Best Low-Carb or Sugar-Free Alcoholic Beverages and Cocktails

Learn How to Enjoy Happy Hour When You're Cutting Carbs

Cocktails, beer, and wine can be high in carbohydrates and sugar, which many low-carb diets restrict—at least in the first phase. If you want to enjoy an alcoholic drink from time to time and still stay within the boundaries of your low-carb eating plan, you'll want to learn which drinks contain the fewest carbs, as well as how to lower the carbs in your favorite cocktails.

1

Shots and Highballs

Classic Whiskey Highball Cocktail
Photo Courtesy: Shannon Graham

Distilled spirits such as rum, vodka, whiskey, gin, and tequila have no carbohydrates. (Though they're often sourced from grains, nothing but alcohol remains after the distillation process.) You can have them as a shot, on the rocks, or with a mixer. Some mixers, such as club soda, sparkling water, and plain water, are naturally carb-free and calorie-free. Others like tonic water, ginger ale, cola, and lemon-lime soda (7 Up or Sprite), come in diet versions. 

 Highballs are made with just these mixers and liquor. They are easy to make sugar-free. For example:

  • Gin (or vodka) and diet tonic
  • Jack and Coke (made with diet cola)
  • Scotch and soda
  • Seven and Seven (Seagram's 7 and Diet 7 Up)
  • Rum and diet cola
  • Rye and ginger (rye whiskey and diet ginger ale)
2

Cocktails

Margarita on the rocks
John E. Kelly/Photodisc/Getty Images

While carbonated mixers are easier to find in carb-free versions, other additions to cocktails present more of a problem. Here's how to modify drinks to reduce the sugar.

Choose Cocktails Low in Fruit Juice 

Lemon and lime juices usually don't contribute too much sugar because there isn't much juice in any one drink. One exception is orange juice. While OJ doesn't have much more sugar per ounce than lemon or lime juice (3 grams vs. 2 grams), far more is often used in a drink. For example, a screwdriver (vodka and orange juice) could easily have 24 grams or more, depending on the size.

Other favorite juices for cocktails are pineapple juice (4 grams of carb an ounce), cranberry juice cocktail (4 grams an ounce for regular, 1 gram for light, and 0.2 grams for diet), and occasionally apple juice (3.5 grams an ounce) and tomato juice (1 gram an ounce).

Replace Simple Syrup With Artificial Sweetener

Simple syrup is a solution of sugar in water used to sweeten cocktails. One ounce has 4 tablespoons of sugar, about 50 grams of carbohydrates and almost 200 calories. Substituting artificial sweetener, particularly in liquid form, is an easy way to get around this.

Simple syrup is often combined with lemon juice or lime juice to make a sweet-and-sour mixer. To lighten the sugar and carb load, you can make your own sugar-free sweet and sour mixer using artificial sweetener.

Cutting Carbs from Liqueurs

Liqueurs are sweet alcoholic beverages that always contain sugar. Examples are Bénédictine, crème de cacao, crème de menthe, and Cointreau. 

  • Replace the flavor of liqueur by using other flavorings. For example, a drop or two of orange extract can substitute for an orange liqueur such as Grand Marnier or Cointreau. Peppermint extract can take the place of peppermint schnapps. Then use a sugar substitute to replace the sweetness and enough water to make up for the liquid needed.
  • Replace liqueur with an equal volume of sugar-free syrup, such as those in the DaVinci or Torino brands. These syrups come in an array of flavors, even including liqueurs like amaretto, crème de menthe, and Irish Cream.
  • Use flavored spirits such as citrus-flavored vodka as the base of your drink rather than adding liqueur for that flavor. Be aware that the spirits may have a higher alcohol content than the liqueur they're replacing.

Carbs in Other Cocktail Ingredients

Small amounts of bitters, an alcoholic preparation that contains botanical ingredients, are often used in cocktails. A tablespoon of bitters usually contains 5 to 7 grams of carbs.

Vermouth is a flavored fortified wine used in the classic martini and other cocktails. Dry vermouth contains about 1 grams of carbs an ounce, whereas the sweet type contains about 4 grams an ounce.

Sugar-free or Low-Carb Cocktail Recipes

These recipes are lower in sugar and carbohydrates:

  • Sugar-Free Margarita Recipe: The traditional margarita is hard to pass up when you're enjoying Mexican food, but most of them are very high in sugar. This version has just 6 grams of carbs.
  • Low-Carb Cosmopolitan Recipe: This festive cocktail normally includes lots of sugar from cranberry juice and liqueur. 
  • Bloody Mary Recipe: Get a serving of vegetables in your flavorful brunch cocktail. This recipe is appropriate for phase two of the South Beach Diet and includes notes on how to adjust carbs for other low-carb plans.
  • Sugar-Free Whiskey Sour Recipe: Replacing the usual sugar-laden mixers will reduce the calories and the carbs.
  • Low-Carb Collins Recipe: Pre-made Collins mixers have a fair amount of sugar. This recipe can be used for a lower-calorie and lower-carb Tom Collins or vodka Collins.
3

Liqueurs

Bottles of fruit liqueurs lined up
Peter ten Broecke / E+ / Getty Images

Liqueurs have the greatest amount of carbohydrate among all alcoholic beverages. If you're going to sip them by themselves, you'll need to have a smaller pour. For cocktail recipes, use a smaller amount or substitutes.

These carb counts are based on the measure of one regular-sized jigger, which is typically 1.5 ounces. Each brand may differ slightly in the amount of carbohydrate it has. Check the labels if you have a choice of different brands.

  • Amaretto: 25 grams
  • Bailey’s Irish Cream: 11 grams
  • B & B (brandy and Bénédictine): 8 grams
  • Campari: 12 grams
  • Coffee liqueur (Kahlúa): up to 24 grams
  • Cointreau: 15 grams
  • Crème de cacao: 22 grams
  • Crème de cassis: 17 grams
  • Crème de menthe: 21 grams
  • Grand Marnier: 10 grams
  • Kirsch: 9 grams
  • Ouzo: 16 grams
  • Sambuca: 17 grams
  • Triple sec: 16 grams
4

Beer

Pint of craft beer by the bay
Epicuring

Regular beer usually contains about 12 grams of carbs per serving. However, the number can vary from one brand to another, so read the label to know for sure. In general, the darker or heavier the beer, the more carbs it will have.

Light beer: The carb grams in 12 ounces of light beer varies from 2.4 to 7. Here are the stats of popular brands:

  • Bud Light: 6.6 grams
  • Coors Light: 5 grams
  • Michelob Ultra: 2.6 grams
  • Miller Light: 3.2 grams
  • Miller 64: 2.4 grams

Ale: The majority have around 5 to 9 carb grams.

Stout: The carb counts in these dark beers (Guinness is a well-known example) can vary greatly, but plan on about 20 grams.

Craft beer: It can rival stout for having a significant amount of carbohydrates. Check the label or the brewer's website.

5

Wine

Bottle of Chianti Classico wine on top of wall with vineyards of Sangiovese grapes in background
David Epperson / Getty Images

Wine contains a small amount of carbohydrates and each varietal differs slightly. As a general rule, the sweeter the wine, the higher the carb count.

 These are the counts for one 5-ounce serving:

  • Dry Champagne: about 2.5 to 4.5 grams
  • Dry white (sauvignon blanc, chardonnay): 3 grams
  • Muscat: 8 grams
  • Dry red (Syrah/Shiraz, pinot noir, merlot, cabernet sauvignon): 3.5 to 4 grams
  • Rose: 5.8 grams
  • Zinfandel: 4.2 grams
  • Dessert wines: 12 to 14 grams
  • Late harvest wine (sweet dessert wine): 20 grams

A Word From Verywell

By using these tips, you can enjoy an occasional cocktail, beer, or wine as part of a low-carb lifestyle. If you're cutting carbs to manage diabetes, be aware that alcohol can cause your blood sugar to be erratic, depending upon the type, amount, and whether you have food in your stomach. Of course, removing the carbs doesn't remove the effects of alcohol, so be sure to drink responsibly and never drive after drinking alcohol.

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