Cocktail Chatter - The Mixer Mix-Up

Much as I love the name, I can’t bring myself to consume what the kids today are calling the Skinny Bitch. This cocktail is usually made with a flavored vodka, Diet Coke, and a squeeze of lime. My issue with the drink doesn’t involve the liquor, but with the artificially flavored and sweetened soda.

But the Skinny Bitch is not really a drink focused on the Coke; it’s a drink focused on the Diet. Also focusing on the diet is a writer named Teresa Marie Howes, who wrote a whole book on diet drinks this year called Skinnytinis. Most of the recipes in the book cut calories in cocktails by adjusting the amounts of liqueurs and mixers, as distilled spirits like gin and vodka all have about the same number of calories per volume. Her drinks call for light or diet juices and sodas, and flavored water and other mixers instead of sugar-laden liqueurs in recipes. She makes crafty placements like swapping out the orange liqueur in a Margarita with light orange juice and Sweet ‘N Low.

One set of mixers that are often mixed up are soda water and tonic water. They both have water in the name so you can understand the confusion, but the two are vastly different liquids. Soda water is carbonated water, and mixes well with vodka. (Gin not so much.) Tonic water pairs well with more spirits, and is consumed in different countries with vodka, gin, rum, tequila, and even Port wine.

But tonic began as a tonic - a medicine used to prevent and cure malaria. It gets its flavor from the very bitter quinine that was once harvested from the bark of the cinchona tree, nicknamed the “fever tree” as it cured the malarial fever. To make the powdered bark palatable, explorers and soldiers in mosquito-intense countries around the world added sugar to the solution. Later, gin was added and the G&T was born. Hooray for medicine!

The important thing to note in that last paragraph is the use of sugar. Its presence (or more commonly, the presence of high fructose corn syrup) in drinks means it has those calories you’ve been trying to avoid. Many people think they’re sipping a diet drink when they choose tonic water, but really they may as well be swilling cola.

Now that I’m a fully functioning cocktail snob, I don’t drink the tonic water, sodas and juices that come out of the cocktail squirter in bars at all. I like fresh juices and mixers without artificial sweeteners — and it turns out these typically have less calories than do the sugared-up cranberry juice and sodas you’ll get in most bars anyway. At home, you can buy high quality mixers with natural and organic sweeteners for your cocktails. Out at the clubs though, you probably won’t have that option, so you can opt for diet soda or soda water as mixers. Or better yet, opt for that sugar-laden Apple-Cosmo-Choco-Tini at the bar, and then spend the night working off those calories on the dancefloor.

Camper English is a cocktails and spirits writer and publisher of

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