Oh, gin. I just can’t quit you.
But asking for healthier cocktails that are still boozy is a tricky subject. Because no one wants to be that dick at the bar asking if they can have a “healthy version of a Chocolate Flip”.
Way to make a bartender wish death on you and your family: Ask if they can make a cocktail on their menu but with, like, fewer calories, you know?
So we asked a bunch of bartenders and industry experts for healthy drink suggestions that won’t make you look like a total tool down at your local.
We talked to gin distillers, brand ambassadors, bar owners, and, of course, a LOT of bartenders. They’ve all spent a lot of time in bars, both in front and behind, and know a thing or too about their liquor.
Here’s what they suggested.
1. A gimlet
“The original lazy bartender’s ‘cocktail’ – many’s the time I’ve lobbed one of those at a customer who said ‘surprise me’! It’s a wicked bit of a ’70s throwback too. At one time these were seen as the epitome of cool.
“It’s made with gin and lime cordial, both of which are full of healing properties. Lime cordial, specifically Rose’s lime cordial, was invented here in Edinburgh and has considerable stomach-settling properties. Any bartender worth their salt, upon being informed of someone’s stomach complaint, will have a lime and soda on the bar quicker than you can say gastroenteritis, while gin and its older sibling jenever were used as a medicine for hundreds of years.”
– Paul Donegan, brand ambassador for Pickering’s Gin, Edinburgh
2. A Gin Rickey
“The Rickey contains no sugar (send it back if it does), and even has the added bonus of your daily vitamin C dose. Stick to Rickeys for the entire night, and you’re likely to feel better than usual on the morning after.”
– Jared Brown, master distiller at Sipsmiths, the Cotswolds
3. A Vodka Chartreuse
“Vodka is low-calorie, while chartreuse is full of herbs for a medicinal kick. Paired together, they make a lighter cocktail option. I finished this one with a mint leaf and some cucumber.”
– Jono Benoliel, general manager at East London Liquor Company, London
4. A Penicillin
“If you’re looking for liquid therapy then the Penicillin cocktail is the perfect choice.
“As the name suggests, this is the cocktail to cure all ills with its combination of Scotch whisky, lemon juice, honey, and ginger. Honey is a fantastic tonic and a great way to get your sweet kick without resorting to refined sugars.
“And the whisky? Well, it’s no accident that it literally means ‘water of life’, is there?!”
– Sophie Bratt, assistant bar manager at the Oxo Tower, London
5. An Espresso Martini
“The ultimate pick-me-up. Coffee is chock-full of benefits (and antioxidants). Worth noting when you order that next Espresso Martini.”
Luke Shepard, general manager at the Smokin’ Aces Cocktail Bar & Whiskey Lounge, Dorset
6. Gin and juice
“Anyone who sees me will know that I’m a picture of rude health, and at 45 West, our new bar in Leicester. the team have developed the Distiller’s Garden to keep me that way.
“They juice fresh pink fir apples, celery, and lemon juice and add it to the Burleighs Gin that I distill. The botanicals used to flavour gin were often distilled for medicinal rather than boozy purposes, and these with the antioxidants in the fresh juices will surely mean that I will live forever. If you can’t get to us, just ask for gin and juice at any other bar, or go for a cocktail on their menu with similar ingredients.”
– Jamie Baxter, director and master distiller at 45 West Distillers, Leicestershire
7. A Bloody Mary
“Celery and tomato, citrus, and seasoning sounds more like a salad… Salad is healthy, right? When choosing a healthy drink I swan-dive straight into the delights of the Bloody Mary. Its curing ability as hair of the dog are unmatchable, and it’s one of your five a day too! I declare the Bloody Mary/Red Snapper (for you gin fans) the ultimate alcoholic health drink.”
8. A martini
“This is actually a Seaweed Martini (an added bonus for lots of vitamins) stirred with a dash of tonic water (which has quinine in it, so you’ll be protected against malaria too). I have this as a hangover cure, with two small Red Snapper shots (a gin-based Bloody Mary)… One to have first, then one to finish.
“A martini just on its own is still just as good a low-calorie, low-sugar option, and you can order it at any bar without shame.”
– David Coveney, bartender at Aperitivo at the Oliver Conquest, London
9. A caipirinha
“The fresh muddled limes are almost guaranteed to protect you against troublesome scurvy. This one is even better, with a ‘healthy’ measure of organic cachaça – everyone knows organic is good!”
– Luke Shepard
10. A Tommy’s Margarita
“A staple classic of lime, agave, and tequila. The fresh citrus will give you a vitamin C hit, and there are no artificial sweeteners, just agave, which has antioxidant properties. Plus tequila is bottled sunshine.”
– Nate Brown, owner of Merchant House, London
11. A Salty Dog
“The Salty Dog is grapefruit juice with grapefruit vodka (or regular vodka if your bar doesn’t have it). Grapefruit is super high in both vitamin C and potassium – and it’s even better if you can get fresh or cold-pressed juice.
“Keep in mind that alcohol isn’t healthy, so always drink in moderation!”
– Elsa Holmberg, Finlandia Vodka brand ambassador, London
12. A beetroot cocktail
“This is a Beetroot Tommy’s done with beetroot syrup. It’s super healthy as beetroot is high in antioxidants, and Tommy’s Margaritas have agave nectar, which actually is a good alternative to sugar (great for diabetics – my boyfriend is diabetic and I can vouch for this). So if you spot a beetroot cocktail on the menu, opt for that.”
– Connie Cain, bartender at RYND bar and kitchen, Reading
13. A Wraparound
“This is gin, muddled with celery, honey, cucumber, and lime. Gin historically has been used as medicine to cure nearly everything, and this alongside fresh cucumber (an excellent source of vitamin K), honey (not sugar), and fresh celery make it a great healthy cocktail.
“You won’t this cocktail at every bar, as it’s a Loves Company original, but if you ask a bartender to muddle cucumber and celery with some gin and lime, it’s a decent replica!”
– Daniel Kaizen, bartender at Loves Company, London
14. A mojito
“If you’re looking for a cocktail that isn’t laced with sugary syrups then opt for a mojito. If it’s made well with fresh ingredients, then there’s no need to feel guilty. Thanks to vitamin C from the lime and fresh mint, which helps to aid digestion, it means you’re basically drinking grownup Calpol. Honest.
“The above is our own Mighty Blighty Mojito, which uses agave nectar, ginger, mint, and beetroot juice.”
– Sophie Bratt, assistant bar manager at the Oxo Tower, London
15. A Face Mask Martini
“Same as a normal martini but with a few slices of cucumber and a spare 15 mins on the side for a good pamper.”
– Josh Powell, head bartender at 68 & Boston, London
16. A Nobody’s Perfect
“This is the Nobody’s Perfect, a twist on the Perfect Manhattan for those who are not-so-perfect! Apple brandy is stirred with London’s (and the world’s?) first vermouth with no added sugar, and then combined with sugar-free bitters. The Mastrostefano vermouth I used is made in the Reina FBS laboratory and available at Looking Glass Cocktail Club. This cocktail is a light boozy blend of fruits and flowers for sugar-conscious cocktail lovers! ”
– Georgia Billing, assistant general manager at Looking Glass Cocktail Club, London
17. A boozy smoothie
“This is the Devil’s Avocado cocktail at Hush, that has avocado, pineapple, apple juice all blitzed together with Pisco. The ingredients are the perfect energy booster, plus it’s very low in calories for a cocktail, If your local bar has a blender and some fruit on hand, get them to whizz you up an alcoholic smoothie for refreshing cocktail.”
– Pedro Solozarno, bar director at Hush Mayfair, London
18. A Sazerac
“The history of bitters is a long and interesting one. Angostura bitters were originally developed as a medical elixir for Simon Bolivar’s troops. Peychaud’s bitters were invented by a pharmacist called Antoine Peychaud. The classic Sazerac contains not just one, but both of these bitters, meaning it must be twice as good for you, surely? We serve ours with a combination of cognac and rye whiskey, a brown sugarcube, three dashes of Angostura, and four dashes of Peychaud’s.”
– Luke Shepard
19. And if all else fails…a mocktail
“Sometimes you think bartenders will hate you for ordering a mocktail but a lot of the time all we want is to be able to make something different, and let our creative juices flow. A mocktail is something challenging, which is exciting. Experiment with juices, syrups and purees to give you the best tasting mocktails ever can be a lot of fun.”
– Mudassar Dar, supervisor at Revolución de Cuba, Leeds