"Skinny" isn't Sexy

by Lindsay Nader

There's been a recent boom in demand for low calorie drinks within the world of craft cocktails. It began with beers like Miller Light hitting the market as early as the 70's, and diet beverage alternatives such as Crystal Light, which made its debut in 1982. Since then the category has massively expanded, bleeding its way into craft cocktails. I'd like to address two aspects regarding this boom; preservation of the craft within aggressive marketing and mentality of diet beverage consumers.

Yes, "Skinny" or "Low Calorie" cocktails are currently en vogue, thanks to the likes of celebrity trash, i.e. Bravo Network's anorexic darling, Bethenny Frankel. David Granger for Esquire Magazine had this to say about her bottled product Skinny Girl Margarita: "Say the cute little four-year-old down the block made a bowl of lemonade but instead of sugar used Splenda and instead of lemons used lemon flavoring and put it in a big bowl filled with ice and set it in the sun so all the ice melted and the ‘lemonade’ got kind of hot and she got bored and went inside and a Labrador retriever came along and lapped some up and then stuck his head in the bowl and got the stuff all up in his nose and sneezed uncontrollably into the bowl for a while. That's what it tastes like. On ice".

If this sounds good to you and you want to see more of the like of this product infiltrating the market, then by all means order a Skinny Girl Margarita. You just helped Bethenny make $120 million. If you think that you can get away with consuming booze without consuming calories, girl, you are like, so totally wrong. Do your homework. There are roughly 100 calories in a shot (1.5 oz) of any 80 proof distillate and as the proof increases, so do the energy units. No matter how you mix it, alcohol = empty calories. Cry me a river.

Psssst. Ladies, a Whiskey, Rum, or Vodka neat has the same or fewer calories than a Skinny Margarita. A spirit neat says "Hey, you can have a conversation with me about stuff." A Skinny Margarita says "I'm super self-conscious and simultaneously vain." But I digress...

So what are the primary target demographics for brand marketing behind Skinny/Low Calorie/Low Carb drinks? I'd say dieters, of course. Women between the ages of 16 to 60 and men in their early twenties and up who watch sports. Miller Brewing Co. has made the latter category its bitch. Since the 1970's they've had it on lock, using professional male athletes to promote the idea that you don't have to sacrifice machismo to drink light or low carb beer.

Dan Dunn, "The Imbiber," is divided on the subject. On women, he says, "I'm all for the low-cal cocktail trend for women, mainly because I'm into that “Kate Moss on a three-month binge” look...any idea that gets women to drink more is okay by me." On men, "If you’re worried about packing on pounds while tippling, drink vodka for f*ck sake. Just leave the beer — real, carbo-loaded brew, the way God intended it — to those of us who think love handles are sexy and consider a paunch hanging over the belt a mark of good character. Besides, why settle for ‘six pack abs’ when you can have a party ball belly?"

Quintessential campaigning like Miller's is now everywhere you look. Major restaurant chains like Applebee's and TGI Friday's (famous for its extensive drink menu), are adapting and serving drinks that are calorie conscious. Reflecting what you may see in a mainstream fitness or cooking magazine, these drinks are flavored with low carb sour mixes and artificial sweeteners the majority of the time.

The Urban Market is also saturated with similar celebrity endorsements. The "Weekend Warrior" set, who are mostly 9-5ers who utilize their Friday and Saturday nights to blow off accumulated steam from the work week, search out packed venues with loud music and brands endorsed by Kim Kardashian or P. Diddy that will get them smashed and make them feel cool while seeing and being seen. They want air horns, club anthems, light shows, and their Jack, Midori, or Ciroc mixed with diet soda or sugar free Red Bull. Ironically enough, these people end up ordering double Long Island Iced Teas with diet coke thinking they're being cunning, when in reality they're sucking down an 800-plus calorie drink in an attempt to kick start a buzz.

As a global market, we have experienced this phenomenon of brand control/mind control for decades. As lovers of the art of drinking, we have taken responsibility to create bars, bar culture and drinks that combat the herd mentality. I'm sure most of you have been asked to make a Skinny Girl Margarita, or fielded questions about stocking Splenda simple syrup and sugar free mixers. So annoying.

Portfolio Mixologist for Bacardi USA Pablo Moix has seen an explosion in demand for low calorie drinks on menu's in a multitude of venues in Southern California. "The Skinny cocktail or Low Calorie cocktail phenomenon is just that, a phenomenon. Beach bars to massive chains like the Cheesecake Factory have implemented these styles of drinks."

Plymouth and Beefeater Ambassador Erick Castro doesn't feel so neutral about the subject; "Skinny Cocktails are lame,” he said. “If you're so worried about calories just take a Valium and have a Pellegrino."

So what can we do to preserve the drinks and service we have fought so hard to resurrect?

At Tales Of The Cocktail this year, Kathy Casey and Tony Abou-Ganim gave a seminar on "H2O Cocktails," which are low calorie, Vodka-based drinks that utilize naturally flavored waters as mixers, hence caloric consumption is only coming from the alcohol itself.  On Casey's website a power point presentation about H2O Cocktails reads "defining the movement toward dryer cocktails with subtle and complex flavors made without artificial flavors or sweeteners..." One of Casey's methods involves chopping up ingredients like fruit, herbs and citrus zests and letting them soak in water for varying periods of time.

New York based Chef Dave Arnold breaks down an instant liquid infusion technique with an iSi cream whipper on cookingissues.com.  This is a great way to impart flavor to liquid very quickly.

These are examples of how we are progressively and naturally responding to low calorie demand with innovation. Artificial sweeteners and diet mixers is a regressive trend that is taking us back to the Dekuyper and sour mix days. Just as people are becoming hip to "premium ingredients" in drinks, they can now apply the same principles to low calorie cocktails.

Listed below are simple suggestions you can use in your own bar or home to steer your customers or friends in a healthier direction. So next time someone asks you to make them a diet drink, don't snicker. Maintain integrity while satisfying your customer and your own creativity and reach for something all natural.

Here are a few alternatives to the alternatives:

Agave Nectar: is all natural and DELICIOUS. Agave nectar is one of the lowest calorie sweeteners available and it won't hurt you in the long run. Let the alcohol take care of that.

Soda Water & Vermouth: soda water has NO CALORIES! If you want a tall, refreshing drink, have a Vermouth and Soda. Martini makes a feminine and delicious Rosato that I am currently obsessed with. The Vermouth clocks in with almost half the calories of an 80 proof spirit, so in total you're looking at around 54 calories. You're welcome.

Tea: is a great mixer; it creates length and volume in a drink and most herbal teas are natural diuretics containing no fat and no calories.

Wine: a glass of wine has roughly 105-140 calories per 5 oz serving, depending on the style. Dryer whites and Champagnes will have fewer calories compared to sweeter Champagnes, red wines or desert wines. 

Desert Drinks: Stay away from that Pina Colada or Monster Mudslide at TGI Fridays, instead have an Amaro or Digestif neat to settle your stomach or satisfy you're sweet tooth.

Here's a calorie conscious, all natural cocktail:

The Birds & Bees
1.5 oz Blanco Tequila (97 calories)
1 oz Strong brewed Hibiscus tea (chill before mixing into cocktail) (suggestion: use Republic of Tea Hibiscus Superflower Tea, all natural, caffeine-free, contains NO calories and NO fat) available at Whole Foods
.75 oz fresh lemon juice (around 8 calories)
.5 oz Agave syrup (mix equal parts agave nectar and hot water, stir until mixed, chill) (50 calories)

Combine all ingredients in a shaker, shake, strain into a chilled coupe or cocktail glass. Garnish with an edible orchid.








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