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Skinny sipping

Summer means a few drinks on the patio, but with an eye toward still fitting in the swimsuit. That’s why low-cal drinks are so popular now, popping up on menus like fresh flower blossoms.

It’s easy to concoct a palatable lower-octane cocktail these days with the new “light” vodkas. Skinnygirl Vodka debuted its White Cherry flavor just in time for the season. Weighing in at 75.6 calories per 1.5-ounce serving, it joins Skinnygirl’s Bare Naked, Cucumber, Island Coconut and Tangerine. This spring, Smirnoff Vodka, known for its dessert-like flavors such as Fluffed Marshmallow and Root Beer Float, launched a flavorful “light” line. Called Smirnoff Sorbet Light, the Raspberry Pomegranate, Mango Passionfruit and Lemon varieties count just 78 calories per 1.5-ounce serving.

Using a lighter base spirit is only the beginning. While most of a cocktail’s  calories come from alcohol, simple syrup, sweet and sour mix and regular sodas add up. Don’t sugar the rim either. Opt instead for sugar substitutes, sugar-free syrups and diet sodas. Blend seasonal fruits and fresh juices for a blast of flavor and add plain seltzer for sparkle.

Fit for summer

Kimpton’s Grand Hotel Minneapolis boasts the largest urban fitness center within a hotel; the 58,000 square foot facility is free to hotel guests. After a workout, guests can hit the hotel’s Six15 Room lounge for a Skinny Drink. The seasonal cocktail menu uses a few Skinnygirl products coupled with fresh fruits and juices to create enticing low-cal cocktails. Riffing on the Brazilian classic, the Caipirinha (140 calories) is lightened with stevia, a natural low-calorie sweetener. The Skimlet (110 calories) is a gimlet with Skinnygirl Bare Naked Vodka. And the Mini-apolitan (200 calories) mixes low-cal tangerine and coconut vodkas, low-sugar jasmine liqueur, lime juice, stevia and fresh blackberries.

Taking BYOB to the next level

The lively rattle of cocktail shakers at Avalon Restaurant in Philadelphia may startle customers who know that the rustic Italian eatery and its sister, Avalon Bistro, are strictly BYOB. Those shakers are a clever stratagem by chef John Brandt-Lee to let diners know they can bring more to his tables than a bottle of wine. “Guests like the BYOB element because it saves them some money,” comments Brandt-Lee, “but at the same time, a lot of people want to have a mixed drink.”

The cocktail shakers contain the chef’s house-made mocktails, accompanied by ice, garnishes and martini glasses. Avalon’s guests just add liquor. The shaker costs $6 and fills approximately two glasses. “If they bring a decent vodka or gin, they are way ahead of the game compared with what they would pay in a bar,” notes Brandt-Lee. Non-imbibers can spark up the mix with a shot of club soda or seltzer.

The original specialty is a Spiced Apricot Martini. Apricots are poached in white wine with vanilla bean, then jarred and preserved. For the drink, the cots are sliced into a glass with some syrup then topped off with sparkling water.

For summer, the chef created two seasonal shaker mixers—Strawberry-Basil and Raspberry-Ginger. The drinks, with or without alcohol, are perfect for sipping outside on the restaurant’s patio. Ultimately, the shakers are meant to quell a veto vote by guests who want a cool cocktail at dinner. But the sight of the set-up and the music of the shakers garner plenty of me-too sales.

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