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a bartender fixing a drink
Jonathan Lind, Mixin' it up behind the bar
Natalie Black

Low Sugar, Low Calorie, Big Flavor Drinking

When a vodka and soda just won't do

Jonathan Lind is a NYC-based bartender, founding Bar Director at Crown Shy, and has worked at celebrated establishments like Eleven Madison Park.

March 28, 2023 10:14 pm

Hello Wondercader. I’m Jonathan Lind, an NYC-based bartender. (If I ever call myself a “mixologist” you have permission to order a Shirley Temple with extra grenadine, and throw it in my face.) I was the founding Bar Director at Crown Shy, and have worked all over town, from the Freehand, NoMad and Standard hotels to Eleven Madison Park. I’ve been friends with Neil for the better part of a decade, which is how I found my way to your inbox.

To be honest, it seems slightly absurd for me to be writing about summer while still firmly in the grips of a schizophrenic lion- and lamb-like New York spring, but us hard-charging urbanites start thinking about our beach bodies early.

There are two very powerful examples of this: New Year’s gym memberships and…gasp…Dry January. Now, I’m not here to shame the sober-curious, nor am I here to discourage anyone from trying to cut back or abstain. But for those of us without the willpower or desire to give up our favorite tipple, I’d like to share my thoughts on how to best blend summertime self-care with summertime imbibing.

First things first: Alcohol really isn’t that good for you. Deal with it. Yes, there are studies that will say this type of liquor isn’t bad for you, or drinking that cocktail will help your heart — but in my opinion a lot of that information lives in a vacuum outside of real life. Tequila might not be as bad for you on a chemical level as whiskey, but I am also incapable of drinking tequila and not ordering Mexican food. A glass of red wine might be good for your heart, but I’ve never only had one glass of wine. 

Now, the reason I’m saying this is because drinking is a choice. Your choice. I’m here to help you do it a little bit healthier — without sacrificing taste — as you get ready for summer.

Sub the sugar!

I’m pretty opposed to overly sweet drinks. I think we all are. If I wanted candy, I’d buy candy. But…a cocktail without sugar is like food without salt. It just doesn’t taste quite right. So if you need to have sugar — which I just said you do — try using a sugar that gives you a little more bang for your buck than your standard white sugar-based simple syrup. Try using agave instead; you still are ingesting the calories associated with added sugars, but agave has an overall lower effect on your blood sugar than any other sweetener. It is, as they say, the lesser of evils. But wait, there’s more! Try using brown sugar in your simple syrup; again, you’re not avoiding the calories, but you are adding the vitamins and minerals naturally present in unrefined sugar to your cocktail. 

Amp it up!

Your fridge is full of things that could increase the nutritional value of your next at-home creation. I’m always a big fan of an egg white as a last-minute boost to my drink. It softens the sharpness of most drinks, and adds a couple of grams of protein. I will say two things about this though: Don’t add egg white to a stirred drink. It won’t incorporate, and your drink will have the texture of a newly deceased jellyfish. Secondly, don’t go to your local bar and have the bartender make you round after round of egg drinks. There’s a lot of shaking involved to get that nice frothy head we all love. Speaking of shaking things up: Add fruits, vegetables and herbs to your drinks. Berries are absolutely perfect for this, and the nutrient value of berries is well known. Are you gonna get the full nutritional value of a raspberry by shaking it into your drink instead of eating it? No. But are you gonna get a little vitamin bump and a lovely pinkish hue? Damn right!

Stretch it out!

Any sour-style drink can handle a decent amount of dilution while still maintaining a nice zippy flavor. So instead of just drinking your gimlet as is, toss it in a highball with some ice and top it up with club soda (or any no-calorie flavored sparkling water). Adding sparkling water to your cocktail provides a little boost of extra hydration, but more importantly, it provides you with a larger drink that takes longer to finish (assuming you don’t drink like I do). The longer you sip on a drink, the fewer drinks you’re likely to have in any given drinking session, which means you’ll be less intoxicated at the end of the evening, which means you might not get that late-night slice of pizza before bed. Or the bag of chips. Or the package of cookies.

Before I go, I figure I should give y’all a recipe to take a swing at! You can name the drink whatever you’d like, but the recipe is as follows:

clear cocktail in a highball glass
Call it whatever you like, but know it’s delicious

Servings: 1 Drink

Copy Ingredients

  • 2 ounces Amass gin
  • 1 ounce fresh lime juice
  • .5 ounce agave syrup
  • Sparkling water

Copy Directions

    1. Combine gin, lime juice and agave syrup in a shaker (could be those swanky metal ones, could be a shaker bottle, could be an empty quart container, could be a mason jar, etc.) with ONE piece of ice. We only need to whip this drink up a little bit, the dilution is going to come from the soda water. Anyway, shake it like you mean it for about 5 seconds, then strain the cocktail into a highball glass full of ice. Top with soda water and garnish with a lime and boom — you’ve got a lovely sparkling cocktail.

For the disciplined, the teetotalers, the sober-conscious or the underage, you can make this exact drink using a non-alcoholic “spirit” or you can double the lime juice and agave and essentially make limeade! I recommend a product called Amass Riverine, as it has the complexity I prefer in my non-alc cocktails.

All things being equal, your average cocktail has somewhere between 200-300 calories depending on the ingredients. The way I see it is you can either just accept that you’re drinking 300 pretty useless calories, or you can tweak your recipes so that your drink has some function to it (other than, ya know, intoxication). So to you, Wondercader, I say drink up, stay safe and have a great summer!

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