It's misleading to watch fictional characters like Don Draper and James Bond blithely consume drink after drink with seemingly no effect on their enviable abdomens. The truth is that a cocktail can pack just as many calories as a doughnut. Still, not all tipples are equally bad for you—a few aren't much worse than, say, a piece of fruit (hint: Your best bet is straight booze on the rocks).
Below, we calculated the calorie content for 20 common cocktails—from the diet-friendly Sazerac to the fun-but-fattening mai tai. Using standard drinks recipes employed by New York City cocktail bars, we broke down the calories per spirit, fruit juice, and liqueur and crunched the numbers. It just might be enough to sober you up.
Sazerac (140 calories)
Like the Old-Fashioned, this New Orleans classic was one of the first in the history books. The herbal anise flavor of ruby-red Peychaud bitters plays off a Pernod rinse, texturing the sweetened rye whiskey, while a twist of a discarded lemon peel leaves a tantalizing aroma. It's the least fattening of the cocktails we examined.
French 75 (141 calories)
A brisk, sharp cocktail, this Jazz Age standard tops off lemon, gin, and sugar with a dram of fizzing champagne for a celebration in a glass. The bubbles bring alcohol to the bloodstream fast, but it's still a low-cal option.
Old-Fashioned (151 calories)
The granddaddy of cocktails, it remains one of the all-time favorites of serious sippers. A touch of demerara sugar and a few dashes of bitters (can't go wrong with Angostura and orange) serve to cut the burn and highlight the sweet, oaky nature of bourbon.
Caipirinha (152 calories)
Brazil's national drink beguiles American palates with its base of cachaca, a sugarcane spirit that can give off a whiff of petroleum. Add a couple of muddled limes and a splash of simple syrup and you have a complex, worthy competitor to the daiquiri. No wonder Brazilians look so good.
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Mojito (161 calories)
There's a reason the Cuban import remains so popular: Muddled mint leaves add a cool, menthol hint to a stimulating combo of white rum, lime, and sugar. The lesson here: Mint is a great low-cal flavor booster.
Daiquiri (163 calories)
Bastardized over the years by tropical fruits and blenders, the original daiquiri—just rum, lime juice, and sugar—was a manly drink favored by Hemingway and naval officers. Note: If you drink a giant frozen daiquiri in a Slurpee cup, you will be drinking way more than 163 calories.
Bloody Mary (168 calories)
The stalwart brunch cocktail is perhaps still the best savory, vegetal one out there—vodka stays out of the way, simply bringing proof to the party of succulent tomato juice, malty Worcestershire sauce, a dash of bright lime juice, and the heat of a little Tabasco and pepper. The problem with this one, though, is that you rarely drink just one.
Gin Gimlet (174 calories)
Made with Rose's Lime Juice, it can be sickeningly sweet—but gin, a little sugar, and freshly squeezed lime juice give the classic midcentury drink a crisp, memorable bite. (It was good enough for Philip Marlowe, who knew a thing or two about drinking.) Note that it's also less caloric than its cousins, the gin fizz, the gin and tonic, and the gin martini.
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Whiskey Sour (178 calories)
The classic sour-style cocktail (booze, sugar, citrus), this rounded, brown-spirit drink never ceases to amaze with how much flavor it can coax out of bourbon, lemon juice, and simple syrup.
Jack Rose (182 calories)
Bonded applejack packs a mean punch at 100 proof, but you'd never know it from this elegant drink, which disguises the brawny spirit behind lime juice and the candied sweetness of grenadine.
Mint Julep (185 calories)
For a cocktail with three ingredients—lots of whiskey, some mint leaves, a little sugar—it's awfully difficult to get made right, and fantastic when it is. But this is one to keep an eye on—juleps, the traditional drink of the Kentucky Derby, are typically made with bonded or overproof whiskey, which packs more calories than a standard 80-proof spirit.
Manhattan (187 calories)
Like the martini's, this drink's simple construction—rye whiskey, sweet vermouth, Angostura bitters--conceals layers of meditative complexity. But we'd suggest limiting yourself to one after dinner; think of it as a dessert drink instead of an aperitif.
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Gin and Tonic (190 calories)
Created by British officers abroad as a vehicle for the malaria-fighting effects of quinine, the classic gin and tonic remains one of the most refreshing drinks ever. For more variations on the classic theme, consider these summer spins on gin and tonics.
Margarita (192 calories)
A dash of freshly squeezed lime juice highlights the agave-fruit flavor of the tequila, while Cointreau supplies a nuanced, orange-tinged sweetener for a juicy, addictive libation. Bonus: Add all the salt you want to the rim, since there's no calorie hit.
Negroni (195 calories)
An incomparable warm-weather cocktail, the velvety, bittersweet blend of gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth is a match made in heaven. Innovators are taking this to drink to new heights, though we can't calculate the additional caloric content of adding Grand Marnier-infused wood-chip smoke.
White Russian (195)
There's a reason Jeff Bridges isn't exactly in Ironman shape in The Big Lebowski—his character's favorite cocktail is basically coffee ice cream plus booze. And the recipe we're using here is fairly modest—only oz of both Kahlua and cream (adding more of either will jack the calories even higher).
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Gin Martini (200 calories)
When made correctly, this spare, potent mixture of gin and dry vermouth—with a dash of orange bitters imparting a floral touch—is liquid perfection. If you're really watching your weight, opt for cocktail onions as a garnish (as found in the Gibson), as opposed to olives, and you'll reduce the calorie count to 165.
Sidecar (207 calories)
In this bracingly dry concoction, the sharp acidity of lemon juice gives way to subtle, woody Cognac, softened by the sweet citrus notes of Cointreau.
Long Island Iced Tea (213)
The famous frat-boy booze mash-up (vodka, gin, tequila, rum, Cointreau, lemon juice, simple syrup, Coke) is bad for you in more ways than one. In addition to putting you on the fast track to Blackout City, a few of these could almost singlehandedly add an inch or two to your waistline. Proceed with caution.
Mai Tai (219 calories)
The secret to the canonical tiki cocktail is a good, homemade orgeat syrup (derived from toasted almonds), which lends a creamy texture and nutty flavor to a boozy combo of two rums (light and gold). Throw in some lime juice and Cointreau and it all adds up to a remarkably balanced, if fattening, drink.