Saturday, September 3, 2011

Calories and alcohol II

©1976-2011 Sugar Inc. Insanely Addictive™
I’m a sucker for snazzy promotional photos. While searching for bits & pieces towards the ‘Calories and alcohol’ blog, I came across an image of, may I say, good looking bottles of “Healthy, Low-Cal, Eco-Friendly Alcohol Brands to Make Happy Hour Even Happier” courtesy of fitsugar.com (1). No doubt, it would be hard to question the last part of the title, but healthy, low in calories and eco-friendly needed some investigating by this skeptic.  Let’s see. 

Devotion Vodka: At 40 % requisite for majority of vodkas sold worldwide, my comment regarding the linear relationship between alcohol content and calories stands. On top of that, Devotion is infused with casein, a phosphoprotein protein commonly found in mammalian milk. Take note: “mammalian milk” includes human milk – I’ll come back to that later. It stands to reason that this is not a low calorie alternative. Alcohol content + protein = estimated 140 calories per 2 oz shot. If, and that’s a big ‘if’, the addition of casein removes the need for with- or post-drinks munchies, there might be some merit to this one.  The addition of casein is marketed as a way to “smooth out the typical harshness of vodka”, so what I envision as a more likely scenario is a long string of shots since it all tastes like “Mama’s milk”. Don’t pull a face. It is what it is.
Fair Spirits: Another vodka. Its ingredients come from throughout the Third World and are certified as “fair trade”, but the whereabouts of the production seem vague. Billed as an “[association of] the best French distillers with local cooperatives in the developing world”, it may be fair on ingredient sourcing and sustaining front, but production of the libation seems to take place elsewhere. I assume it’s in France, but would need to do more research to confirm. If yes, does that mean that the Third World does not have the skills to produce good quality hooch, moonshine, lightning or any other name you want to use? I highly doubt it. How do you think Eastern Block did it back in the days to deliver the tradition to the West? Anyhow… and before I totally go off on a sociopolitical tangent… This one got me curious since it uses quinoa instead of more commonly used grains such as rye, wheat, sorghum, corn, potatoes, molasses, soybeans, grapes, rice, or sugar beets. A high protein grain. Ha! What happens to the protein during the distillation process? There is a goji berry version, too, touted as an antioxidant option. Antioxidants may well be a fantastic hangover cure for moderate drinkers, and luckily treating strawberries or blackberries with alcohol to keep them fresh amps up their antioxidant activity (2). Does the goji berry liqueur bottle go in the “healthy” bucket then? I have to ponder the eco-friendly aspect in the context of the sociopolitical aspect anyhow…
Domaine de Canton: A VSOP Grand Champagne Cognac based and ginger flavored liqueur this time. We are potentially getting a bit sophisticated here. A cognac, my dear, this one.  With a “selection of only the finest, fresh baby Vietnamese ginger”. The addition of ginger is meant to bring this liqueur into the realm of a healthy spirit. It surely isn’t the alcohol content, which stands at 40% (back to that linear relationship with calories) so 1 fl oz = 70 calories. Why Vietnamese ginger? What’s wrong with Burmese, Chinese, Indonesian, Nepalese, Filipino one?! Really. Whatever.
X-Rated Fusion Liqueur: A fruit infused vodka obviously marketed at the ladies. It’s pink. This one sounds promising to me, and it’s not just because of the name. Yes, I went there. Trust me, they wanted me to. The combination of 100% fruit juices, blood oranges, albeit from “Provence in France” (right…), and “Brazilian” mangos and passion fruits (right… again), with vodka may be the key. To quote Michele Foley (1): “And since the fruit flavors are more pronounced in X-Rated than what you'd find in an infused vodka, it's like someone already added the juice, which means you can skip on adding caloric mixers. Great shaken and strained on its own like a martini, I like it best when mixed with soda water and a squeeze of lemon. At 96 calories per serving, X-Rated is a great choice for people who are watching their diet, but want a flavorful cocktail.” BINGO!
Haamonii Shochu: Japanese spirit that tastes like vodka. 1.5 fl oz = 30 calories which is about a third of comparable spirits. Lower in calories indeed, but due to a lower alcohol content. So as a mixer it doesn’t add much calorie-wise. BINGO AGAIN!
            Pama: The pomegranate juice infused vodka-tequila combo. I first tasted it as part of a martini requested as a “surprise me”.  As a disclaimer, I profess an absolute bias, because the sweet martini was that good. I don’t care if this liqueur is healthy, low-calorie or eco-friendly. I liked it. Period. The tree on the label looks good, too. Enough said.
            Voli Vodka: Again lower alcohol content = lower calories. Available in six flavors – lyte, espresso vanilla, raspberry cocoa, orange vanilla, lemon flavored, pear vanilla – the fusions contain electrolytes some deem good for lessening the hangover.  Aha.  At 25% to 40% less calories than typical vodkas, the marketers tell us to Stay Sexy™. My German friend used to say that as a farewell… but as someone asked, “Will it get us drunk?” Not as much. So it is back to the volume-habit balance.
            Ty Ku: The bottles look like high-end shampoos/conditioners. These Japanese distillations and brews are based on sake and soju/shochu, and are low in calories. Sake has 55 calories per 1.5 fl oz (pretty much standard). With the spirits, straight up or infused with yuzu, mangosteen, goji berry, honeydew, green tea or ginseng, you are looking at 68 to 72 calories per 1.5 fl oz (is that really that much lower than standards?). Yes, OK, there are the superfoods additions. But, according to the brand website, low calorie cocktails can be easily mixed, with Skinny Rita having the most calories at 162. There is even a nifty cocktail book ready for download. A potential.
VeeV Açaí Spirit: “A better way to drink™”, they market. The açaí berry is the supposed star here: antioxidant with fiber, amino acids and healthy fatty acids. At 30%, this spirit is made from the açaí berry “and because of its fruit forward taste, you can enjoy VeeV straight up or on the rocks.” (1)  Another one that can stand on its own. BINGO ONCE MORE!
            360 Vodka: 360? Does it mean this one makes you spin around de facto? This is the eco-friendly one that “close[s] the loop”. The bottle is pretty much as good as recycled, labels are fully recycled, energy efficient production is applied and carbon footprint is offset. The packaging is the least stunning of the lot, and sadly for me it reminds me of Grolsch beer. Not a favorite. However, this vodka also comes in multiple flavors: straight up, double chocolate, cola, grape, mandarin orange, Madagascar vanilla, Georgia peach, Sorrento Lemon and Bing cherry. Doesn’t Stoli already provide such saccharine offerings? Still, major brownie points for the Green approach. This might be a substitute to demand by you eco-hipsters.

In the end, I have to say that there is a lot of marketing BS involved. Ultimately, only those spirits with a flavor that can stand on its own without added goodies (although Haamonii Shochu and Ty Ku are potentially interesting exceptions) are worth considering from the calorie perspective (that’s X-Rated Fusion Liqueur and VeeV Açaí Spirit). For some, it comes down to your habits and, to repeat the sentiment, whether “Will it get us drunk?” question is paramount to you. If you just want to get sloshed as required, but somehow want to feel good about something other than loosing those brain cells and making the liver work harder, the full on eco-friendly spirit may be for you (360 Vodka).

Thanks to Michele Foley at fitsugar.com for pooling those libations into one presentation.

(1) fitsugar®. Michele Foley “Healthy, Low-Cal, Eco-Friendly Alcohol Brands to Make Happy Hour Even Happier”. http://www.fitsugar.com/Low-Calorie-Alcohol-Brands-15137568; March 23, 2011. Accessed: August 31, 2011
(2) Aphrodite Women’s Health. “Alcohol cranks up antioxidant levels in fruit”. http://www.aphroditewomenshealth.com/news/20070319221007_health_news.shtml; April 20, 2007.  Accessed: August 31, 2011

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