The idea behind H2O cocktails is simple: Infuse water with fruit, spices and herbs and mix that infusion with a complimentary spirit. What you get is a light, fresh and low-calorie cocktail. I learned about this intriguing cocktail concept at Tales of the Cocktail from mixology master Tony Abou-Ganim and culinary superstar Kathy Casey. Here’s my favorite concoction from their presentation.
Mandarin Hibiscus Cocktail
Created by Tony Abou-Ganim
- 1 oz Purity Vodka
- 3 oz Mandarin Hibiscus Water*
Combine vodka and infused water over ice.
*Mandarin Hibiscus Water
Makes about 4 cups or about 10 servings
- 3 small mandarins, quartered
- 1/4 cup dried hibiscus flowers
- 1 star anise
- 3 cups high-quality water
Combine ingredients and let sit at room temperature for 4 hours, then refrigerate overnight. Strain and keep chilled.
That mandarin-hibiscus cocktail was refreshing, but it didn’t just taste like vitamin water and booze! It had layered flavors, melding sweet, spicy and floral with the minerality and kick of the chosen vodka. It tasted like a hand-crafted cocktail and not a diet drink. I also enjoyed the pineapple-cilantro, berry and cucumber-bell pepper infusions.
Most of the low-cal cocktails I’ve tasted are gross, packed with bitter-tasting fake sugar and commercial mixes that probably contain chemical sweeteners. Even the all-natural stevia sugar alternative has an aftertaste similar to aspartame. That’s why I was impressed with the straight-forward concept of using good old, hydrating water as a base for creative flavor combinations using fresh ingredients. Cocktails have calories. There’s just no way around it. But cocktails that don’t depend on sugar or fruit juice for flavor have fewer calories.
An H2O cocktail = spirit + water. So let’s talk spirits.
The spirit of choice in the presentation was vodka, for good reason. Vodka mixes well with any flavor. However, the vodkas sampled were anything but flavorless themselves. Purity, Karlsson’s Gold and Ciroc all had strong character and flavor notes that paired well with different fruits or herbs. I wouldn’t recommend doing an H2O cocktail with another spirit, although I may experiment with some genever and light rum.
For the calorie conscious, here’s how it breaks down:
- 80-proof vodka (the most common type) has 64 calories per 1oz
- 86-proof vodka has 70 calories per 1 oz
- 90-proof vodka has 73 calories per 1 oz
- 100-proof vodka has 82 calories per 1 oz
The thing about the H2O cocktail is you can use different proportions. I drank that Mandarin Hibiscus cocktail at Tales of the Cocktail, which is 5 days in a row of non-stop drinking in 100 degree, 85% humidity weather. So 1 part vodka to 3 parts infused water sounded like the right choice! However, I’m going to play with 1 part infused water and 3 parts vodka (a ratio that Tony himself said he enjoys).
Now onto the water! You can infuse by steeping roughly 1 part fruit, herbs and/or spices in 2 parts distilled water for several hours at room temperature, then chilling overnight, then straining or using that same proportion, but putting it inside a soda siphon/charger and quick infusing it by shooting in some N2O
The infusion keeps in the fridge for a couple of days. I would also try making ice cubes out of infused water.
I’ll be updating with some of my own recipes and experiments, but let me know what you try at home!
Recipe and image courtesy of Kathy Casey.