diet alcohol

We’re Deep Into the Summer of Low-Calorie Booze

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I’m sitting in my front yard in a Coleman bag chair that has a side cooler pocket for backup beers, and into that pocket I’ve tucked all my fears and anxieties about the world a-crumbling around me. This is called compartmentalization. The bag chair also has a nice cup holder. And in that, this afternoon, I’m stashing a 97-calorie grapefruit- and rosemary-flavored Absolut canned vodka soda. In this particular setting, the drink tastes pretty damn good, like designer hairspray with a hint of farmers’ market tote.

This is the SUMMER OF DIET ALCOHOL, and the cans will floweth with mysterious “supergrains” and “natural flavors” and “fermented corn syrup.” After the wild success of White Claw in 2019, other brands are racing to catch up in this billion-dollar category. From big companies like Anheuser-Busch (which has a “beyond beer” department now) to small, hard pressed-juice entrepreneurs in LA., everyone is making fizzy, fruit-flavored drinks in cans. Millions will guzzle what seems like BARELY ANY CALORIES — even the can is skinny! — and be happy.

And since I’m as susceptible to summer body-image shame as anyone, I can’t resist these drinks. In fact, an exec at the newly rebranded Bon V!V (yes, they swapped the shy “i” with a tipsy-texting !), told me in so many words that I was their very target audience. Women in their 30s. Tryna eat healthy, do yoga, get a little drunk in the front yard sometimes (insinuation mine). In that case, I thought, I should try them all. And so I did.

I’m not reviewing White Claw here, because by now you’ve had it, you love it, the $king$ of spiked seltzers. The reason White Claw sells more than any brand is because they use fruit juice concentrate instead of fruit flavors and it gives the drink a full, juicy sweet flavor (this is why Spindrift tastes better than LaCroix, to make a nonalcoholic comparison.) Mango White Claw is GOOD. Whereas Bon V!V’s Mango has pleasant nose-hair-tingling bubbles, but the flavor is delicate, like when you drink water three hours after chewing gum. The best/strongest one is Clementine Hibiscus, with notes of cute citrus and pink lip gloss. You can tell the flavoring is good when you burp and it tastes like clementine.

This has similar “botanical” packaging to the redesigned Bon V!v cans, but unlike with those — or nearly every other diet alcohol drink here — there is NO calorie count or “gluten-free!” in a shame bubble right where your thumb grips the can. (Dr. Lindsey Smith Taillie, a nutrition epidemiologist at UNC, told me that such labels are “a common industry tactic so that [food/drink companies] can say they are providing consumers with the info they need to make a healthy choice, when research shows that people do not use or understand this info.” SO DON’T FALL FOR IT! Alcohol isn’t heath food, other than that single glass of red wine no one adheres to!) The best Two Chicks flavor is Sparkling Paloma. It tastes like driving a truck with the windows down blasting Shania Twain. Just kidding, my license has expired. It tastes like grapefruit essence, sugar, and tequila.

Made with a fermented grain you’ll immediately forget called “malted rice,” this is another Anheuser-Busch “beyond beer” product (as is Bon V!V). Compared with the others on this list, it has a slightly higher ABV (7 percent) and calorie count (150, gasp!). Citrus Gimlet tasted like a gin and soda you forgot on the patio and the ice melted, but you tried it anyway and ew, so watered down, and the bubbles barely break on the tongue. Something deeply unfulfilled.

In proud and shouty CAPS, these cans of HARD PRESSED JUICE! list their healthful properties, such as ADAPTOGENS + REISHI + MATCHA + PROBIOTICS. But really they are alcohol. They’re not gonna save your soul. (The only thing that is, and I’ve seen it so I know, is my grandma Rose praying for you, which she told me she is). Psst that can open and give it a try. I enjoyed the flavors called THINK (guava-peach) and HUSTLE (passionfruit-strawberry) more than I enjoy actually thinking and hustling. These are fruity-sweet and a little weird, somewhere between a good dry cider and kombucha. The mild sweetness is from the fermented apple juice, the base of each flavor.

This brand sells a range of hard iced teas and seltzers made with “organic supergrain alcohol.” They are for Stevia lovers, which is not me. That cloying sweetness, yeck, I’d rather drink the cane stuff and rot my teeth out (in a fun way!). But the Spiked Root Beer seltzer, the brand’s top seller, is actually insane. The flavor is so sweet, so strikingly root-beery, that I could only handle half a can. My fellow taster, Sarah, liked C&M’s Spiked Coconut line, which are piña colada-lites.

Adorably packaged hard kombuchas! And because they’re naturally fermented and therefore naturally bubbly, the bubbles are more alive than a White Claw, which is pumped with big, bubblin’ gas. These bubbles dance and sizzle in the pastel-pretty can. Ginger Lemon had a nice kombucha acidity and funk, but Palo Santo Blueberry was complex and a bit earthy-churchy. Worth a try. [Editors’ note: Availability varies from state to state. The store below is in California.]

In a ZOOM COCKTAIL HOUR with UNCLE BUD, I noticed that cousin Katie was enjoying a nice spritzer, which I learned was called SPA GIRL. I had to try it; I am a spa girl! Who doesn’t want to be a spa girl? But the pear and vodka cocktail I sampled — you pour it on ice, these are boozy at 16.5 percent — was too syrupy for me, and the pear flavor hit me harder than a deep-tissue massage. Not exactly bag-chair material.

IN CONCLUSION: Most of these drinks give me as much satisfaction as taking the top bun off a burger, which is never as delicious as the fully bunned burger. Look at me, taking in a smidge fewer calories, which are a bullshit unit of measure anyway! And the intense fake — though sometimes real — sugariness blew out my taste buds so I’d have to eat a pile of Triscuits before I could advance to the better stuff, wine.

But everything has a time and a place. And sometimes a light, barely boozy, mango-flavored can of sparkling who-knows-what is just what you need while you’re tracing your niece in chalk on the sidewalk during a game of “SVU.” Isn’t summer fun? See you on the front lawn.

We’re Deep Into the Summer of Low-Calorie Booze