This week, my colleague Tim Carman writes about how the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed menu labeling regulations exempt alcohol. As an example, he uses the particularly egregious case of the Cheesecake Factory’s Flying Gorilla (described as a “‘Kicked-Up’ Chocolate Banana Milkshake”), which he figures clocks in between 590 and 870 calories. In fact, Tim goes a step further to talk about the empty calories one finds in wine, beer and spirits.
It’s a topic that I’ve, um, weighed in on before, several times. Drinks like the Flying Gorilla are horrible for many reasons, but one of the worst is that it gives the Diet Police a reason to demonize all cocktails as fattening, high-calorie disasters. You know the drill: Someone — usually someone who’s trying to sell you a diet-cocktail alternative — will claim that a margarita at some chain restaurant contains 700 calories. Of course, that bogeyman margarita will be made with a ton of artificial ingredients, a bottom-shelf mixto tequila that contains additives and be served in an over-the-top, ginormous fishbowl. In reality, a true margarita, made with fresh ingredients and served in an appropriately sized cocktail glass, is really only about 175 calories.
But so long as the 700-calorie drink exists, we’ll continue to see the rise of cocktail advice from diet gurus such as Hungry Girl and Skinnygirl. Last summer, I proved that my own pina colada — made simply with fresh pineapple, coconut water and white rum — was only 110 calories, which was actually 46 calories less than Hungry Girl’s version (which by the way only contained a tablespoon of canned pineapple).
While it’s true that the calories in alcoholic beverages can add up, there are basic things one can do to enjoy cocktails, even when dieting. First of all, like everything else you shove into your piehole, exercise portion control. One of the big problems with cocktails at chain restaurants is the sheer drink size. I will repeat this until I am blue in the face: No classic cocktail ever invented was meant to be poured into a 12-ounce “martini” glass.
A well-made cocktail, straight-up, should almost always fit in a 5-ounce cocktail glass. Measuring out your cocktail is also important — so if the recipe calls for an ounce, measure out an ounce. Finally, if you stick to fresh ingredients, which generally means simply squeezing your own fruit juices, you will eliminate so many calories from your cocktail.
I know a few people who have been singing the praises of the Skinnygirl pre-made margarita, which claims 100 calories. This calorie count may be accurate, but only if you specifically measure and pour a 4-ounce serving. If you fill up your basic, huge Crate and Barrel martini glass, you’ll be ingesting many more calories than that. Skinnygirl does claim that her margarita is made from real tequila and natural ingredients — and I am not disputing these claims.
But I will say this: Skinnygirl is by no means the only place to turn for low-cal cocktails. In fact, there are many, many concoctions that you can make at home that fall below 125 calories.
Here are five Super Duper SkinnyBoy Selections (yes, I am trademarking this) from my recipe archive:
• Italian Greyhound: Punt e Mes, grapefruit juice, salted rim. 86 calories.
• Grapefruit Cocktail: gin, grapefruit juice, maraschino liqueur. 91 calories.
• Reverse Manhattan: sweet vermouth, bourbon or rye, Angostura bitters. 107 calories.
• Original Martini: gin, vermouth, orange bitters. 123 calories.
• Vampiro: tequila, tomato juice, orange juice, lime juice, honey, chopped onion, chili powder. 125 calories.
Now, as you can see, more robust spirits like whiskey or apple brandy or larger quantities of gin are hard to fit into a true diet cocktail. Still, there are ways to enjoy higher-octane spirits in cocktails that have less, or about the same, calories as a single regular beer, which is about 150 calories:
• Unusual Negroni. gin, Aperol, Lillet Blanc. 136 calories.
• Turf Club. Old Tom gin, sweet vermouth, bitters. 138 calories.
• Old-Fashioned. bourbon, simple syrup, bitters, citrus peel 148 calories.
• Jack Mauve. apple brandy, homemade grenadine, lime juice. 151 calories.
• Manhattan Bianco: bourbon and bianco vermouth. 158 calories.
You can thank me this summer when you fit into your new swimsuit!