Move over, mint-chocolate-cream martini.
A new cocktail trend is emerging, and in this case, less is more appealing.
Less fattening, that is.
Thanks, in large part, to reality-TV star Bethenny Frankel, whose "Skinnygirl" brand of bottled margaritas had waist-watching women everywhere running in heels to liquor stores for guilt-free refreshment when it launched in 2009, restaurants, liquor stores and grocery stores across the country -- and in North Texas -- are now stocking bars and shelves full of "light," sugar-free, "skinny" mixers, spirits and pre-mixed cocktails.
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Long gone are the days when light beer was the only lower-calorie bottled beverage to pull out at parties.
Popular restaurants such as The Cheesecake Factory and Cantina Laredo have recently added "lighter" cocktails, which are the same price as their heavier originals.
"Skinny margaritas make up a fair amount of margarita sales, especially in the warmer months," said Nichelle Ritter, the beverage director for Consolidated Restaurant Operations, who oversees the drink menu for restaurants such as the Cantina Laredo location in downtown Fort Worth. "Demand continues to grow, so we are looking to expand our skinny cocktails beyond margaritas to reach a broader audience."
Not surprisingly, Ritter says, women are the main consumers of skinny margaritas, but when the cocktail offerings are expanded, restaurants expect to see more interest from men.
"We saw consumer interest in healthier options -- low-calorie, low-carb and sugar-free," Ritter said.
The margaritas are made from fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice, so it only took a couple minor tweaks to make the skinnier version, she said.
And what does "skinny" mean to the beverage world?
"Skinny" drinks typically have about 100 calories per serving, but also may claim to be lower in fat or sugar, according to Sylvia Cosmopoulos, a corporate mixologist for the Republic National Distributing Co. She said she believes that these "skinny" cocktails "are the alcoholic solution to the government mandate for nutrition labeling." As a professional mixologist who helps major restaurants design drink menus, Cosmopoulos says she has seen that when there is a trend in the food industry, beverages tend to follow closely behind.
Most of the calories in cocktails come from their sugary mixers.
Nutrition experts, in response to America's growing obesity problem, have warned against the evils of sugar, leading to interest in alternatives
"With the average consumer trending healthier, we have also seen a sweetener movement, or a move to more natural forms of sweeteners and sugars," Cosmopoulos said. "I think agave nectar really jump-started this trend a few years back, and it started with the margarita."
Though Frankel may have blazed the trail for the skinny-drink trend, plenty of other alcohol brands are following close behind with lighter options. Name just about any cocktail, and there's now a lower-calorie version available.
We recently tried five store-bought "skinny" drinks to see just how good a cocktail can taste without all of that sugar. Most of these can be found at local liquor stores (we found them all at Kings Liquors on Berry Street in Fort Worth); the Mike's Hard Lite Lemonade can be found at many grocery stores, too.
'Skinny' drink taste-test
Skinnygirl Margarita by Bethenny Frankel
The skinny: 100 calories for a 4-ounce serving. The bottled, ready-to-drink margarita is made with clear tequila, fresh-squeezed lime juice, agave nectar for sweetness and a splash of triple sec. The newest addition to her rapidly growing Skinnygirl cocktail line is the Skinnygirl Sangria, which uses natural flavors and ingredients like her original margarita and has 134 calories per 5-ounce serving.
Cheers to this: The margarita tastes fresh and simple and does not lack the amount of tequila found in most margaritas. The sassy bottle looks great on a bar area or in the kitchen and instantly draws the attention of the girls on your night out.
What we missed: The sweetness of a regular margarita can be a bit overwhelming, but the agave nectar wasn't enough to cover up the taste of the tequila. To make my drink more tasty without adding calories, I mixed in a packet of sweetener.
Cost: About $14 for a 750-milliliter bottle
Voli Light Vodka
The skinny: 74 calories per 1.5 fluid ounces (for the original light flavor). Voli also features the flavors lemon, orange vanilla, pear vanilla, raspberry cocoa and espresso vanilla. These flavors are only a few extra calories more per serving compared with the original light.
Cheers to this: Not only does Voli have a deliciously sassy variety of flavors to choose from, but it contains electrolytes, which means less of a headache the next day. This light vodka also has 40 percent alcohol by volume, as do most regular vodkas.
The original light vodka tasted like most other moderately priced vodkas. The electrolytes took away from the bitter taste that tends to come with other brands and made it easy to swallow.
What we missed: The marketing for this brand is blatantly directed toward women, but what about the men out there? Voli should think of a flavor and bottle design that would appeal to the men, like some light beers do, so that male vodka lovers can watch their waistlines as well.
Cost: About $25 for a 750-milliliter bottle
Skinny Sweet Tea Flavored Vodka by Firefly
The skinny: 72 calories per 1.5 fluid ounces. This sweet tea-flavored vodka is the same as the popular original but without the sugar. Instead, it is made with the sweetener Truvia. This vodka is infused with South Carolina tea to give it the dark color and taste.
Cheers to this: The skinny sweet tea taste is almost indistinguishable from the original sweet tea vodka. The taste is so good, that it is easy to drink on the rocks. For a refreshing poolside drink, mix the skinny sweet tea vodka with a bit of Crystal Light lemonade.
What we missed: The skinny version of the sweet tea vodka lacks the alcohol content of its original. Though all of the Firefly vodkas are about the same price, you are getting fewer calories and less alcohol, which can amount to less bang for your buck.
Cost: About $20 for a 750-milliliter bottle
Jose Cuervo Light Margarita
The skinny: The bottle advertises it as "100 calories per serving," which amounts to about 4.5 ounces of the prepared cocktail mix. It is made with Jose Cuervo Especial Gold, triple sec and lime. Jose Cuervo also debuted its nonalcoholic, Zero-Calorie Margarita Mix at the beginning of the summer, just in time for swimsuit season.
Cheers to this: The gold tequila is easier to stomach for those who aren't the spirit's No. 1 fan. For 100 calories a serving, it doesn't taste dramatically different than the not-so-skinny original.
What we missed: Cuervo has a line of delicious-looking premade margarita mixes that are not (yet) available in the lighter version. Who wouldn't love a pomegranate, mango or strawberry lime margarita without feeling completely guilty about drinking it?
Cost: About $14 for a 1.75-liter bottle
Mike's Lite Hard Lemonade
The skinny: 109 calories for 11.2 fluid ounces. It also comes in Mike's Hard Cranberry Lemonade, which is 119 calories per bottle. These drinks are made with natural sweeteners, fresh lemon juice and a malt base.
Cheers to this: This drink is a great change from a light beer and is a fun addition to a day at the pool or while relaxing on the beach. While the drink tends to be on the sweeter side, it is not as heavy as the original Mike's Hard Lemonade. It is perfect for people who are health nuts and aren't beer drinkers.
What we missed: Though the drink is low in calories, it has 14 grams of carbs per bottle. It would be difficult to drink more than one or two without getting a major sugar rush.
Cost: About $7.49 for a six-pack
'Skinny' cocktail recipes, from mixologist Sylvia Cosmopoulos