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How to Make Low-Carb Cocktails and Other Mixed Drinks

Sugar-Free and Low-Calorie Cocktails

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Updated June 02, 2014

Bourbon scotch whiskey cocktail on bar counter
Dana Hoff/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images
Can a low-carb or low-calorie dieter drink cocktails and other mixed drinks? The unfortunate truth is that these drinks often pack quite a wallop in terms of sugar and calories. In fact, other than the alcohol, almost all of the calories come from sugar. If we can concoct sugar-free versions, we can relieve much of that burden. For example, my Low-Carb Cosmo has half the calories and 1/8 of the carbohydrate as a regular cosmopolitan. Here are the most common components of cocktails and how to cut the carbs in each.

Distilled Spirits

Gin, vodka, tequila, whiskey, and rum are distilled spirits that by definition have no carbohydrate. For more information, see Alcoholic Beverages on a Low-Carb Diet.

Carbonated Mixers

Carbonated mixers are either naturally carb-free and calorie-free (club soda, sparkling water, plain water) or come in diet versions (tonic water, ginger ale, cola, lemon-lime soda such as 7-Up or Sprite). Note that tonic water does contain sugar unless it is a diet-type. "Highballs" (mixed drinks which are mostly mixer) made with just these mixers and liquor are easy to make sugar-free. For example:
  • Gin and tonic (or vodka tonic)
  • Jack and Coke (made with diet cola)
  • Scotch and soda
  • Seven and Seven (Segram's 7 and Diet 7-Up)
  • Rum and diet cola
  • Rye and Ginger (rye whiskey and diet ginger ale)
More About Soda Mixers at About.com's Cocktails Site

Other Non-Alcoholic Mixers

Fruit juices are common mixers. The most popular are citrus juices. Lemon and lime juices usually don't contribute too much sugar simply because usually there is not too much in any one drink. Interestingly, orange juice doesn't have much more sugar per ounce than lemon or lime juice (3 grams vs 2 grams). So in, for example, this version of a martini, there would only be two grams of sugar from orange juice. However, a Screwdriver (vodka and orange juice) could easily have 24 grams or more, depending upon the size.

Other popular juices for cocktails are pineapple juice (4 grams of carb per ounce), cranberry juice cocktail (4 grams per ounce for regular, 1 gram for light, and .2 grams for diet) and occasionally apple juice (3.5 grams per ounce) and tomato juice (1 gram per ounce).

Simple syrup is often used to sweeten cocktails. Simple syrup is a solution of sugar in water. Although some simple syrup is equal parts sugar and water, the type used in cocktails is often two parts sugar to one part water. This means that an ounce (two tablespoons) of simple syrup has four tablespoons of sugar dissolved in it, which is about 50 grams of carbohydrate and almost 200 calories. Substituting artificial sweetener, particularly in liquid form, is the only good way to get around this.

Simple syrup is often combined with lemon juice and/or lime juice to make sweet and sour mixer. You can make your own sugar-free sweet and sour mixer. Crystal Light lemon flavor can also be used, although it doesn't taste as good.

Liqueurs

Liqueurs are sweet flavored alcoholic beverages which are commonly used in cocktails. Liqueurs come in an array of flavors. Examples are Benedictine, Crème de cacao, Crème de menthe, and Cointreau. They always contain sugar, and often quite a lot of it. The carb counts of some liqueurs are near the bottom of this page.

Sometimes the flavors of liqueurs can be mimicked by using other flavorings, although of course it won't taste exactly the same. For example, a drop or two of orange extract can substitute for an orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau. Peppermint extract can take the place of peppermint schnapps, and so forth. A sugar substitute will then be added to replace the sweetness and enough water to make up for the amount of liquid needed.

Another possibility is using sugar-free syrups such as Da Vinci or Torino brand. The amount of sweetness in them is about equal to the volume -- for example, a tablespoon has about the sweetness of a little less than a tablespoon of sugar. These syrups come in an array of flavors, even including some liqueurs -- Amaretto, Kahula, Creme de Menthe, and Irish Cream.

Still a third possibility is adding flavor by using flavored spirits such as citrus-flavored vodka.

Other Ingredients

Bitters are often used in cocktails, but usually in very small amounts of much less than a teaspoon. A tablespoon of bitters usually contains 5 to 7 grams of carb. More Information About Bitters on the About.com Cocktails Site

Vermouth is a flavored-fortified wine which comes in sweet and dry varieties. It is in the classic martini and other cocktails. Dry vermouth contains about 1 grams of carb per ounce, whereas the sweet type contains about 4 grams per ounce. More Information About Vermouth on the About.com Cocktails Site
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