Get you some flavor without the sugar: How to infuse vodka

Sometime last spring, I was at a distillery and was thrilled to discover they had cilantro vodka. I know cilantro isn’t for everyone (you special “tastes like soap” people), but I love it, and I keep trying to find ways to add it to my drinks. I’d never really thought much about how one makes cilantro (or any other flavor) vodka, but now that I’m all about opening the hood on this stuff to figure out how I can recreate things, I like to ask questions.

So, I asked the bartender how one makes cilantro vodka. Wait til you hear this answer: “um, you take vodka, put some fresh cilantro in it, leave it for a few days, strain the cilantro out, and then drink it” she said, giving me the “you poor stupid human” eye.

What? You gotta be fucking kidding me. Even I can do THAT.

Since then, I’ve learned that there are a lot of ways to infuse flavor into alcohols, and many involve added sugar, mostly because it makes them taste better. In fact, usually the cheap versions of things like rum and vodka involve a LOT of added sugar (I went a little crazy on a “tester” blueberry vodka one night and had the stubborn 300+ BG to prove it). But, if you’re willing to shell out a little extra (like, $25 instead of $15) you can get a ton of infused vodka flavors that have zero added sugar, really broadening your options for drinks of varying flavors.

And, of course, if you’re really feeling zealous – you can make your own.

Making cilantro-infused vodka

Making cilantro-infused vodka

It’s this fucking easy

Here’s how fucking easy this is. You will need (1) decent vodka (seriously, don’t waste your time with shitty stuff, otherwise what’s the point?), (2) whatever you plan to infuse it with, and really, sky’s the limit, and (3) a seal-able mason jar or something similar. I’ve made three infusions so far: cilantro, tea (for sweet tea vodka) and blueberry, so I could try a variety of types of ingredients.

Pour the amount of vodka you want to infuse into the mason jar, and prepare your ingredients. In general, you want about a cup of the fresh stuff (make sure you wash it first). Pour ingredients into the jar, stir, and seal the jar. Store the jar in a cool area away from direct sun or heating elements, and keep an eye on it.

Cilantro-infused vodka about 6 days later

Cilantro-infused vodka about 6 days later

The fresh stuff can be left in for up to a week or more; you’ll want to keep an eye on it and remove it when it starts to lose its color or look like it’s getting a little gross. I used 4 teabags, but only left them in for about 5 hours, because tea that steeps too long can get bitter (this is an exception to a general rule for infusions). When it’s time to remove the ingredients, unseal the jar and pour the contents over a strainer to strain out the fresh ingredients. Pour the remaining liquid into a sealable container and voila – now you have a vodka infusion.

Cilantro-infused vodka: the finished product

Cilantro-infused vodka: the finished product

Apparently this is becoming a thing: I spotted the below at World Market the other day:

Spotted at World Market

Spotted at World Market

But really, give it a try. If I can do it, you certainly can. Let me know how it goes.

 

8 tips to stay sugar-free/low sugar while drinking out

People, I’ve said and I’ll keep saying – you are not stuck with vodka sodas for the rest of your life! There’s so much to try out there; don’t tell yourself you are stuck with stuff that’s boring because it’s just not true.

I’m currently working with Party Like a Diabetic on a diabetic-friendly happy hour menu (ohhhh yesssss – coming soon!), and spent some time thinking about and aggregating a list of 8 tips on how to drink ALL OF THE THINGS while you’re out. A lot of these might sound familiar if you’ve read prior posts, but I have never really written about them all at once. Our goal: Avoid liquid sugar (unnecessary calories plus hard for a dead pancreas to manage) without sacrificing taste or quality of beverages.

So, without further ado – 8 tips to stay sugar free/low sugar while you’re out and about.

Want to take this with you? Here’s the quick version:

  1. Try to stick with natural, whole ingredients in your drinks and avoid mixers whenever possible.
  2. Look for beverages with fewer ingredients and with sparkling water or citrus bases.
  3. Identify sugary ingredients you can swap out or cut entirely and replace with the artificial sweetener of your choice – such as simple syrup, agave, etc.
  4. For the times when cutting a sugary ingredient leaves you with a tart and/or boring drink, stay prepared by bringing your own alternate sweeteners.
  5. Always ask the waiter/waitress/bartender if all of the ingredients listed on the menu are the sum total of what is in the drink to avoid nasty surprises.
  6. If you’d like to drink wine: stay with the dry.
  7. If you’d like to drink beer: stay light and aley.
  8. If you’re somewhere with limited drink options/capabilities, like a club, go old school with a diet & rum/whiskey, or a vodka soda water (yep) – they’re hard to screw up.

And, here’s the more detailed version.

  1. Try to stick with natural, whole ingredients in your drinks. In general, unflavored silver rum, silver tequila, whiskey/bourbon and vodka will have very little added sugar. However, the cheaper, flavored versions of those alcohols almost always have a lot of added sugar. Try to avoid mixers whenever possible; some restaurants or clubs will use mixes or mixers to shorten the amount of time required to make a drink, and mixers usually have an enormous amount of sugar and unnecessary calories. Let’s take a mojito for example: A mojito at BJ’s Brewery, mix included, has 38g of sugar, 41 carbs, and is about 300 calories. A basic mojito made with silver rum, soda water, mint, lime and an artificial sweetener has about 1g sugar, 0 carbs, and is 100 calories (and won’t give you a horrible hangover).
  2. Look for beverages with fewer ingredients and with sparkling water or citrus bases, as opposed to drinks that are built around a juice or soda (like tonic or ginger beer). It is easier to find ingredients in the former to swap out to avoid sugar in drinks without ruining the integrity of the drink. Most bars and restaurants unfortunately don’t offer diet versions of common soda bases like tonic and ginger beer, although it never hurts to ask.
  3. Identify sugary ingredients you can swap out or cut entirely, such as simple syrup, agave, etc. I have found that nine times out of ten, simple syrup is just not necessary to enhance the flavor of a beverage; it just makes it super sweet. A lot of beverages stand just fine on their own, or they’re naturally sweetened with a little fruit or a small amount of a flavored liqueur. When you swap a soda base for sparkling water; you might lose the sweetening agent from the soda so replacing it with an artificial sweetener might be a good idea if you want.
  4. For the times when cutting a sugary ingredient leaves you with a tart and/or boring drink, stay prepared with your own alternate sweeteners. Restaurants will have them, but there’s no guarantee a bar or club will, so just pack a couple in your wallet or purse. I like to carry liquid Stevia with me when I travel, especially, because it mixes in well with both hot and cold beverages.
  5. Carefully review drink options on menu and their listed ingredients. When you find one you are interested in, always ask the waiter/waitress/bartender if all of the ingredients listed are the sum total of what is in the drink. Sometimes they leave basic but impactful (to you) ingredients off their descriptions, such as the addition of simple syrup. This will help you avoid a nasty surprise (like an “oh shit my BG is 300 for no reason” surprise) and you can then ask them to leave it out of your drink.
  6. If you’d like to drink wine: Dry red or white wines are your best bet because they have the least residual sugar. I’m noticing a lot of mixed drinks are starting to include wines such as rosés, prosecco, and champagne; be careful with those because they can be misleadingly sugary (even if they don’t taste sweet).
  7. If you’d like to drink beer: Obviously, the light beers have less carbs than a standard beer. If you’re so discerning as to want to avoid light beers, in general the ales, blondes and wheats appear to be slightly lower in carbs – no surprise there. For more detail on this, see our Aug post on beer.
  8. If you’re somewhere where your options are extremely limited (like a club): Some people like vodka & soda water – that’s cool if you like straight vodka. I prefer a diet coke & (insert liquor of choice, such as rum or whiskey). Those are pretty hard to screw up, no matter how busy the place is. If someone seems nice, I ask for a few limes – makes it taste fancier, even though it’s not.

A story of creation

This is the inaugural post for Drinking for Diabetics, and I’ve decided I’m going to use it to share with you the reason this blog came to be.

Truly, there’s probably more than one reason — including the fact that I like writing Onion-style commentary about everything and needed an outlet for my snark. But this particular post is a story about the bedrock of D4D. It’s a story about a game.

Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve only been a diabetic for 3 years. Compared to many of my colleagues who’ve been battling highs and lows since they could walk, that barely makes me legitimate. I haven’t been in DKA or had to crawl into a store foaming at the mouth asking for a Coke, and I haven’t had to use my Glucagon yet (and God willing, never will).  I still care about the scars on my stomach from injections or equipment, and I still sometimes forget I have a disease at all. Cross my newbie status with my winning Type A personality and my intrinsic hatred for the health insurance industry, and you’ve got basically a pharma-hating, needle-waving OCD lunatic.

But having this personality also means I care very much about my health, and I have been very proactive in learning everything I can about my disease and how to ensure I live the longest life possible under the circumstances. I pay careful attention to my actions and how they affect my blood sugar, and I have found I enjoy experimenting with different food and drink and exercise to see how it affects me.

Once I got over being terrified I was going to accidentally kill myself by consuming a bagel, this experimentation actually became fun. And this fun included reintroducing my love for trying new food, and my love for excellent cocktails, back into my life. And, let’s be honest – sometimes a girl just wants a fucking Sonic Blast. So my focus shifted from a determination to stay alive to a determination to figure out, to the last unit, how to consume that Sonic Blast (or, cough, french fries) without seeing a significant spike in my blood sugar.

As you can imagine, eating or drinking out will at times involve our friends behind the bar and in the restaurant industry, who have had a variety of reactions to my varied requests for certain things. Sometimes I just had to ask for something to be low-sugar and things went great; other times I had to play the diabetes card because someone was being a jerk. Some of them were awesome and some were not – and some were terrified. And, because I’ve got a little bit of asshole in me and one facet of my career involves education, these engagements have become a game for me. I call this game something like “what the fuck happens when the diabetic orders a drink?”

IMG_1536

A successful outcome at Wild Standard (Boulder, CO) where their drink bases were citrus, rather than sugary fruit juice. (FYI – a citrus base like lemon or lime juice will ALWAYS work better for blood sugar management, and it’s just freaking healthier)

Here’s an example of the game. It’s kind of like a create your own adventure, actually, now that I think about it.

  1. Enter bar/restaurant, peruse cocktail menu (I don’t drink beer and have been off wine lately) for potential drinks that aren’t 90% lemonade or high-fructose soda product. Either (a) identify option where I can swap ingredients to something lower in sugar so I don’t end up accidentally drinking the equivalent of a Coke, or (b) decide to try to work with waitstaff & bartender to create something my body can manage.
  2. Let’s pretend I chose option b, work with the bartender. If the waitstaff has time and the bartender looks friendly and like they can handle drinks with more than 2 ingredients, challenge them to create something low-sugar for me that is great. This request has had wildly varied outcomes, depending on both bartender and wait staff. Occasionally, (1) I get a great drink that makes the waitstaff proud and my friends jealous, and the bar/restaurant gets added to my mental map of places to return… but more often than not, however, one of two things happens: (2) I’m informed, condescendingly, that didn’t I know liquor has sugar in it and my best bet if I want something low in sugar (sniffing haughtily) is to just get a soda water and vodka (YUM! glad I came all the way to this fancy restaurant to drink nail polish for $12!); OR (3) I actually get someone so stubborn they are like YOU DRINK WHAT WE SERVE YOU AND YOU’LL LIKE IT.
  3. Let’s pretend #2 has occurred (I receive a condescending response). Here’s where in my opinion the game gets fun. I don’t tend to play my diabetic card unless someone is being an asshole (or it gets me a discount somewhere), and attempting to condescendingly serve me nail polish definitely suffices as asshole-like behavior. So, then I (just as condescendingly) tell them I’m a diabetic and I can’t drink sugar because that’s very bad for me (and if they at all seem interested, I’ll explain why). All of a sudden, I become a VIP! Ideas come pouring forth, whatever you’d like ma’am, how can we help? Commence excellent drink and excellent service! Except for that one time, when a restaurant in Denver tried to refuse to serve me an alcoholic beverage at all because they were afraid I’d become deathly ill or die and sue them (my explanation of blood sugar must have gone awry in that case)…but that’s not usually the norm.
  4. Now that I’m a VIP – enjoy my tasty beverage and newly excellent wait service!

Not so surprisingly, by the way, drinks that have a lower processed sugar content are still excellent (and might give you less of a hangover). And my wonderful friends who have suffered through my experiments/gleeful discoveries/trials and tribulations with restaurants and bars have realized the inherent value of drinking with a diabetic, and encouraged me to share my findings more broadly. Because, WHO KNEW?!! (They sure as hell don’t teach this stuff in “How to be a Type 1 Diabetic 101”)

And so, Drinking With Diabetics was born. Cheers and see you at the (Stevia) bar.