What are some of the lowest ABV cocktails one can easily order at a bar?
April 6, 2021 8:42 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for low-alcohol drink orders that any bartender could make - think of drinks that net out to something really light, like 2-3% ABV after all is said and done, and you can drink six of them and feel pleasantly buzzed rather than wasted.

The key is something that any bartender could easily make without getting confused or raising an eyebrow.

Good examples:

Already know and love a good shandy - light beer + sprite or lemon juice, though I've found this still confuses about 50% of US bartenders.

An Aperol + soda (rather than the much more alcoholic Aperol sprtiz, which I believe involves prosecco?) is another good example, provided the bar carries Aperol.

I am looking for "unfussy" orders you can ask a busy bartender quickly and they will nod like, "I got you". Ideally involves only two, maybe three ingredients, where the alcoholic component is already fairly low ABV - so fairly difficult to make it too strong by accident.

What I'm not looking for:

Fussy or obscure drink orders, things that are overly complex ingredients-wise, or involve "only 0.5 oz of gin!" or what have you - I do not wish to dictate measurements to a bartender, or try to explain to them what a "Goldfinch Fizz" is. I'd be down to ask for "a shot of x on ice, topped with Y" but that's about my threshold, if that makes sense - you get what I mean? Simplicity is key here.

I am already familiar with wine spritzers and mimosas/bellinis, which I think are almost always about 95% wine topped with mixer - so they will in fact get you too drunk too quickly anyway. Ruling it out!
posted by windbox to Food & Drink (27 answers total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: You can order any drink "tall, single", which means double the mixer but just one shot. I've done this many times. usually i just say "Tall" and the bartender asks if I want a double shot.

This works well with vodka sodas and the like.
posted by sandmanwv at 8:50 AM on April 6, 2021 [32 favorites]

This depends a bit on where you are. Your example of an Aperol Spritz is good for this: in Italy, it is really low alcohol, the Aperol itself is a "bitter with low alcohol", and you don't just add wine, you add a bit of wine and then some seltzer and a lot of ice. Whereas here in Northern Europe, you would just get the Aperol and prosecco. I've never ordered an Aperol Spritz in the US, but in my experience drinks are much stronger there than in Europe.
So I think you are going to have to give a bit of instruction. If you don't want to draw attention to your drinks, maybe arrive a bit before the others in your group and explain what you want to the bartender. They are there to help.
Lillet has become very popular in recent years, and might be widely available (I haven't travelled anywhere for more than a year). A Lillet-tonic is a delicious and refreshing drink and not nearly as strong as a gin-tonic. I prefer the rosé version of Lillet if I can choose.
posted by mumimor at 8:54 AM on April 6, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I would like (lightly-alcoholic beverage) watered down with (amount, e.g., half) of (non-alcholic beverage) please.
posted by aniola at 8:59 AM on April 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

You can often ask for a bitters and soda; that will end up being <1% alcohol but still with some flavor and color.
posted by Maecenas at 8:59 AM on April 6, 2021 [9 favorites]

Ginger ale and vermouth is a combination so simple that I don't even know the name, and can't find a name online. I think you'll have better luck alternating between a "tall" cocktail (at, perhaps, 10% ABV) and a fully non-alcoholic drink than trying to dial down the ABV down to 2-3%.
posted by saeculorum at 9:00 AM on April 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

A Tall Tom Collins would fit the bill. Basically Gin and fizzy Lemonade.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 9:07 AM on April 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

I used to get a tall wine cooler, 1 serving of wine with a lot of ginger ale and whatever fruit they have at the bar. Ice waters it down, reducing the sugar. Now I usually just drink beer and alternate with club soda/lime. Sometimes I get a Virgin Mary with ice because bloody mary mix is tasty.

You probably know this, but tip as well as if you were drinking more expensive stuff; it's the same amount of work for the server and bartender.
posted by theora55 at 9:14 AM on April 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

Can corroborate the Tom Collins because my mother told me she would order those when she was young and wanted to look cool, but not get drunk. This was Germany in the 70s.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 10:15 AM on April 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Campari and Soda is my go to; that's not that far off your Aperol spritz.
posted by Nelson at 10:20 AM on April 6, 2021 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Pimms Cup or Pimms & lemonade
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 10:34 AM on April 6, 2021 [7 favorites]

Another vote for Campari and soda (I'll ask for a splash of Campari with soda when I'm feeling light) and soda + bitters.

Tom Collins calls for 1.5 oz as a general rule, but I think if you said "I'd like a Tom Collins, but only .5 oz of gin" that'd be easy enough. Same with gin/vodka tonics.

If you drink beer, "Session Ales" are supposed to be low ABV as a general rule, so keep an eye out for those on a beer list.
posted by ghost phoneme at 10:38 AM on April 6, 2021 [5 favorites]

In the U.S. I think the radler is better known than the shandy. If you live in an area with a significant latine population a "michelada" is basically bloody mary mix and beer.
posted by wnissen at 11:45 AM on April 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: X and soda should do you well, with X any number of low ABV spirits. Broadly they'll be in the categories of aromatized wine (including vermouth and quinquina) or aperitif bitters (e.g. Aperol or Campari, but Italian bitter is a whole category with many options). Some fortified wines might also pair well with tonic and not just soda (e.g. a porto tonico).

A classic low-ABV cocktail that combines two of the above suggestions is an Americano: Campari, sweet vermouth, and sparkling water. It is not to be confused with the coffee drink of the same name. Note also that the structure of an Americano lends itself to substitutions of both the fortified wine ingredient and the bitter ingredient, so if you're in a bar with lots of either you can mess around. I've never had a riff on an Americano I didn't like.
posted by fedward at 11:53 AM on April 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

If your bartender is Canadian, that michelada might be better known as a "red eye" or a "Saskatchewan Caesar." (Not a regular Caesar, though -- that's back in the middleweight class alongside Bloody Mary herself.)

If spicy isn't your thing, regular tomato juice or tomato-clam juice can be double-fisted alongside a light beer, and nobody worth their salt will look at you too funny.
posted by armeowda at 11:53 AM on April 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

Amaretto Sour is delicious and works out to about 3.5% ABV with a 1oz shot and 6oz of mixer.
posted by cosmicbandito at 12:57 PM on April 6, 2021 [5 favorites]

I'm not above asking for a vodka lemonade, "not too strong," "pretty weak" or even "half strength, please!"
posted by Occula at 2:54 PM on April 6, 2021 [2 favorites]

Amaretto Sour is definitely what we drank as young ladies who wanted to dance and keep our wits about us! It's very difficult to get impaired on those.
posted by fiercecupcake at 3:21 PM on April 6, 2021

Best answer: Chambord and soda (or sprite), optionally with a lime, is delicious.
posted by Night_owl at 3:36 PM on April 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

In Australia, the standard drink you would ask for is a lemon, lime and bitters, most commonly requested by the designated driver as bitters contain only a tiny amount of alcohol.

This is made up of lime cordial, a dash of Angostura bitters rolled around the sides of the glass and topped with lemonade or soda water if you prefer. Every bartender here knows how to make it but I’m not sure if you’d have to spell it out where you’re from. It’s very refreshing and a good substitute for a proper alcoholic drink.
posted by Jubey at 4:25 PM on April 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

Along the lines of chambord and soda (I should try that!) my go-to non-alcoholic drink is a soda water with grenadine. Like a less sweet and more refreshing Shirley temple.
posted by Lady Li at 12:30 AM on April 7, 2021

White wine and soda water is known as a white wine spritzer where I live but easy to describe to a bartender. I would ask for it to be made half and half if you normally find them too strong. Definitely something I would drink if I didn't want too much alcohol.

Bitter or lager shandies are excellent as you note. Sometimes called radlers, which is the German name for a lager shandy. For a slightly different flavour ask for lime cordial to be added to a lager shandy.

Unless you're in a place where the alcohol comes measured or you're making it at home, I would avoid strong spirits as a base for a weakly alcoholic drink as you tend not to get enough mixer. One way round would be to ask for a weak (here I would say a single) eg vodka and orange, and a glass of orange juice, and then mix them together.

Another approach to avoiding getting drunk to quickly is to alternate drinks. Sounds obvious, but is a particularly helpful strategy if the alcoholic drink you ended up with was slightly too strong.
posted by plonkee at 2:15 AM on April 7, 2021

Jubey, I love lemon, lime and bitters. In the US most bartenders I have requested it from have not heard of it and need instruction.
posted by brainwane at 6:58 AM on April 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

In the US most bartenders I have requested it from have not heard of it and need instruction.

I have found that lime cordial is uncommon in bars, or even liquor stores. I have to purchase online. Also, Aussies call it "lemonade." Americans know it as Sprite.
posted by John Borrowman at 8:31 AM on April 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Now is my chance to introduce my favorite very-low-alcohol drink: the Tinkerbell! It's a soda (sparkling) water with bitters and Rose's Lime (often always available in US bars) or sour mix if they don't have Rose's Lime. The Drunken Tinkerbell is the same, but with a shot of vodka. I've asked for this drink to bartenders all over the US - it's very rare that anyone bats an eye. They always laugh when I tell them what I call it.
posted by acridrabbit at 10:26 AM on April 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

I love Chambord and orange juice. It's a lot like a Shirley Temple.
posted by MangoNews at 12:01 PM on April 7, 2021

mumimor: A Lillet-tonic is a delicious and refreshing drink

omg I want to say thank you for this so hard, have had a couple this evening, I love them
posted by secretseasons at 7:48 PM on April 9, 2021

Any type of schnapps and soda, especially if you ask for a tall. There's lots of flavors to choose from and it's very mild.
posted by stray thoughts at 8:03 PM on April 9, 2021

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