Are Skinny and Farm-fresh Drinks Just Summer Fads?

Can’t ignore “skinny” anymore; today, such restaurant chains as Carrabba’s Italian Grill, P.F. Chang’s and Morton’s The Steakhouse are featuring cocktails tagged with that moniker. Morton’s has the Skinny Blood Orange Cosmo (blood orange vodka, Monin Sugar Free Triple Sec Syrup, lime and cranberry juices) and a Skinny ‘Rita (Patron Silver, Monin Agave Nectar, lime juice). Meanwhile, Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar has introduced a 99-calorie cocktail called the Skinny Sexy Sailor (Sailor Jerry Rum, black iced tea and fresh lemon juice), available through the end of July, with another skinny cocktail called the Russian Prom Queen to be introduced for August.

Spa-tinis from Morton's The Steakhouse.

How widespread is the trend this summer? In Philadelphia, restaurant Valanni now features nine skinny cocktails, all with a calorie count under 170. Valanni’s bartender Ed Kaye also has developed low-cal Margaritas and Mojitos as well — the Perfect 10 Mojito is made with Bacardi Rock Coconut Rum, fresh lime, Splenda and club soda, while the Hot For Herra Margarita employs agave syrup for its lower-impact sweetener.

Suppliers aren’t missing a beat; in addition to the explosion of prepared cocktails, brands are deeply involved. In just one instance, TY KU has introduced a “wiser way to drink” with a low-calorie Citrus Liqueur, created with a blend of soju and superfruits, and promotes their Soju brand as a 68 calorie per serving alternative to vodkas (115 calories, according to TY KU) and flavored vodkas (140 calories). Morton’s likes the idea: Their Lean and Green uses TY KU Soju, Monin Agave Nectar, lime juice and mint, with a cucumber garnish. Even the uber-trendy NM Cafés at Neiman-Marcus stores are in the game; the 120-calorie Lemon Drop eschews sour mix for an orange-and-lemon-juice combo with Grey Goose Le Citron, for instance, while the Weightless Mojito (rum, mint, lime and soda) weighs in at 130 calories. (Nintey nine, 120, 130, 170: What is the upper limit for a cocktail’s calorie count before it goes from skinny to curvy?).

Beyond the “skinny” madness, herbs are taking pride of place right now. New York’s famed 21 Club, more traditional than avant-garde, this summer features basil, thyme and lavender in such special seasonal offerings as the Ginger-Basil Daiquiri, Summer-Thyme and Lavender-Lime Rickey. Herbs definitely are in play at the farm-to-glass Clifton Inn in Charlottesville, Va., with the Lavender Martini (Skyy Vodka, housemade garden lavender lemonade, fresh lavender) and the Blackberry Mojito (Bacardi Rum, fresh housemade blackberry purée, fresh mint, lime). And at PS 7’s Restaurant in Washington, D.C., Gina Chersevani is now offering a daily changing punch that features ingredients blooming in her garden and available through farmers' markets and local purveyors; a recent punch included gin, fresh basil and strawberries, housemade strawberry syrup, sour mix and Angostura Bitters.

Herbal delights at "21" Club.

While we’re mentioning D.C., Chef Susur Lee’s global Asian outpost Zentan has expanded Lucky 7 Happy Hour to feature three cocktails and Asian-inspired small plates — the food and beverage mix and match that has reignited the promotional concept at many chain restaurants. The featured drinks include the Singapore Sweet Tea (Absolut Citron, J Weed Sweet Tea, ginger syrup, citrus, and a float of Soho Lychee), the Shanghai’ed Mai Tai (St. James, Myers’s and Cruzan Rums, lime, orgeat, triple orange, citrus juices and Absinthe) and the ChanManhattan (r1 Rye Whiskey, Canton Ginger, Boissiere Sweet Vermouth and bitters).

But wait, there’s more — fresh produce that is. At Ceiba, a Latin-inspired restaurant in D.C., summery hibiscus and basil plays a big part in the Passion Pisco (Macchu Pisco, hibiscus basil syrup, passion fruit purée, lemon juice, sparkling Rosé and passion fruit melon sorbet), while sister restaurant Acadiana takes advantage of early peaches with the Louisiana Purchase (Southern Comfort, Ketel One Vodka, fresh peach and mango, housemade grenadine). Farm-to-glass segues easily into locally or housemade ingredients; in Portland, Kask opened recently with drinks like the Balow Trail (gin, Herbsaint and housemade Douglas fir tip tincture) and the Gunsmoke (rye, Gran Classico and housemade tobacco honey.)

Fresh, local and skinny aren’t all that’s going on right now; the growing interest in gin keeps fueling menus featuring the botanical spirit. This summer, Imperial No. Nine at Mondrian Soho Hotel in New York has gotten into the gin game with five creative takes on the classic Gin and Tonic and 22 gins. Versions (all with Fever Tree Tonic) include Miller’s Gin with basil and grapefruit bitters; Farmer’s Organic Gin with Aperol and grapefruit; Plymouth Gin with Cherry Heering, agave and yuzu; Brooklyn Gin with strawberry, thyme, agave and lime; and Averel Damson Gin with Dolin Blanc and orange bitters.

But of all of the drinks of the past few weeks, hats are raised the highest for Jacob Grier of Metrovino in Portland, challenged by e-newsletter Thrillist to create an off-menu item for their readers. The catch: the drink had to include Mad Dog, that favorite fortified wine of a certain set. Grier came up with the Dalbo Dog: Krogstad aquavit, Blue Raspberry MD 20/20, lime juice, agave nectar and Novo Fogo Cherribiscus bitters. Put that in your next "Iron Bartender" challenge!

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