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Just about everyone will admit they could do with cutting down their calorie intake. Unfortunately, those of us with an affinity for potent potables have an extra hurdle to jump through when it comes to dieting. Avoiding calories means avoiding sugar, but unfortunately, the main thing that makes alcoholic beverages worth drinking—you know, the alcohol—is essentially fermented sugar. In other words, it's pretty much impossible to have a zero calorie alcoholic drink.
While the alcohol itself will always have calories, we can do our best to minimize the calories we take in by avoiding extra sugar in our drinks. A good first step is knowing which low calorie cocktails to order at the bar, but what do you do when you're making your own cocktails?
The lazy among us have access to ready to drink skinny cocktails and the best rated hard seltzer, but the only way to know what's really going into your body is to mix it up yourself. With that in mind, here are my favorite zero calorie mixers to keep your happy hour light and refreshing.
Sparkling Mineral Water by S. Pellegrino
When all is said and done, nothing can replace this most ubiquitous of zero calorie mixers: basic club soda. Also known as soda water or seltzer water, this is bar none the most versatile cocktail mixer around. Add soda water to pretty much any spirit, and you've got yourself a refreshing highball.
Owing to its versatility, soda can be mixed with spirits in just about any ratio, allowing you to adjust the flavor and strength of your drink to your preferences. For example, with aged liquors like bourbon and scotch, aficionados will add just a splash of soda to bring out the flavors and that slight bubbly lift. Personally, my favorite drink is scotch and soda, which I like to mix at about a 50:50 ratio of scotch to soda.
On the other end of the spectrum, pour a shot of a lighter spirit like vodka over ice in a large glass and fill it to the brim with soda water, maybe with a squeeze of lime or lemon on top. This will give you an immensely refreshing vodka soda with just enough vodka flavor to keep things interesting.
My go-to soda is from S. Pellegrino, which I guess is technically a "sparkling mineral water," but it amounts to the same thing when you're using it for cocktails. However, there is a wide variety of club soda options for you to choose from, such as Polar, the underdog of seltzer. Pick up some soda water from your preferred brand and go experiment!
Lime Sparkling Mineral Water by Perrier
If you want to switch things up from your traditional water-flavored club soda, there is also a wide variety of fruit flavored options for your consideration. These options use natural fruit essences to provide a subtle flavor and aroma without any additional sugar or sweetener, making them excellent zero calorie mixers. Many brands offer similar takes on this sort of flavored sparkling water, but I find Perrier to be a solid, easy to find option.
Lime is likely the most popular fruit-flavored soda water, and for a good reason. Besides tasting great on its own, Perrier Lime makes a great low calorie mixer, adding a touch of citrus to your whisky soda (try mixing it with a Canadian whisky like Crown Royal) or other highball of choice.
Pamplemousse Sparkling Water by La Croix
Okay, I know there are a lot of different sparkling waters on this list, but that's just because they really are the perfect zero calorie mixers. In any case, this is the last one I'll share—promise!
La Croix is the biggest sparkling water brand in the United States. Originally intended as an "anti-Perrier" with a less snobby image, it now has approximately double Perrier's market share. Not that any of that really matters: most sparkling waters cost more or less the same so just find the brand that you prefer and enjoy it.
La Croix Pamplemousse is one of my favorite flavors of sparkling water. Pamplemousse, by the way, is French for "grapefruit," which is totally understandable since La Croix is produced in... Wisconsin... But I digress. Grapefruit is La Croix's top-selling variety, probably because grapefruit's sourness and bitterness make a surprisingly flavorful drink even without any added sugar.
Like most soda water, La Croix Pamplemousse mixes well with just about any liquor you can toss its way. My favorite grapefruit cocktail remains, however, the Paloma. For an extremely light riff on the Paloma, combine a shot of tequila with La Croix Pamplemousse over ice. Feel free to add some fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and/or lime juice to fill out the flavors a little (at the expense of a few extra calories).
Diet Ginger Beer by Gosling's
Ginger beer is certainly en vogue right now, with several craft options as well as the more widely distributed big brands. While the craft options are delicious on their own as well as in cocktails, they are usually packed with calories. Gosling's, however, who you may recognize as the progenitor of the Dark 'N Stormy cocktail, has finally come out with a tasty, zero calorie version of their classic ginger beer.
Gosling's is one of my favorite ginger beers, and their black rum is excellent in a Dark 'N Stormy (read: legally mandated in the recipe), so I was psyched when I learned they developed a diet ginger beer, which will certainly serve as one of my favorite zero calorie mixers this summer.
Beyond the Dark 'N Stormy, this ginger beer is an excellent ingredient in a Moscow Mule, but make sure you pick up one of the best copper Moscow Mule cups to accompany the vodka, ginger beer, and lime concoction.
Diet Peach Tea by Snapple
Veering away from the carbonated options for a moment, I can't let you forget how good iced tea is mixed with bourbon. Unsweetened tea is tasty in its own way, but to combat the summer heat, I don't mind a little sweetness like this peach flavored tea by Snapple. While regular Snapple varieties contain sugar, the diet versions make excellent zero calorie mixers.
Iced tea isn't as versatile as soda water, but it is absolutely unparalleled when it comes to certain southern classics. Try a tall glass of Snapple's diet peach tea spiked with a shot your favorite bourbon over ice. Garnish it with a lemon wheel and baby, you got a stew going! Er, I mean cocktail.
By the way, if bourbon isn't your thing, no worries! You can take the opportunity by experimenting with tea infused alcohol to double down on your low-calorie tea cocktail.
Cucumber + Mint Alkaline Spring Water by Flow
Unlike La Croix and company, Flow produces a non-carbonated water. Their main marketing niche is "alkaline" water, which I guess is supposed to be some sort of "new and improved" water or something? I don't really get that part of it: all I know is that I love this cucumber mint combination.
Mix it with gin for a refreshing, herbaceous beverage or with light rum for an unusual riff on the mojito. If you gotta have some carbonation, consider topping it off with a splash of your favorite soda water. Use plain club soda to preserve the cucumber and mint flavor or experiment with a complementary sparkling water flavor like lime or tangerine. Regardless how you decide to dress it up, this water shows promise to become one of your go-to zero calorie mixers for summer.
Tonic Water by Zevia
Tonic water is another iconic mixer, but the sugar and quinine in most tonic waters give it almost as many calories as Coca Cola. Fear not, however, if you are among the fleet of gin and tonic fans across the universe, as Zevia has added tonic water to their line of zero calorie mixers. Not only does Zevia cut out the sugar, it also refrains from adding any artificial sweeteners.
Personally, I rarely drink vodka or gin without a mixer. While a vodka soda is one of my favorite low calorie vodka cocktail recipes, there's just no substitute for that addictive bitterness in a vodka tonic or gin and tonic. Now that there's a zero calorie option, other tonic drinkers and I don't have to sacrifice our glorious beach bodies to enjoy our favorite drinks.
The Paloma is one of the classic tequila cocktails everyone should know, but it is not a low-calorie drink, as it is traditionally made with Mexican Squirt which contains real sugar and has 160 calories per serving. Squirt has a younger brother, however, named Fresca. Both are grapefruit-based sodas, but Fresca has the welcome addition of lime flavor, and zero calories to boot.
If you're not quite on board with the flavored sparkling waters on this list but you still want to keep your cocktails low-calorie, then Fresca (which apparently just got a brand new logo) is about to become one of your go-to zero calorie mixers.
Lemonade by Sparkling ICE
Compared to other mixers like juices and sodas, I think lemonade is a vastly underutilized cocktail ingredient. It can mix with any number of spirits to make anything from a vodka spiked lemonade to a poor man's whiskey sour. It's also ripe for experimentation if you're looking to try some of the best flavored alcohol like pineapple rum or peach vodka. But when it comes to my favorite cocktail to make with sparkling lemonade, well, you know the old saying: when life gives you zero calorie mixers, make caipirinhas!
Traditionally made with a Brazilian sugarcane spirit called cachaça, the caipirinha is a tasty (if hard to pronounce) summer classic. The recipe is malleable, but typically consists of cachaça, sugar, and lime or lemon juice. To make a low calorie sparkling caipirinha, simply combine equal parts cachaça and Sparkling ICE lemonade. (Look, cachaça is pretty cheap, but if you really don't want to pick some up, just use light rum—they're kinda sorta the same thing.)
Coca-Cola is the king of cocktail mixers, but after a long night of Jack and Cokes and Cuba Libres, it is not pleasant to think of how much sugary soda you consumed. And yeah, Diet Coke is a thing, but it's gross, right? I mean sure, a lot of people like it, but it's decidedly not the same flavor as the classic. Coca-Cola Zero, however, bridges the best of both worlds: the flavor of Coca-Cola classic with the not-having-calories of Diet Coke.
Coca-Cola Zero is a top choice for zero calorie mixers, as you can easily use it in place of regular Coca-Cola in any recipe you find. Jack and Coke, for example, is one of the most basic whiskey cocktails everyone should know. It consists of Jack Daniels and Coca-Cola mixed in any ratio you desire (I usually go 50:50). You can improve this classic combination by using Coca-Cola Zero and a better whiskey than Jack Daniels (which is most whiskeys—sorry Jack), like Bulleitt bourbon.
By the way, you don't have to be an expert bartender to know how to use bitters in your cocktails. I almost always add a few dashes of Angostura to my Jack and Cokes to temper the sweetness. It can work wonders in making your drinks more complex with negligible added calories.