Low-Carb Alcoholic Drinks (that Actually Taste Good!)
Throughout the month of January, we took on the task of finding delicious, low-carb alcoholic drinks (not just cocktails!) to satisfy one of the most popular New Year’s resolutions: getting healthier. We looked at no-sugar simple syrups and a few low-carb alcoholic drinks, which we are exploring more today.
Want to skip ahead? Here’s what we’re covering today:
- Naturally Zero-Carb Alcoholic Drinks:
- Low-Carb Alcoholic Drinks:
- Skinny Cocktails: Sugar Substitutes in Cocktails
Zero-Carb Alcoholic Drinks
First let’s talk about zero carb options. I’ll be honest: your options are a little bit limited here, as most cocktails require some sort of sweetener to balance out bitterness or acid. But don’t dismay, you’re not completely out of luck! Here are some “no carb” options that you can order at nearly any bar.
With most distilled spirits, virtually all carbs are removed during the distillation process, so most spirits served without mixers have zero carbs. You can enjoy a little night cap of your favorite spirit on the rocks (ice) or neat (no ice, not chilled) without adding many calories or any carbs.
But be careful with rums (especially spiced rums) and flavored spirits! It’s not uncommon for these spirits to have extra sugars added after distillation. Unfortunately the label on the bottle won’t usually tell you whether that’s true, so I’d generally recommend steering clear of these two categories just to be safe.
An easy alternative to a sugary cocktail, Highballs are a category of cocktails that are made with a spirit of your choice and soda water. If you’re looking for something that’s low carb and super simple, this is about as simple as it gets.
- 1-2oz spirit of your choice (my personal favorite is the Whiskey Highball)
- 4 oz of soda water (to taste)
- Serve on ice
A Rickey is similar to the Highball but with a little more flavor (and acid) from fresh citrus (usually lime). Play with citrus zest for even more flavor. Add a bit of mint, and you’re very close to a Skinny Mojito. The citrus will give it a more tart flavor, so choose a Rickey if you tend to appreciate more citrus-forward cocktails.
- 2 oz spirit (traditionally gin or bourbon, but I say get creative!)
- Half of a lime squeezed (.5 oz) and dropped in the glass (again – lemon works too!)
- Top with soda water (NOT Tonic water – it has tons of sugar.)
- Serve on ice
Get Creative with your Highballs and Rickeys!
You aren’t limited by the formulas above – the world is your oyster with these two cocktail categories!
- Use no-carb, flavored water like La Croix.
- Add citrus oil like lemon, lime, orange, or grapefruit. Oils won’t add carbs!
- Muddle fresh herbs, like mint or rosemary.
- Add bitters (my personal favorite is rhubarb) or food-grade extracts like vanilla or orange for a dash of flavor.
All of the above add flavor but don’t add any carbs at all.
Low-Carb Alcoholic Drinks
From beer to wine to cocktails, you have a wide range of low-carb alcoholic drinks to choose from depending on your alcohol preference. Note that all of the options below contain some carbs, they are still relatively low in sugar.
In general, beer is the opposite of low-carb, so if you’re a beer lover but want to reduce your carbs, you’ll have to look carefully. Anything labeled “light” is going to be a better option than traditional beer, and a light beer typically has the same amount of carbs as a glass of wine.
Thanks to the craft beer phenomenon, you’re not stuck with the same flavorless brands you’ve seen for the last 30 years. New breweries that produce really delicious beer are also offering low-carb and low ABV (alcohol by volume) options. By the way, there’s no legal definition of a “light” beer (that I know of), so you may want to verify your “low carb” beer really is.Some good options I’ve seen include Dogfish Head, Lagunitas, Allagash, and Kona Brewing.
Naturally lower in carbs than beer, wine is a good alternative to spirit-based drinks and still allows you to stick to your low-carb diet. If you want to cut the carbs, make sure to stick with drier wines rather than the sweeter ones (I’m looking at you, Riesling). Here are some of the best wine varieties for you if this is your alcoholic drink of choice.
- Cheers with Champagne and Sparkling Wine: Believe it or not, Champagne and sparkling wines actually have the lowest level of carbs with only 1.5 grams per 5 oz serving. (But Mimosa lovers beware: that orange juice is full of carbs!)
- A Refreshing Pinot Grigio/Gris: At 3.2 grams of carbohydrates per 5 oz serving, Pinot Grigio / Gris is a pretty good choice. This dry, crisp white wine (my favorite summer wine, in case you were wondering) pairs easily with a variety of food because of its neutral flavors, and it won’t break the carb bank.
- A Classic White: Chardonnay: If a Chardonnay is more your fancy, it also contains only 3.2 grams of carbs per serving. Richer and offering a buttery mouthfeel, the flavors vary from vanilla to fruits like apple or papaya.
- Don’t Forget the Red: Pinot Noir: White wine not your thing? Your best low-carb, red wine option is a Pinot Noir. With 3.4 grams of carbohydrates per serving, Pinot Noir sits right between the Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. Containing earthy tones mixed with flavors like cherries and raspberries, this lighter red wine goes well with many different meals, even though it’s not quite as neutral as its white wine counterparts.
- Last but Not Least: Merlot: A staple for red wine lovers, Merlot is fruit-forward in flavor, although it also often pairs fruit with clove or tobacco flavors. Lower in acidity than Pinot Noir, Merlot is an easy red wine to bet on if you’re hosting a party and want to offer something for everyone. And with a carbohydrate content of 3.7 grams per 5 oz serving, it just meets our low-carb standards!
While “Martinez” is a cocktail recipe, it’s also a name for a category of cocktails that roughly follow a similar formula: Spirit, fortified wine, and bitters. Spirits are typically zero carb, bitters are virtually zero carb, and Vermouth only adds 4.5g (sweet) or 0.5g (dry) of carbs per ounce.
Here are some of our personal favorites, including classic Martinis (both Gin and Vodka) as well as the Martinez itself:
This original Martinez cocktail is considered the precursor to the Martini. It’s spirit forward and a little on the bitter side, but absolutely delicious.
- 2 oz Dry Gin
- 3/4 oz Sweet Vermouth
- 2 dashes Orange Bitters
- 1 bar spoon Maraschino*
*Note: Maraschino is a liqueur and therefore high in carbs. But this cocktail doesn’t require much, and you could choose to omit it if you prefer.
The Gin Martini
An absolute classic, this gin Martini is about as classy and classic as you can get. Want it lower carb? Just make it “dry-er” by reducing the Vermouth and adding more gin in its place.
- 2 oz Gin
- 1 oz Dry Vermouth
- 2 dashes Orange Bitters
The Vodka Martini
Substituting vodka for gin, you can make a Vodka Martini instead… Just don’t be tempted to add carb-loaded ingredients like flavored vodka or chocolate syrup!
- 2.25 oz Vodka
- 0.25 oz Dry Vermouth
- 1 dash Orange Bitters
Using Sweet Vermouth instead of dry and rye whiskey instead of vodka or gin, the Manhattan is a great option if you kind of feel like a Martinez but prefer a slightly sweeter profile. (This is one of Chris’ favorite cocktails of all time!)
- 2 oz Rye Whiskey
- 1 oz Sweet Vermouth
- 2 dashes Orange Bitters
You may not be familiar with the term “Daisy” cocktails (I sure wasn’t!), but I bet you’ve actually had a Daisy without even knowing it! (Did you know the classic Margarita is actually a “daisy”?) These cocktails follow the format of spirit + acid + Triple Sec. There are so many varieties you can create by changing the liquor or acid component, but here are a few traditional alcoholic Daisy cocktails we recommend:
Arguably the most common “Daisy” cocktail, the classic Margarita combines tequila (spirit) and lime juice (acid) with Cointreau (triple sec). This version has much fewer carbs than other Margarita recipes because it doesn’t use Agave Nectar, syrups, or high sugar drink mixes. (See my rant – err – note below about the “Skinny Margarita”)
- 2 oz Blanco Tequila
- 1 oz Cointreau
- 1 oz Fresh Lime Juice
Beware the “Skinny” Cocktail!
Going to a bar and just ordering a cocktail “skinny” sounds like a good idea, but you may not be getting something “low carb” at all. As we learned with our Skinny Margarita recipe, many bartenders use Agave nectar in skinny cocktails. Agave nectar is commonly believed to be healthier, but it doesn’t actually have fewer carbohydrates than other sugars or syrups.
That doesn’t mean you can’t make a skinny version of your favorite alcoholic drink, though. There are more effective ways, which I’ll explain below. Meanwhile, be sure to ask your bartender how they make their “skinny” cocktail. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and find a cocktail for your low-carb goals that still tastes delicious.
An underrated classic in my book, the Sidecar is similar to a Margarita but uses Cognac rather than tequila.
- 1.5 oz VS or VSOP Cognac
- 1 oz Cointreau
- 0.75 oz Fresh Lemon Juice
- Orange Peel for garnish*
Note: The traditional Sidecar recipe calls for a sugar rim as well, but if you’re going “low carb” you are definitely going to want to skip it!
Not for the faint of heart, the White Lady is a classic cocktail involving egg whites. Although it seems like egg white cocktails are all the rage these days, the White Lady dates back to at least 1930. Personally, I find it a little on the tart side – so it’s a good choice if you tend to like citrus forward drinks.
- 2 oz London Dry Gin
- 1/2 oz Cointreau
- 1/2 oz Lemon Juice
- 1 each Fresh Egg White
Making it “Skinny” with No Calorie Sugars
If you’re not seeing your beloved cocktail in the list above, I have good news for you. Modern sugar alternatives have come a long way, and there are some great options that work well in cocktails. (Check out this post all about sugar free simple syrup to learn more.)
To cut to the chase, you can make a sugar-free simple syrup with Xylitol or Stevia and it’ll work nearly as well in cocktails as your traditional sugar simple syrup.
The following are some cocktail ingredients made without sugar, plus some cocktails you can make with each!
Sugar Free Simple Syrup
Let’s start with the basics! A huge number of cocktails call for simple syrup, so this is a good place to start. and it couldn’t be easier. We liked Xylitol Simple Syrup the best, but it came out to $3 / cup! Stevia was a close second and only $0.35 / cup – so another good one to consider.
Sugar Free Simple Syrup
- Start with one cup of hot water
- Add EITHER 1 cup of powdered Xylitol OR 1/8 cup of Stevia.
- Stir well to fully dissolve.
- Cool to room temperature before using.
Use this Simple Syrup to make:
Sugar Free Ginger Syrup
Once we’d established that Xylitol made the best tasting sugar free simple syrup, it was only natural to take that one step further and get creative with flavors. When making a Penicillin cocktail, we substituted the honey syrup for a ginger Xylitol syrup.
- Remove skin from the ginger (or not for a spicier ginger flavor– your choice!)
- Combine ¼ cup warm water, ¼ cup Xylitol, and 1 thumb-size piece of ginger cut into pieces in a blender
- Blend on high until ginger is broken down
- Allow to cool
- Fine strain before serving
Use Ginger Syrup in the Penicillin cocktail, or substitute it into other drinks that call for simple syrup. Better yet, keep scrolling and turn it into your very own sugar free Ginger beer!
Sugar Free Ginger Beer
If you want to get creative and make your own light “ginger beer” for a Moscow Mule or other alcoholic drink, we made a pretty good substitute! Below is the very basic recipe, but we made a detailed video for you if you prefer to watch and learn.
- Juice your ginger
- Make your Xylitol simple syrup with equal parts Xylitol and water
- Combine the two to taste
- Add unflavored sparkling water until you achieve your desired density
Ginger beer opens up a world of possibilities in cocktails! Here are a few of my favorites:
- The Moscow Mule (of course!)
- A “Not quite” Dark and Stormy
- … And most other “mules” work too!
Sugar Free Oleo Saccharum
If you don’t know what Oleo Saccharum is, it’s cool – skip this section. But if you do, then you know we really played with the limits of Xylitol in January, didn’t we? When testing a variety of skinny Margaritas, we also made an Oleo Saccharum syrup with it, using orange zest.
- Combine the zest of one orange and 1/4 cup of Xylitol in a Ziploc plastic bag and mash them together
- Remove all air from the bag and seal shut
- Wait a few hours or a few days for the orange oils to combine with the Xylitol
- When ready for use, add 1/4 cup of water
- Fine-strain to create a syrup
Oleo Saccharum is an awesome way to kick up the orange flavor in lots of drinks that use triple sec, or things like punches.
Low Carb Alcoholic Drinks: So many options!
You still have so many (many) options of alcoholic drinks when you’re trying to cut the carbs. If you’ve read this far you’ve seen there are literally dozens of options, especially if you’re willing to branch out and experiment with sugar substitutes or try a new-to-you, naturally low-carb cocktail you’ve never tried before. (No really, come tell our Facebook community how you like the White Lady!).
Of course, you also have wine and beer options that still meet the low-carb requirements and give you something easy to bring to a get-together or to order at dinner. So break out the spirits, soda water, and maybe even a bit of stevia or Xylitol – the cocktail options are endless! And don’t forget to come tell us all about it in the Craft Cocktail Club!