When it comes time to imbibe, these innovative cocktails let you indulge sans guilt.
By Elizabeth Nutt
If you so much as glance at a cocktail menu in town lately, you’re sure to notice that happy hour in Laguna is on a bit of a health kick. Gone are the days of calorie-, sugar- and carb-laden drinks. Rather, “skinny,” or lower-calorie versions of traditional libations, are becoming increasingly popular around town, and bartenders are mixing up drinks that boast fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, too. Some bars and restaurants even put a signature “mocktail,” or nonalcoholic cocktail, on the menu, catering to those who are abstaining from or trying to limit alcohol consumption.
“Our beach setting is probably a main factor in the appeal to this type of beverage,” explains Louie Palmerin, general manager at Skyloft, which boasts a “skinny” section on its cocktail list. “You can enjoy a great-tasting cocktail that won’t sit too heavy, and can quench your thirst after a long day in the sun. Most people in today’s society are trending toward healthier lifestyles, so providing an option that is conscious of that was a no-brainer.”
While these offerings aren’t exactly “health foods,” per se, they do make it easier for locals to enjoy a happy hour that’s a little more in line with their day-to-day lifestyles. Here, we spotlight some thirst-quenching, better-for-you libations around town.
Carmelita’s Kitchen de Mexico
Nothing says happy hour like a basket of hot tortilla chips, some fresh guacamole and a cold margarita. But the refreshing tequila-based drink, especially when it’s served frozen or with sugar-laden, store-bought mixes, can contain around 500 calories. Enter the skinny margarita, a slimmed-down version of cocktail and the second most popular drink on the menu at Carmelita’s Kitchen de Mexico (the first being the eatery’s classic margarita). Here, it’s made with Partida tequila blanco, which the restaurant’s owner says has the lowest calorie count per ounce out of all of its tequilas. The alcohol is mixed with house-made agave syrup—a natural sweetener made from the nectar of the agave plant—and fresh, organic lime juice for that classic sweet-and-sour flavor, then finished with a Tajín chile salt seasoning on its rim for a pop of flavor with each sip.
Mosaic Bar & Grille
When you’ve been sitting in the sun all day, sometimes the best beverage to reach for is one made with thirst-quenching fruit. Think of it as hydrating and replenishing your body with something light and satisfying before you indulge in that margarita or cold glass of chardonnay. At Montage Laguna Beach’s oceanfront Mosaic Bar & Grille, two different mocktails are offered, catering to health-conscious guests or those who simply seek something a little lighter. The Garden Cooler, for example, blends elderflower syrup, muddled basil and lemon juice for a light libation crafted with help from the on-site garden. Meanwhile, the Strawberry Sunset mocktail will sweeten your alfresco dining experience with the help of strawberry puree and both pineapple and cranberry juice for a taste so satisfying, it could almost be dessert—but without the guilt.
At Skyloft, “skinny” cocktails have claimed their own section on the menu since 2015 and have continued to be offered due to demand. “We felt that offering beverages that are light, refreshing and handcrafted with all-natural ingredients would have some wide appeal to our guests,” Palmerin says. The Day Spa drink is the most popular of the slimmed-down offerings at Skyloft, a gin-based, refreshing cocktail made with St-Germain elderflower liqueur, fresh blackberries, cucumbers, basil, lime juice and a splash of sparkling water. “It’s probably the most popular because of its beautiful violet hue, and it has a catchy name. I came up with this drink in an effort to embody the experience we hope to provide for the guests on our roof deck: The views are spectacular, and if you’re doing it right, it is very serene, like a day spa,” Palmerin says.
Green Side Up
While its name makes it sound like it would be found in a juice shop and not at a bar, Mozambique’s Green Side Up is one of the most popular cocktails on the menu, according to General Manager Mauricio Montoya. “It’s a big trend—people want fresh fruit or vegetables and greens in their drinks,” says Montoya, explaining that the beverage gets its name thanks to the fresh, crushed cucumbers and serrano peppers, which are mixed with El Jimador tequila. “The Green Side Up is made skinny-style because we use the fresh-squeezed lime juice and the agave nectar [to sweeten it], so there are less calories,” Montoya adds. He says patrons can request the drink be made even healthier—and closer to an actual green juice—by asking for a splash of soda water instead of tequila.
Perhaps the healthiest cocktail on the menu is the one served without alcohol and inspired by an organic garden. At Sapphire, Cellar-Craft-Cook, a rotating Seasonal Mocktail can be found on the menu, featuring whatever is available in the restaurant’s San Clemente garden. According to Gabe Whorley, Sapphire’s beverage director and partner, the drink made its way onto the menu both to cater to Laguna’s healthy lifestyle and so that those who abstain from alcohol won’t feel too left out during happy hour or dinner. But it definitely reflects the same creativity and innovation for which the restaurant is known. This spring, the featured mocktail boasts a house-made, organic apricot puree, fresh lime, muddled cucumber and African blue basil, all of which is mixed and then topped with soda water. “I also always think of ways … [to] make sure the mocktail is light and refreshing and completely balanced, always utilizing some kind of fruit and finishing with citrus [to] counteract the sweetness,” Whorley says. Notably, the mocktail is available both at Sapphire and in the restaurant’s grab-and-go cooler at The Pantry next door.
Skinny Pomegranate Cosmo
A cocktail menu staple, the Cosmopolitan has been around for decades. Traditionally made with vodka, cranberry juice, lime juice, triple sec or Cointreau and an orange twist garnish, it can be loaded with sugar when using the juices, simple syrups and store-bought mixes found behind most bars. That’s why, back in 2012, Nirvana Grille chef and owner Lindsay Smith decided to shake up the cocktail and introduce the Skinny Pomegranate Cosmo to the menu; the fresh spin on the cocktail calls for organic agave syrup and pomegranate fruit puree, which boast a lower spot on the glycemic index than refined sugars. The pomegranate not only adds a burst of flavor—and that iconic pink tint to the drink—but it’s also loaded with antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation and protect cells in the body from damage. Unlike unsweetened cranberry juice, which is used in some iterations of the “skinny” Cosmo and can taste quite bitter, according to Smith, the pomegranate notes still round out the cocktail without sacrificing its sweetness. “This [iteration] has a little more innate flavor to it, but without the sugar,” Smith says.