An anonymous pub, Saturday afternoon: while friends argued over college football rankings, I wandered to the bar and asked for a piña colada, skinny-style. What I got was a shake of Malibu rum, pineapple juice and skim milk, on the rocks. It was suitably soft but not creamy, and when one of my friends took a sip, he pushed back the glass.
How to get that balance of skinny calories and fat, lush taste? "The trick is to add a fresh element, like basil or fresh lemon juice, to mask the sugar-free taste," says Cheryl Charming, former bar manager at the Bombay Club, and she should know: she's created a stock of skinny cocktails for their program.
As a bar consultant to spirits marketer Brown-Forman, Cheryl has been crafting low-calorie drinks for years - well before Bethenny Frankel's margaritas. "I always thought it should be an option," Cheryl says.
One night I tried a Bombay Club bestseller: a tall cocktail blushing with berries, which teases out the gin's juniper notes (Cheryl likes Oxley for its subtlety). Citrus and soda water add snap, and the fruit syrup releases strawberry flavor with no cloying sweetness. The bright basil leaves come hand-picked from the Bombay Club herb garden.
I followed that drink with a martini born from no-calorie chocolate syrup, chocolate vodka and chilled coffee: a splash of half-and-half and a shake kept it frothy.
A tourist couple began chatting with me. The husband was tall, lean, and worked for a pro baseball team. He liked the look of my drink and ordered one, too. He drained his glass, never suspecting that he'd saved the calorie equivalent of a mile-high plate of nachos.
Skinny Strawberry Basil Collins
Written by Cheryl Charming
1 oz. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2 oz. Oxley gin
1 oz. Monin O'Free strawberry syrup
Muddle basil and lemon juice in a collins glass, load glass with ice and add gin and strawberry syrup. Roll into a shaker and back into the glass, then top off with soda water.