Alcohol does not have the healthiest image, yet a number of operators are putting a healthy halo around adult beverages. One approach is to slim down high calorie counts with astute substitutions. In its 2014 Drink Trends in Focus report, Chicago-based research firm Technomic states that cocktails made with low-calorie and lower-alcohol spirits are on the rise. Operators also are building drinks with nutritious ingredients to counterbalance the alcohol.
Skinny cocktails are the draw at Cili Restaurant in the Bali Hai Golf Club in Las Vegas. Because of its location, it’s only open for lunch—often a tough sell for alcohol. Nonetheless, 15 percent of customers order a cocktail. “We get a lot of fit and healthy women who come in for lunch, and it’s nice to have a cocktail option for them,” says GM Babette Wilson.“Besides being low-cal, we try not to make the drinks too strong so they have more appeal at lunchtime. We have regulars who come in just because of those drinks.”
The seven drinks on the Low-Calorie Cockatil list all clock in at around 100 calories, thanks to low-cal sweeteners and mixers; they’re priced $8 to $10. Calorie counts are merchandised on table tents and the printed list. Most popular is the Bogey, made with acai vodka, lemon juice and sugar-free syrup muddled with fresh blueberries and mint (106 calories). “Acai and blueberries are [vitamin-rich] superfruits; that’s an added selling point, absolutely,” says Wilson.
Although stevia is Cili’s sugar substitute of choice, fresh fruits contain natural sugars so you often don’t need additional sweetener, Wilson adds, and many drinks use vodka, which is relatively low in calories. Mint and citrus juices amp up the flavors.
At Area 31 in Miami’s Epic Hotel, the blend of fresh-pressed kale, kohlrabi, cucumber and lime juice is one of several featured in the hotel’s Health Juice Cleanse Program. Dean Feddaoui, head bartender, uses the juice as a base for his “Green With Envy” cocktail.
“One of my favorite things to eat and cook with is kale, and this year we have beautiful kohlrabi from local farms, so I used those with some cucumber, lime juice and a bit of agave nectar,” he says.“It’s a beautiful cocktail, light and refreshing—and healthy. The only bad part is the alcohol.” His other juice cocktails are De Leon’s Quest, with carrots and passionfruit; Detox To Retox, made with yellow beets, carrots, mango and pineapple; and Recipe for Life, a blend of kale, kohlrabi, spinach, passion fruit, tarragon, cucumber, pineapple, mango, lemon and apple. All are $13 and can be spiked with a shot of alcohol for an additional $4.
Guests can choose any spirit, but Feddaoui and his staff offer recommendations. For Green With Envy, he suggests an American-style gin with toned-down juniper. “The gin adds herbaceousness, giving the cocktail a healthier green-vegetable taste,” says Feddaoui. Detox To Retox gets a peaty accent from scotch; De Leon’s Quest often is spiked with a house-infused black pepper and juniper rum.
To emphasize the nutritious aspect, the juicer on the bar is flanked by baskets of produce. The menu lists the ingredients and emphasizes the vitamin and mineral benefits of each drink. “So far it’s working,” says Feddaoui. “The drinks have caught the interest of our regulars. At lunch, when guests are dining lighter on salads, they can also order a healthy juice cocktail.”