Ah, summer. A time filled with beaches and picnics and stone fruit and...alcohol. It sometimes seems that every summer activity comes with a side of rosé, and it can be hard to reconcile a wellness-forward lifestyle (or simply wanting to feel good enough to enjoy all that hiking and biking and beaching) with the social nature of the season. While drinking to excess is never recommended, it's also important to live a life full of balance, with as many soul-satisfying moments as there are body ones. With that in mind, here are a few tricks that will help you create a healthier cocktail:
1. Stick to wine and hard liquor as your base.
Avoid additive- and sugar-filled liquors that come in fun bottles and have flavors better left at a county fair. This means white wine, red wine, sparkling wine, vodka, rum, whiskey, and tequila (this does not mean cotton candy vodka or hard lemonade). A wine base, such as a spritzer, gets bonus points for its small but not totally insubstantial quantity of antioxidants and its relatively lower amount of alcohol. Tequila also gets points for being made from agavin, which gives it a naturally sweet flavor that requires less in the way of mixers to make it palatable.
2. Stay away from simple syrups and other sweet add-ins.
These are all pure sugar, even if they're gussied up with infused rosemary. Instead, stick with natural sweeteners, relying heavily on fruits as much as possible. Muddle some berries in the bottom of your glass, or slip in an orange peel (the essential oils in the orange add a captivating aroma and feeling of sweetness without any actual added sugar).
3. Bitters are your best friend.
Bitters are, hands down, the best way to add interesting flavors to a healthier cocktail. Made from a mix of herbs and spices extracted in alcohol, they've been used for centuries medicinally, primarily as a digestive aid. The herbs and spices, though, give the bitters a wonderfully vibrant flavor that can be used to add depth and complexity to any cocktail. Reach for more unusual flavors like cardamom, celery, lavender, or chocolate to add zest and excitement to even a simple vodka soda, or hit up a therapeutic blend to soothe your stomach as you sip. Just make sure whatever brand you reach for is free from artificial colors and flavors, containing simply herbs and spices, alcohol, and aromatics (like citrus peel).
4. Make it hydrating.
This doesn't just mean sparkling water, although that's a great addition to any cocktail. Adding elements like sodium-rich celery juice or silica cucumber hydrates on a cellular level and helps combat the dehydrating (and hangover-inducing) effects of alcohol. They also add flavor, so don't hesitate to utilize water-rich fruits and vegetables or their juices. Melons are typically found in desert climates, acting as organic water vessels for the oft-parched areas and, as such, are some of the most water-dense produce around. Take advantage of this by blitzing cubes of honeydew, cantaloupe, or watermelon in a food processor to create a slushy base that you can then fortify with your favorite wine or liquor.
Here are a few healthy cocktail recipes to get you started. Plus, a deeper dive into why bitters are one of the best gut-healing secrets around.
Liz Moody is an author, blogger and recipe developer living in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated with a creative writing and psychology degree from The University of California, Berkeley. Moody has written two cookbooks: Healthier Together: Recipes for Two—Nourish Your Body, Nourish Your Relationships and Glow Pops: Super-Easy Superfood Recipes to Help You Look and Feel Your Best. She also hosts the Healthier Together Podcast, where she chats with notable chefs, nutritionists, and best-selling authors about their paths to success. Her work has been featured in Vogue, Glamour, Food & Wine & Women’s Health.