic water, for example, is as sugary as any other sweetened, carbonated drink. I’m sorry! But you can make a Gin & Tonic at home, with sugar-free tonic.
  2. Juices are a non-starter. Even the “low-sugar” options are packed with carbs. For example, grapefruit juice doesn’t seem all that sweet, but it contains almost 3 carbs per OUNCE. You usually get a lot more than an ounce in your mixed drinks. For fruity flavors in your drink, choose a fruity-flavored, no-sugar-added vodka and top it with soda water.
  3. Don’t drink anything they have mixed up before, like sour mix, buttered rum mix, or margarita mix. These will likely be full of sugar.

Beer

Beer is a toughie. There are low-carb beers out there (you’ve seen them on TV), so if you prefer beer just keep track of your carbs. For me, there is no low-carb beer worth drinking, so I have all but stopped drinking it. Just a taster or two if I’m out at a new microbrewery.

Check online if you’re not sure how many carbs are in your favorite beer, then order away!

Hard Seltzer

If you like a fruity, carbonated beverage these are for you. They are incredibly popular now, so you’ll see a lot of choices out there. They tend to range from 0 – 3 grams of carb per can, but you’ll want to double-check before drinking.

My favorites so far are San Juan, White Claw, and SeekOut, but there are so many I haven’t tried. I tend to like all of my drinks on the dry side, so if you like a sweeter-tasting seltzer you might prefer different brands.

Wine

Wine is all over the place in terms of carb count, but here are some rough carb counts for the ones which are on the lower side (measured in grams per 5-ounce serving):

  1. Dry champagne or dry prosecco: 2.5
  2. Pinot grigio/pinot gris: 3.0
  3. Sauvignon blanc: 3.0
  4. Chardonnay: 3.1
  5. Pinot noir: 3.4
  6. Syrah/shiraz: 3.7
  7. Cabernet sauvignon: 3.8
  8. Zinfandel: 4.2
  9. Riesling: 5.0
  10. Rosé: 5.0

Put that dessert wine down, Karen. You’ll thank me later.