One of the hardest things for infrequent (or just generally indecisive) drinkers like myself is that first choice: what am I going to drink? It’s shockingly rare that I don’t know what food I’m in the mood for. But propose putting in a drink order and I am stymied nearly every time. With drink menus expanding faster than ever, the choice has become more difficult — and my friends even less patient with me. Now imagine your tastes (or diet requirements) are a little more challenging than most. In that spirit, I happily present just a few things to make that choice of what to drink simpler, especially if you…
…need to keep gluten-free.
Restaurants have definitely shifted focus recently to provide more clearly defined gluten-free items on their menus, but for most establishments with a bar, that trend hasn’t quite made its way to the drink list. Fortunately, the ingredients in your favorite cocktails are probably much less of a mystery than the chef’s entree special that night (for the latter, it is always recommended you ask your server if gluten-free options aren’t specifically noted). Most cocktail menus will list out the components of any given drink, but there’s a catch for those avoiding wheat and other grains: most alcohol is made from gluten.
Beers made with barley and hops are not an option for those with celiac disease or those who otherwise remain gluten-free. Despite having a distillation process that should remove all trace of the gluten peptides, even vodka, gin, and whiskey could end up being disagreeable or potentially spark a reaction for those who are particularly sensitive. So what is safe for those with gluten issues? Definitely all kinds of wine, as grapes (and all fruit) do not contain gluten. Most hard ciders are not derived from barley, hops, or rye, and are instead distilled from apples. This makes cider a perfect alternative for those wanting something similar to beer for the big game.
But just remember: when in doubt, be sure to check the label or ask your bartender.
…have a sweet tooth or like things savory.
If you’re anything like me, you like your cocktails either really sweet or really salty — anything to cut the taste of the alcohol. And I have just the trick for both as you venture out to celebrate that promotion or best friend’s birthday.
Most mixers are going to deliver sweetness to your drink of choice, and any number of daiquiris can fit the bill when you’re looking to satisfy that sweet tooth. A classic cocktail, daiquiris can be made any number of ways, pairing its rum base with anything from fresh strawberry and lime to frozen tropical and exotic fruits. All it takes is simple syrup (that’s sugar and water cooked down to a smooth syrup) and your juice of choice, combined with a jigger of rum. If you’re looking to indulge in something a little richer, try asking for a Brandy Alexander. A retro favorite harkening back to the early 20th century, the Alexander combines equal parts fresh cream with cognac and crème de cacao (which gives it its lovely chocolate flavor), and is finished off with a sprinkle of nutmeg. Not every neighborhood bar is going to have this on their everyday menu, but if you’re really lucky, the ones that do might make a variation using ice cream instead of fresh cream.
On the savory side, very few things beat the Bloody Mary in terms of versatility and rich, salty goodness. The drink — popularized nationwide by articles and advertisements in Life magazine in the 1940s – may have initially been promoted as vodka, tomato juice, and a splash of lemon, but today is considered decidedly more complex. Incorporating a mix of spices and flavors (including Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco, celery, horseradish, cayenne pepper, lemon juice, celery salt, and more), the Bloody Mary has become the savory star of brunches everywhere, even arriving garnished with a piece of fried chicken in its most extravagant form at Sobelman’s Pub and Grill in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. But if you really want something that rides the line between sweet and salty most effectively, ask your server for a Rosemary Salty Dog. Mixed with gin and grapefruit juice, seasoned with a fresh sprig of rosemary and rimmed with salt, this salty dog is the perfect way to get the best of both worlds in one cocktail.
…save your carbs for cookies.
When you’re counting carbs and calories, however, savory and sweet might have to step aside for old-fashioned classics. That’s because so much of what you add to alcohol to make a cocktail is what increases its sugar content. Orange, lemon, cranberry, and grapefruit juices; cola or clear soda; and margarita or Bloody Mary mixes all dominate the calorie and carbohydrate count of the drinks they infuse. Worry not, though, because vodka and vermouth have only 64 and 55 calories per ounce respectively and both have zero carbs. This means the classic martini, garnished with a twist of lemon rind (or even a single, conservative green olive), can leave you plenty in your plan to enjoy your pre-dinner cocktail without guilt.
Or, if you find yourself celebrating with chips and salsa nearby, tequila also is one of the lowest calorie count spirits you can enjoy. Just hold back on the margarita mix.
Conventional wisdom has proposed that white wine is a better choice than red for those watching their carbs and calories, but the numbers don’t really add up on that myth. White wine has 24 calories per ounce to red’s 25, with both listing a little under a gram per ounce in carbs. The difference to watch out for is the pour amount. Red wine glasses are traditionally larger than those used for white wine, so it’s a lot easier to overindulge without ever realizing it with red wine. A conservative pour, however, takes care of that discrepancy and leaves you open to whichever style you prefer.
…are the designated driver.
Or choose not to drink. Or just don’t feel like it. Today, there are lots of delicious options for those that don’t imbibe. Non-alcoholic beer has found its place on many a bar and restaurant menu, with superior offerings from Germany, Denmark, Scotland, and even Japan peppering the lists. But if you’re looking for something a little more fun, jump on the mocktail trend and try out some newer creations. It’s not just Shirley Temples and Roy Rogers anymore (although, I admit, I still have a soft spot for them both). These non-alcoholic drinks are hand-crafted and full of the freshest ingredients and ideas that I’ve seen in years. Whether it’s a house-made basil soda or a fresh margarita sans the tequila, keep your eyes open for opportunities at your local restaurant or bar to try something new. And if you don’t see it on the menu, just ask! Your bartender will be happy to help you find something to enjoy.
Still in the holiday spirit? Check out our look at six holiday drinks we can’t get enough of:
Remember that you must be at least 21 years old to drink in the USA and to always drink responsibly. This information is intended for informational purposes only, and not to promote the consumption of alcohol.