There’s this scene in The Odyssey where Odysseus is about to sail past the Sirens. The story goes that any man who hears the Sirens’ song is thrust into a kind of trance, and can do nothing but move toward it and listen—rapt and helpless—until his death. The Sirens island is littered with sailor’s bones. It is, in a word, dangerous.
Odysseus has two solutions: 1. He plugs the ears of their crew, so they can’t even hear it as they row by; or 2. He himself is too curious so he keeps his ears open, but asks them to bind him to the mast of the ship, so he can hear it and be driven mad with desire but unable to move. And while that works pretty well for him, I humbly submit there is another way, a third door, which is to make the thing for which you are so tempted less dangerous. Declaw it. Take the fangs out.
I say all that to say this: Summertime weekends have their own Siren’s Song, no less alluring and only a little less dangerous, and it’s day-drinking.
Day-drinking is fun. You know you’re not supposed to do it, which is part of the appeal. It feels good, especially now, to color outside the lines a little bit from time to time, and almost everything on a summer weekend seems to encourage you to do so. Brunch practically dares you to indulge. Barbecues explicitly invite it. Outdoor hangouts at 1 p.m. on a Saturday, kids playing outside, sun warming you through the rustle of the trees… this kind of thing yearns for a refreshing cocktail or cold beer or chilled glass of wine.
If you’re not careful, though, you’re passed out by dusk and wake up on the couch at 2 a.m. sunburnt and hungover and it takes the better part of a week to get the kink out of your neck. So do you: 1. Not even expose yourself to temptation? Or 2. Go, face the temptation, but abstain? Both are totally acceptable, of course, but if you were looking for a third door, look no further than the low-ABV cocktail.
“Low-alcohol cocktails” seem to many people, at first blush, like “minimum-strength Advil.” These drinks frequently elicit puzzled looks from bar guests, wondering why anyone would ever request such a thing. But for some applications, you already know refreshing and low-ABV is what you want. Daytime isn’t for your big, bold 15 percent Napa Cabs—it’s for Vinho Verde or Pinot Grigio. It’s not for double IPAs, it’s for light lager. Everything has a place, and low-proof cocktails help ensure you won’t have to sacrifice tomorrow at the altar of today.
Here are a few professional tips on how to enjoy low-ABV cocktails responsibly, and in style.
Your Grandmother Was Right
Sherry is delicious. Sherry, the legendary fortified wine from the southern tip of Spain, ranges wildly in sugar levels from dessert-like to the driest white wine you’ve ever had. Seek the dry side, (fino, manzanilla, or amontillado), which has a nutty, slightly saline quality that makes for absolutely superb low-impact drinking. It’s delightful served straight with nuts or cured meats, but really sings in a Sherry Cobbler, which is as good now as it was when it was invented some 200 years ago.
- 2 oz dry Sherry
- 0.75 oz lemon juice
- 0.5 oz simple syrup
- 2 slices fresh orange
Throw all the ingredients together in a tin and shake on ice hard enough to beat up the orange slices. Strain over crushed ice in a highball glass, decorate with whatever fruit you have around. Sliced apples, berries, or stone-fruits all work great. Garnish with a sprig of mint, if you have it.
Spritz It Up
The Aperol Spritz is Italy’s most popular cocktail and it’s not hard to see why. Aperol, the slightly bitter, 11% ABV aperitivo is irresistibly bright, sunshine in a glass, and never more so spritzed out with soda water and a sparkling wine. The main struggle of Aperol Spritzes is that their sweetness is difficult to control, a problem I like to respond to by reducing the Aperol, stretching it out with a bit more soda, and using a tart sparkling wine. Prosecco is traditional and delicious, but you have to make sure it’s dry—I generally reach for the reliably fresh brightness of brut cava or cremant, or if I’m feeling indulgent, Champagne. The wine is the only real source of acidity you have here, so you want to make sure it cuts through the sweetness of the aperol. Why not make it a rosé while you’re at it? It’s summer.
Mix all ingredients in tall glass (or wine glass) over ice. Add an orange slice to garnish.
Flavored Soda Water Is Your Friend
My dad drank LaCroix when I was growing up, which made me think it was the lamest thing in the world. The joke’s on me I guess, because over the last 15 years the vertiginous ascent of flavored soda water would shame a rocket. It’s amazing for abstaining from drinking entirely, but equally amazing for mixing in drinks—a DIY White Claw, if you will, but one in which you control the strength. You don’t need much alcohol—just 1 oz of 40 percent spirit mixed with 7 oz of flavored soda water will give you a mixture weighing at 5 percent ABV. Note, though, that most of these don’t add any citric acid, so to make it pop you’ll have to squeeze in a lemon or lime.
- 1 oz Tequila
- 7 oz Pamplemousse LaCroix
Pour tequila in a highball over ice, top with LaCroix and garnish with a lime wedge.