8 Healthy Versions of Beloved Holiday Cocktails

Eggnog cocktails.
It may sound counter intuitive, but eggnog can be made without egg. A few healthy hacks can keep this holiday's cocktail calories under control. (Photo: bhofack2 /iStock)

Counting calories sucks the joy out of the holidays. But so does packing on the pounds from drinking your way through December, especially if you’re downing eggnog and other heavy, sugar-laden seasonal drinks.

But you don’t have to put down your glass or pass on the punch altogether — just lighten up with these healthy hacks from the pros, all high in flavor and low in day-after regret.

1. Five-Spice Egg(less)nog

Traditional eggnog boasts 350 calories a cup, courtesy of whole milk and heavy cream. This vegan, paleo and refined sugar-free version from Ariane Resnick of "The Thinking Girl's Guide to Drinking" uses unsweetened nondairy milk as its base, with coconut butter to simulate added richness and texture. The Chinese five spice bitters assist with blood sugar stabilization and digestion, while “turmeric combats alcohol-induced inflammation before it has a chance to strike,” says Resnick.

Eggnog base (enough for two drinks):

  • 1 cup unsweetened nondairy milk
  • 2 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 tablespoon coconut butter
  • 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
  • up to 1/8 teaspoon turmeric for color
  • Optional to thicken: 1/8 teaspoon banana flour or 1/8 teaspoon lecithin powder

Blend all ingredients until uniform in texture, then chill until ready for use.

To make cocktail:

  • ½ cup nog
  • 1 ounce bourbon
  • 2 dashes Bar Keep Chinese Bitters

Stir all ingredients together and pour into a coupe glass.

2. Brandy ‘Milk’ Punch

Kellie Thorn, beverage director for acclaimed chef and restaurateur Hugh Acheson, lightens her brandy milk punch by subbing organic coconut milk for whole milk. With the sweetness of the smoked maple, she claims the drink is “just as satisfying and creamy” as the original.

  • 2 ounces Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac
  • 1 ounce organic coconut milk
  • ½ ounce Tippleman's barrel smoked maple
  • 6 drops Bitterman's tiki bitters

Shake ingredients with ice. Fine strain over fresh cubes in a frozen rocks glass. Top with grated nutmeg and orange zest.

A hot chocolate garnished with a marshmallow and a pepper. The Japanese Sipping Chocolate cuts back on the sweetness and offers a peppery kick instead. Photo courtesy of Jeff Banks.

3. Japanese Sipping Chocolate

Hot chocolate gets a Japanese twist at Brush Sushi Izakaya, where beverage director Jeff Banks uses housemade 70% dark cocoa syrup for sweetness without loads of sugar. Chipotle bitters and shishito garnish add a spicy kick.

  • 1 ½ ounce Xi Feng Jiu Baijiu
  • 8 ounces whole milk
  • 2 ounce unsweetened 70% cocoa syrup
  • ½ ounce Chipotle Bitters
  • 1 tablespoon sifted matcha
  • 1 pinch cinnamon
  • 1 pinch salt

Whisk matcha, cinnamon and salt with milk with until fully incorporated. Heat the mixture in a saucepan until it starts to bubble, then add cocoa syrup and whisk until smooth. Take off heat then add Baijiu and chipotle tincture. Garnish with a skewer of grilled marshmallow and shishito pepper.

4. Warm Milk and Cookies

Why eat cookies when you can drink them? That’s what Gracias Madre’s beverage director Jason Eisner has done with this drink, which uses a Mexican wedding cookie foam to indulge your sweet tooth. Horchata made with almond milk simulates the creaminess of whole milk with less fat and no dairy.

  • 1 ½ ounces reposado tequila
  • 1 ½ ounces homemade creme de cacao
  • 1 ounce house almond milk horchata (plus additional for foam)
  • 1 ounce brut champagne
  • 1 ounce aquafaba
  • 2 dashes orange flower water
  • Mexican wedding cookie (for garnish)
  • 1 large pinch coco powder (for color and flavor)

Add all ingredients except for aquafaba and Mexican wedding cookie to a cocktail shaker and shake. Fine strain into a vessel appropriate for steaming cappuccinos. Steam in milk frother (coffee station). Transfer hot liquid into a champagne flute. Separately, add aqua faba and 1 ounce horchata to a 64 ounce pitcher and emulsify. Top cocktail with horchata foam. Crumble Mexican wedding cookie on top of foam and garnish with a whole Mexican wedding cookie through a bamboo pick.

5. Hot Butterless Rum

“The holidays can be fattening enough without literally drinking butter,” says Himitsu’s beverage director Ben Yabrow. His shortcut? Butter-washing the rum, which “gives you that rich flavor and silky texture without all the calories.”

  • 60 milliliters butter-washed dark rum*
  • 1 clove stud
  • 1 cassia cinnamon stick
  • 60 milliliters boiling water

Combine rum, sugar and spices in an Irish coffee cup. Top with boiling water and stir until sugar has dissolved. Grate nutmeg to garnish.

*Butter-Washed Dark Rum (Blackwell Special Reserve)

  • 750 milliliters Dark Rum
  • 120 milliliters melted salted butter

Combine ingredients in a glass containers and let sit for four hours, shaking occasionally. Place the container in the freezer for two hours. Remove from freezer and strain liquid through a cheesecloth-lined chinois. Bottle and store in refrigerator for up to two weeks.

A cocktail filled with pomegranate seeds. The Hot Pom Toddy is rife with Vitamin C, which everyone could use a dose of this time of year. (Photo: Gyorgy Papp)

6. Hot Pom Toddy

Forget sugary juices and artificial flavors. This toddy from Jules Aron of Zen and Tonic, Savory and Fresh Cocktails for the Enlightened Drinker ups the ante with antioxidant-rich pomegranate juice and goji berries.

“The ruby red, nutrient rich pomegranate is rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and bioactive plant compounds, while the goji are loaded with vitamin C to help boost immunity and antibody production, both vital this time of year,” says Aron.

Recipe (makes two servings):

  • 1 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1 tablespoon goji berries
  • ½ ounce freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon raw honey
  • 3 ounce whiskey

Heat up the pomegranate juice and pour in the goji berries. Let the berries soak for 15 minutes to plump up. Add the lemon juice and simmer for a few minutes. Pour into a glass, add the honey and top off with whiskey.

7. Golda Kombucha's Apple Ginger Cocktail

Try mixing kombucha into your favorite holiday sipper, like this apple ginger cocktail from Atlanta’s Golda Kombucha. The fermented tea’s live and active probiotics and bacterial enzymes aid digestion and improve liver function, perfect to counteract holiday eating and drinking.

  • 2 ounces apple ginger Golda Kombucha
  • 2 ounces apple cider (like Samuel Smith's Organic Cider)
  • 1 ounce apple brandy (like Calvados or Laird's)
  • Dash Angostura bitters

Serve over ice. Garnish with apple slices or a cinnamon stick.

8. Suzy B’s Virgin Voter

Reduce the damage to your liver with non-alcoholic spritzers, like this one from "Drink Like a Woman: Shake. Stir. Conquer. Repeat." by Jeanette Hurt [Copyright © 2016. Available from Seal Press, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.]. Fresh lime and cranberries add an extra immunity-boosting dose of Vitamin C.

  • ½ cup cranberry juice (100% juice blend)
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 4 to 6 drops lime essential oil
  • ½ cup seltzer water or club soda

Garnish with lime twist or wedge and four to five fresh cranberries

Fill a serving glass with ice. Then, in a large mixing glass, add the cranberry juice, honey, lime juice, and two to three of drops lime essential oil (make sure it’s meant for human consumption) and stir until combined. Pour into the prepared serving glass, then top off with seltzer water. For a garnish, rub the lime twist or wedge around the glass before dropping it in the drink. Drizzle the remaining two to three drops lime essential oil over the cocktail and drop in fresh cranberries to finish.

Laura Scholz is an Atlanta-based writer who believes that life, like a good cocktail, is all about balance. When not writing about or enjoying cocktails, she teaches Pilates and runs marathons.

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