Somewhere between the dinner table and making the rounds on the friends-and-family party circuit, you’ll likely find yourself reaching for a few drinks this holiday season.
It could be to celebrate. It could be a social convention. It could be you just need something to make Uncle Pete’s outdated life philosophies more palatable.
In the end, the result is the same: a drink. So, get ahead of the curve with 10 simple hacks to make those holiday drinks healthier.
10 WAYS TO MAKE HOLIDAY ALCOHOLIC DRINKS HEALTHIER
1. HIGHBALLS ARE YOUR FRIEND
Sure, you’re going to come face-to-face with plenty of whipped cream-topped Irish coffees this winter. And probably (unfortunately) a few drinks rimmed with peppermint pieces. That doesn’t mean you have to drink them.
See that scotch going into everyone’s hot toddy? Or that bourbon spiking the egg nog? Both are great on their own (and for considerably fewer calories), if you’re OK with sipping straight spirits. Otherwise, pour a reasonable dose of liquor into a tall glass, add a few ice cubes, top it all with sparkling water and drop in a lemon wedge. The result is a refreshing highball that’s about 3/4 water — assuming a 1.5-ounce pour — and only contains about 100 calories.
2. USE FRESH FRUIT JUICES
More often than not, store-bought cranberry juice is loaded with sugar — and doesn’t contain all that much juice. Sweet and sour mix — the stuff you’ll find in chain restaurant margaritas and on grocery store shelves — is about the furthest thing there is from real lime. So, back away from fake juices and opt for the real stuff.
Citrus fruits are low in calories, packed with vitamins and help keep your immune system in check. All good things. Meanwhile, bottled sweet and sour is just fake sugar, preservatives and unnecessary calories masquerading as a cocktail ingredient. Winner: citrus.
3. TRY VEGETABLE JUICE, TOO
Vegetables are a great way to load up your holiday cocktail with some vitamins and antioxidants. Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to garnish your Old-Fashioned with a carrot. Instead, try juicing the veggies — or purchasing fresh juice — for an easy, healthy mixer.
“Beet juice is a great and delicious hack for making your cocktails healthy, especially during the holiday season,” says Kaleo Medeiros, general manager at Honey Salt in Las Vegas. She notes that beet juice gives you an opportunity to feature a healthy, seasonal, beautiful-looking ingredient in an unexpected way. “[It’s a] gorgeous color for the holidays, festive with a sprig of rosemary, packs a punch of nutrients and tastes like an earthy, whimsical dream — what’s not to love?”
4. EXPERIMENT WITH ALTERNATIVE MILKS
“While some may think that making alcohol ‘healthy’ is oxymoronic, there are a few ways to lessen the calorie count during the holiday season,” says Scott Jenkins, beverage director at Hide in Dallas. He suggests one easy way to avoid a heavy drink is to use almond milk in your eggnog in place of whole milk or heavy cream. The nutty flavor works nicely in the cocktail, and almond milk still provides enough richness and texture to approximate the classic holiday eggnog you’ve come to know and love. Try other non-dairy alternatives like oat or soy to see what appeals to you.
5. ENLIST SOME HERBS
Fresh herbs are another great way to spruce up your holiday drinks, and they do so without adding sugar or calories. “Some of the best cocktails use fresh herbs like mint, rosemary, basil, sage, etc.,” says Elliot Clark, aka Apartment Bartender. “Not only do they add different flavor profiles to a cocktail, they each also come with their own health benefits.”
6. SWAP TONIC FOR SPARKLING WATER
A good gin and tonic can be a magical thing. But hiding in that tonic is about as much sugar as a regular soft drink. That’s where your old pal water comes in. Reach for your favorite sparkling water, and use it to top gin, vodka or whatever liquor you prefer. If you want to add more flavor, squeeze in a fresh lemon or lime. Drop in a couple of cucumbers or herbs for even more of a kick.
And if you’re a fan of options like LaCroix or Waterloo, their lines of zero-calorie flavored waters can add a festive touch to any cocktail.
7. TWEAK THE TYPICAL PUNCH RECIPE
A holiday punch can be a magical elixir, and one you can make in a large batch before parties, leaving you free to enjoy the evening instead of playing bartender. But many holiday punches rely on sugary mixers or achieve effervescence by employing high-calorie sodas. It’s possible to make a healthier holiday punch with a few simple tricks. Remember to always use fresh juices, and top the mixture with sparkling wine (or, even healthier: sparkling water) to lengthen the punch and properly dilute some of the sweet and citrusy elements.
8. TRY A DIFFERENT SWEETENER
You’ve probably seen “simple syrup” on cocktail menus. Maybe you’ve even made it at home. Typically composed of equal parts sugar and water boiled and cooled into a syrup, simple syrup is one of the most common sweeteners in cocktails. By opting for Stevia, you can hack this two-part concoction to lose the calories. Because Stevia is sweeter than sugar, you just need to dial back the ratio. Rather than 1:1, try making your simple syrup with one part Stevia and four parts water. Boil the mixture on the stove until fully dissolved, let it cool and start mixing.
9. BEFRIEND LOW-ALCOHOL APERITIFS
Ever had Aperol? It’s an Italian, bittersweet, low-alcohol liqueur that’s delicious in a simple spritzer. Tried Lillet Blanc? It’s an easygoing French beverage that’s perfect served over ice with a twist of lemon. Both fall into the family of low-alcohol aperitifs — traditional before-dinner drinks. But the key here is that these drinks, and many others like it, contain much less alcohol than a typical cocktail.
10. REACH FOR MULLED WINE
Cocktails have their place. But if the above hacks aren’t available to you, wine probably is. Drinking a glass of Champagne gets you in the holiday spirit, while enjoying a glass of red wine by the fire is always a nice option. But Jenkins suggests reaching for mulled wine, which is like a cocktail-wine hybrid that involves cooking red wine over heat with a variety of mulling spices. The end result is warm, comforting and perfect for the season. Best of all, it keeps calorie counts much lower than indulgent cocktails.
Originally published November 2019, updated December 2023
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