Part of writing this column, and of bartending, is keeping abreast of booze trends. One would have to live under a rock to not know that flavored vodka is massively popular. Take a look at almost any back bar in town, and there's a wide array of flavors from classic (vanilla, citron, orange) to creative (passion fruit, cucumber, huckleberry) to "Are you fucking kidding?!" (PB&J, glazed donuts, Swedish Fish). Who the hell comes up with these? Do they start focus groups by getting everyone stoned out of their minds?
Pardon me, I'm getting a little tangential. This week, my booze screed covers what I believe to be one of the most insidious marketing ploys I've seen in a long time: Reduced calorie vodka. French brand Voli was the first on the scene a couple of years ago, but they barely made a splash. Now, spirits giants Diageo and Beam both have energized their marketing juggernauts.
Diageo created a brand spinoff with Smirnoff Sorbet. Beam expanded its popular Skinnygirl line to include flavored vodka. They're clearly marketing these toward the Real Housewives set, with pastel designs that scream "Made by Focus Group." I've tasted the Skinnygirl line, and found it hideous across the board, vaguely reminiscent of cleaning products.
While I find the branding ludicrous (but I'm not even close to the target market; ladies, is it as contrived for you as it is for me?), that's not the devious part. What pisses me off about these is how they reduced the calories in the vodka. There's only one source of calories in vodka: ethyl alcohol. The only way to reduce the calories . . . is to reduce the alcohol.
That's right, ladies. These people are watering down vodka to 60 proof, the minimum required to still call it "flavored vodka." Then, they sell it to you at a premium because it's reduced-calorie. The bastards.
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What's a calorie-conscious drinker to do? The easiest thing is to make your vodka highballs with 1 ounce of vodka instead of a full 1.5 ounce shot. You'll still get the taste of the vodka's flavor, and reduce the calorie content from 96 calories a drink down to only 64. A side benefit is that now you'll get 25 drinks from a bottle instead of 18.
Even better, have just one or two really good drinks instead of three or four mediocre ones. Alcohol calories are the emptiest you can consume, so what's the use of wasting those calories on craptastic reduced calorie vodka or ultra-light beer?
Now, if you'll pardon me, I'm going to go enjoy a martini made with the original flavored vodka: gin.