With Summer here, we can all benefit from low- or no-sugar cocktails. Concerns about the extra calories in sugars, coupled with a growing interest in healthy alternatives to processed sugar, have led to a rise in the use of honey, agave, and other natural sweeteners in our favorite beverages. Bartenders around the world have leveraged these all-natural, sugar-free sweetening agents to create super refreshing libations that thrill the senses. The health benefits alone make exploring alternatives to added sugar a smart choice for any health-conscious drinker.
Sugar Added to Cocktails
For as long as alcohol has been served, drink makers have used sugar to sweeten beverages and to bring out the flavors of fruits and other ingredients. A refreshing drink often takes the form of a sweet beverage served over ice, especially in Summer months. Whether simple syrup is used to sweeten a cocktail, or processed sugar is added, cocktails with these sweet flavors remain incredibly popular.
What About Artificial Sweeteners?
Growing concern about unwanted weight gain and increased popularity of the keto diet, gluten free foods, and healthy lifestyles have created interest in finding alternatives to sugar. Artificial sweetening agents, developed in the 1950s, were initially seen as a great way to add sweetness to beverages. Unfortunately, medical evidence suggests these artificial products do more harm than good. Long-term use of certain sweeteners can lead to health complications and may even contribute to the development of certain forms of cancer. If you are on a low-carb diet or seek sugar free alternatives and want to continue to sip on an alcoholic drink, these artificial additives are not an ideal solution.
Using Honey in Cocktails
Professional bartenders know that one of the best ingredients to use as an alternative to sugar is honey. Sugar-free cocktails made with honey have a more complex character and bring out the flavors of fruit juices and fruit ingredients. Honey may also have certain properties that benefit overall health, including a gentle but natural antibacterial effect. Mixed with spirits and juices such as lime juice, orange juice, or grapefruit juice; honey adds a touch of sweetness and a distinctive character to some of bartenders’ favorite concoctions. Club soda, Seltzer, or other sugar free mixers finish the recipe, making low sugar cocktails that satisfy our summertime thirsts. Alcohol-focused beverages may given a mint garnish or a dash of bitters added to the glass before serving.
Drinks made with honey instead of sugar include:
- Bee’s Knees, using lemon and gin
- Gold Rush
- Variations of a Vodka Soda, which can be served sweetened or completely sugar free
Honey complements the complex flavors of brown liquors, as well; including bourbon, rums, and Scotch. With these ingredients, a splash of lime or soda, and a bit of prep time, your next gathering will be remembered for its creative and flavorful refreshments.
Agave: Another Alternative to Sugar
Agave syrup is derived from the agave plant, a plant that is often grown in desert conditions in Central and South America. Agave syrup also replaces sugar or other syrups in cocktail preparation. Agave is lower on the glycemic index than other sweeteners, and is suitable for those watching their weight or on keto diets. A drink made with agave nectar has a complex flavor profile which enhances the flavors of low sugar cocktails. In combination with citrus fruit or to balance the tart flavors of tomato juice or cranberry juice, agave has become a go-to favorite for mixologists. These ‘summery’ libations can be given a boost by adding a splash of seltzer water, a squeeze of lime juice, or a portion of other fruit juice to create one-of-a-kind drinks that refresh.
Popular drinks that use agave syrup to replace processed sugar can include:
- Tom Collins
- Red wine punches
- Mint Juleps
- Variations of Margaritas
- Watermelon Martinis
- Gin Fizzes
Drinks with Sugar Alternatives
Fruits contain natural sugars, which is why these ingredients find their way into drinks the world over. Fruit flavors can be enhanced with agave or honey, adding character and complexity to beverages.
Honey and agave can also be used to balance strong flavor ingredients like hot sauce or Worcestershire sauce in certain libations. These versatile additives can take your drink making skills to the next level, supporting low carb diets and keeping people satisfied at your next party or family gathering.