Low-alcohol cocktails?
February 12, 2020 9:54 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to a bar tonight for a meetup, and I'd like to order a cocktail. But I need it to be pretty low alcohol. What should I order?

I rarely go to bars, I rarely drink cocktails (I usually prefer a glass of wine or a beer), and I have a low tolerance. Rather than ordering wine or beer, since this place apparently makes great cocktails, I'd like to order one of those. Can you recommend a lower alcohol cocktail that a good bar would recognize by name? I looked at a bunch of articles, but I couldn't tell how well-known the drinks were. I know I'm not going to be able to explain how to make them if the bartender doesn't know.

If it helps, I prefer lighter flavors, things that are less bitter, and would prefer for it not be frozen. Many thanks in advance for your advice!
posted by Mouse Army to Food & Drink (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Aperol and soda with a twist? I usually order Campari and soda in similar situations but it is quite bitter.
posted by stellaluna at 9:56 AM on February 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Bar cocktail menus are frequently (usually?) organized so that drinks are listed in order of weakest to strongest. That Aperol spritz might be near the top, but a bourbon drink might be near the bottom.
posted by emelenjr at 10:01 AM on February 12, 2020

Any fancy cocktail bar worth their salt should have a few mocktail options, if that would work. Otherwise they should also know how to make pretty much any named drink. But mostly, they'll have a list of their own named cocktails that you can look through, and just ask them which of their drinks on the list is the lowest in alcohol.
posted by Grither at 10:02 AM on February 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

I was just coming in to suggest an Aperol and soda with a lime, but stellaluna beat me to it!.
posted by saladin at 10:08 AM on February 12, 2020

In order to make sure a cocktail doesn't hit too fast, I drink a full glass of water/club soda alongside it. Cocktails are not meant to be downed (unless you're trying to get sloppy), and drinking them slowly is a better way to temper the amount of alcohol you're drinking compared to ordering a light cocktail.

Also be wary of spritzes -- if they make them with champagne rather than soda, you're getting a full glass of booze.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:09 AM on February 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

For what it's worth, I've also been able to ask bartenders to make a cocktail with half the usual amount of alcohol and they are usually happy to oblige.
posted by athenasbanquet at 10:13 AM on February 12, 2020 [13 favorites]

Best answer: a place being known for great cocktails means they have their own menu of cocktails that they've designed. No point in coming in and ordering something else that you heard about on metafilter. They're not going to have secret better ways of making other drinks.

Just ask the bartender what the weakest one is on their list and get that. If they say that all their drinks are strong, then ask them to recommend something else that's tasty and light.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:14 AM on February 12, 2020 [20 favorites]

If a bar has a great cocktail program, they'll likely make something to order that's good, but doesn't really get you the real benefit of their great cocktail program. The whole 'we infuse our own bitters and make our own syrups' thing that most cocktail focused bars have going on these days does improve the overall quality of the offerings, but is usually focused on the named drinks that are on their cocktail menu, not on ensuring you can get a great Manhattan or whatever other random drink you order.

Better to tell your waiter / bartender that you're looking for something delicious but low alcohol -- "I'm not a big drinker, so I'd like something that doesn't pack a lotta punch" or similar statement -- and see what they recommend. If you're just reading the menu, look for cocktails that feature one main alcohol and then juices or sodas rather than two or more types of alcohol.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:15 AM on February 12, 2020 [3 favorites]

I came here to say exactly what fingersandtoes said.

Is there any reason why you wouldn't want the people you're meeting up with to know that you need something low-proof?
posted by capricorn at 10:16 AM on February 12, 2020

A similar question was recently asked
posted by sacrifix at 10:21 AM on February 12, 2020

Unless the bartender is getting slammed, you can just tell them that you want a lower alcohol cocktail and not too bitter. A good cocktail bartender will be able to make something for you based on your preferences without needing you to name a specific drink. My preferences are different than yours, but I do this regularly and have always enjoyed what they come up with.
posted by maurice at 10:31 AM on February 12, 2020 [4 favorites]

If you end up ordering something like a highball, order it in a tall glass, so you get more mixer.

If they don't have anything suitable on the menu (which you can probably look up ahead of time), I like Campari and orange juice in a tall glass, which tastes a bit like grapefruit juice.
posted by hiker U. at 10:34 AM on February 12, 2020

Bartenders are never loathe to make a low-alcohol version of a drink for someone. They appreciate that someone in the group is being responsible.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:41 AM on February 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you all for the great suggestions! I'll report back on my experience :)
posted by Mouse Army at 11:56 AM on February 12, 2020

An americano is another good option--similar to the Aperol or Campari and soda that others have recommended, but it also has vermouth and usually manages to not be too strong. Just make sure they know you're ordering the cocktail and not the coffee.
posted by 6and12 at 12:15 PM on February 12, 2020

Asking if they make any session cocktails or shims might also help.
posted by 6and12 at 12:23 PM on February 12, 2020 [2 favorites]

A shandy -- 1:2 to 1:1 citrus pop or ginger ale or citrus juice or lemonade to beer (lager or pilsner). They might recognize the term radler too.

Although they might have Stiegl Radler or a Leinenkugel Shandy on hand as a bottled beer, order the above as a prepared cocktail. The brand names can have a lot of beer.
posted by dlwr300 at 12:28 PM on February 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Old school, but just cut out the vodka bit and a melon ball (midori and orange juice) or a white russian (kahlua and milk) are both good without the vodka. Midori is a melon flavor, kahlua is a coffee flavor. Both are delicious and just alcoholic enough to get a bit of a buzz and without the vodka aren't very strong, both are liqueurs used to flavor the rest of the mix.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:45 PM on February 12, 2020 [1 favorite]

Big +1 to 6and12's suggestion for session cocktails - lately I've seen low-ABV cocktails (and even no-ABV mocktails) on all kinds of fancy cocktail menus (and I love it - I enjoy cocktails, but I don't enjoy getting super drunk). A fancy cocktail bar in 2020 is very likely to have some low- and/or no-alcohol cocktails on the menu.
posted by mskyle at 3:30 PM on February 12, 2020

If it is not too late, I agree with seesom. Unless you’re a regular you’ll get uneven results. Cranberry vodka in a tall glass is essentially what you want, but sometimes they’ll mistake this as a double.
posted by geoff. at 8:10 PM on February 12, 2020

Response by poster: Thank you for the suggestions! I ended up ordering an aperol and soda which was tasty and easy. Next time I'll definitely try some of the other suggestions. I was just too nervous at this particular meetup to leave wiggle room for getting a too-strong drink. But when I go back with a friend that won't be a problem :)
posted by Mouse Army at 8:47 AM on February 13, 2020 [2 favorites]

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