How dry I am...
Ah, New Year's Resolutions. It's the bane of a booze columnist's existence. For many of us, January is a time for replacing our usual Manhattan with something a little less boozy and a lot less caloric, but still satisfying. Now there's nothing as satisfying as bourbon, but January may be the best time for exploring some other booze options, or even drinks with no booze in them at all.
How dry I am...
Let's start with the no booze options. If cutting calories is your ultimate goal, be careful not to rely on sugary drinks as a replacement for booze. If you still want something with complex flavor, look to things like citrus, cucumber and herbs. Try this: Muddle some cucumber and basil in a glass. Add a little simple syrup. Fill with ice and top with sparkling water. Garnish with a cucumber wheel or sprig of basil.
Concentrated fruit syrups have a lot of flavor without too many calories. A splash or two added to sparkling water makes an instant refreshing drink. You can find high quality syrups at ChefShop or DeLaurenti. I'm particularly smitten with the lingonberry and elderflower syrups sold at IKEA. Fruit syrups are easy enough to make at home--just boil some fruit, sugar and water. Reduce down, strain and chill. For more complex syrups and processes, the cocktail academy Swig Well is offering DIY syrup classes for $45 this weekend. From 1-2 p.m. on Saturday, January 7 and Sunday January 8, bartender Anu Apte will teach the difference between hot process and cold process syrups as well as her golden syrup ratio.
Shrubs are a light, vinegary, fruit syrup that can also be added to soda or water for a refreshing cocktail alternative. Sometimes referred to as drinking vinegars, these syrups are a great way to preserve the fruit of the season. We don't have a lot of fruit in season now, but frozen fruit works fine too. I like this simple recipe on the cooklocal.com food blog.
Local entrepreneur Sharelle Klaus, created DRY Soda in 2005 because she longed for interesting alcohol-free options at fine restaurants. Her line of all-natural sodas offer complex flavors such as lavender, blood orange, rhubarb, and juniper, with just 45-70 calories per bottle. "I'm most proud of the lavender flavor we created," says Klaus. "It was the most difficult to get right, but it pairs well with food, especially chocolate." Klaus suggests mixing the vanilla bean flavored DRY with orange juice for a mock-mimosa. She also mixes the lavender flavor DRY with Campari for a simple cocktail. While training for a marathon last year, she cut out alcohol for three months, but still wanted a special drink. She drank lots of DRY, but still made it special by serving it in a champagne flute, often with a simple garnish, like an orange wheel or citrus twist.
If you are allowing yourself a little bit of alcohol, consider bitters. These concentrated, potent elixirs pack a flavorful punch in just a few low-calorie drops. Scrappy's Bitters founder Miles Thomas recommends adding Scrappy's chocolate bitters to sparkling water and simple syrup for a sweet treat. There are so many bitters on the market these days and just adding a few drops to sparkling water offers a nice way to explore various bitters and flavors. Even a few drops of old standby Angostura makes a refreshing drink.
Many cocktail enthusiasts turn their noses up at vodka, but if you are trying to reduce the calories in your drink, replacing whiskey or rum with vodka is a good start. There are many interesting, locally produced vodkas on the market today, such as Skip Rock potato vodka, made in Snohomish. Consider this a good time to explore what artisanal vodka has to offer. Of course mixing vodka with sugary juices will defeat the purpose, but you could throw in a splash of vermouth or even just a dash of bitters to make for something a little more flavorful.
Another low-calorie spirit to consider exploring is shochu. Most spirits contain about 100 calories in an ounce and a half. The same amount of shochu only has around 30 calories. Shochu is distilled from a variety of starchy ingredients high in natural sugar, like rice, barley, or sweet potatoes. Most of it is only around 50 proof though, making it easy to pair with foods and mix into cocktails.
For all you winos, white wine is definitely the lesser of two evils. A 5-ounce glass has around 120 calories, while the same amount of red wine has roughly 130 calories. Some sparkling wines have even fewer calories. So if you are still allowing yourself some wine, consider bubbly. Don't want to open an entire bottle? These caps do a good job of retaining the bubbles for a couple of days. You can also find many great sparklers in splits, or 375 milliliter bottles. And of course there are always these little pink cans of Sofia Coppola bubbly from California.
I don't even want to talk about beer, because it will make me cry. Most IPAs and other flavorful, rich and delicious beers are so calorie-laden they are eschewed on nearly every diet. And LIGHT beer...well, I'd honestly rather drink no beer at all. Summertime brings around some great session beers that are just around 4% alcohol, making them lower in calories, but let's face it--by summer you will have long ago forgotten your New Year's resolutions.