You don’t have to sacrifice taste or your buzz to keep your alcohol consumption down. Drinks with low alcohol content can be a smart and equally appealing alternative to hard liquor. The key is to look for drink “bases” — such as vermouth, sake, bitter liqueurs and certain wines — that have a low alcohol by volume, or ABV. Add some low-calorie mixers and interesting garnishes to create a light and refreshing low-alcohol cocktail.
The spritzer is a light and easy cocktail perfect for sipping any time of day. It offers an exceptionally appealing flavor balance. The traditional spritzer recipe calls for wine, club soda and just a dash of lime or lemon, but there are many other options. Try a Rivington Punch, a combination of rose wine — 11 to 12 percent ABV — St. Germain, framboise (French for raspberry), Aperol and club soda; or a Rose All Day, which calls for rose wine, Cocchi Americano, papaya shrub, lemon juice and club soda. Spritzers offer rich flavoring thanks to their unique ingredients, many of which have European origins. Spritzers are typically served in a wine glass.
St. Germain is an elderflower-flavored French liqueur. Cocchi Americano is an Italian aperitif wine.
Though actually a fortified (usually with brandy) wine, you probably won’t find vermouth on the wine list at your local restaurant. It’s often consumed as an aperitif and clocks in at around 20 percent ABV; however, once combined with the appropriate ingredients, a vermouth-based drink will pack only around 8 percent ABV. One option is the Americano, which combines 1 1/2 ounces each of sweet vermouth and Campari — a bitter Italian aperitif — and 3 ounces of club soda. If you’re feeling a little fancier, try a Marseilles Can You See. It’s a very European combination of French white vermouth; pastis, a licorice-flavored French spirit; 1/2 ounce of orange juice; and 1/4 ounce of lime juice.
If you’re a beer fan looking to cut ABV, shandies may be the answer. They combine beer with different juices and spices, so that even higher-alcohol brews can get their ABV nearly halved when part of a shandy. Shandies are also incredibly versatile with regard to possible mixers and garnishes. The traditional shandy mixes beer with lemonade, but there are nearly endless options. Try a Shandygaff, which calls for citrus soda mixed with lager; or a Michelada Gingembre, which mixes an IPA-style beer with lemon-lime soda, ginger juice, simple syrup, hot sauce and sea salt.
Sparkling wines are excellent bases for low-alcohol drinks. Champagne, which is usually around 12 percent ABV, can be weakened rather deliciously by making a Mimosa — Champagne mixed with orange juice — or a Bellini — Champagne mixed with peach puree. Prosecco punch, a mix of fruit juices, prosecco and ginger ale, clocks in at well under 11 percent ABV. Bitter liqueurs are another low-alcohol option. The most recognizable bitter liqueur in North America is probably Campari. Campari is bottled at 24 percent ABV, but once combined with other ingredients can mellow to as low as 5 or 6 percent ABV. Campari and soda is a popular drink in Europe and, with just two ingredients, very easy to make.
Champagne can also be mixed with other fruit juices and nectars, such as cherry juice, mango nectar and mandarin juice.