New Year’s resolutions bring hefty challenges to the bar scene, where tipplers who are watching their weight want just as much buzz without the caloric intake. That’s a hard beverage to serve because many of the most popular cocktails are packed with calories: A glass of Long Island iced tea has nearly 800 calories, a piña colada is loaded with about 650 calories, and a White Russian contains approximately 450 calories.
Though plenty of light beers and low-cal wines have been widely available for some time now, calorie-conscious cocktails have only started to become a common offering in the last few years.
Elizabeth Dodwell, author of Skinny Jeans Cocktails: Libations for a Lean Lifestyle, says that calorie-conscious cocktails are generally designed for—and overwhelmingly consumed by—women. “They’re looking for something more than a boring old vodka soda or a rum and Diet Coke,” she says.
Fortunately for bartenders and lean-minded ladies alike, diet-friendly alternatives are popping up in every flavor and color imaginable. From 2010 to 2011, the number of drinks billed as “skinny” increased 533 percent according to research firm Technomic.
The Buzz on Skinny
The trend has become so prevalent that it’s tough to walk into a national chain and not find at least one low-cal cocktail. There’s the 62-calorie Shanghai Shandy, one of five skinny cocktails at sports-themed chain Champps. The margarita at Applebee’s will only set you back 100 calories. The raspberry mojito at Houlihan’s has fewer than 125 calories, and there are seven other cocktails on hand with a similar low calorie count. Meanwhile, the blood orange Cosmopolitan at Morton’s clocks in under 200 calories—one of its five Spa-Tini offerings. And the dragon-berry martini at Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill is part of the chain’s Naturally Skinny drink menu, which features six cocktails with less than 250 calories.
Enthusiasm for serving slimmed-down sippers stretches across the country and includes upscale independents as well as the chains. For the last two years, diners have been flocking to Ralph Brennan’s café b in New Orleans for a menu that brims with comforting dishes like crab beignets, chipotle-glazed meatloaf, and buttermilk fried oysters. The café b offers a trio of low-cal, low-carb, low-sugar cocktails: the 55-calorie Skinny Sparkler, the 105-calorie Raspberry-Lime Cooler, and the 150-calorie Lemon Drop. The latter is one of the most popular cocktails in the entire bar program, claims beverage manager Caleb Chafin, and since the calorie-conscious cocktail program debuted at the restaurant a year ago, he has seen a marked rise in interest for low-calorie options. “It reminds me of when Sex and the City came out and everyone was drinking Cosmos,” he says. “Now everyone wants skinny cocktails.”