low-alcohol libations

During the thick of Ironman training this past winter/spring, I shelved so many ideas to share “when I had the time.” But life always happens: Recovery and family visits and cram training for races you signed up for “just for fun.”

Thanks to July’s long and sweetly “unbusy” days, here is one such post: My favorite low-alcohol libations. Or what I like to call training cocktails.

Shim Low-Alcohol cocktails

The Art of the Shim, by Dinah Sanders.

See, I face a bit of a conundrum on a daily basis. I love beer. (And cocktails, and wine, and well, the whole world of alcoholic beverages in general.) I could echo a friend’s words, from her email to me today: “the only things that really work for me [to help her deal with life, basically] are alcohol and extreme exercise.” But alcohol, according to Blah Blah study in the Journal of No Fun (we all know the ones), is best avoided if you care about the following: getting a good night’s sleep, leaning out for a race, or eating a high-quality diet so you can perform your best. Shit.

But there is hope! Rather than apply an all-or-nothing approach, I bring you a glimpse into the many wonderful ways that serious triathlon training and the Devil’s punch can co-exist—perhaps even happily.

Americano low alcohol cocktails

My best thrift-store finds ever (left) and Mark’s unrivaled Americano (right)

– Cocktails –

Last year Mark bought me the above book, “The Art of the Shim,” for my birthday. It’s a beautiful little bar book full of intriguing recipes for low-alcohol cocktails. It’s also just a delight to read.

The author begins by debunking the idea that the goal of drinking is to get drunk. I like a good, relaxed buzz as much as the next person, but the main reason I drink is for flavor, and she nails this: “A great cocktail is a fleeting jewel, a sensory experience that is inherently transient, but sublime. Chosen with careful consideration of the drinker’s mood. Ordered with delicious expectation. Prepared with great attention–the observation of which is no small part of the pleasure of the drink.”

See why I love this book?

Pimm's cup

A Pimm’s Cup from the book.

There are lots of occasions where a person might want to consume less alcohol: when you want to keep your wits about you or sample more than a drink or two in an evening; if your body can’t handle a lot of alcohol; if you want something that doesn’t overwhelm the palate; or if you are watching calories. It then dives into the recipes, all of which are by her definition, “shims,” (they keep you level, get it?) or, more technically, “cocktails containing no more than half an ounce of strong spirits—those of 40% alcohol by volume or above.”

Although quite a few of the recipes call for exotic ingredients (yuzu pepper, quinquina, kirschwasser?), I’ve included two of the simpler ones below, which also happen to be favorites of mine.


This is my go-to drink on the eve of an early morning or tough workout. But a bartender quoted in the book says it much better: “The Americano is not a contemplative drink like a Scotch at the end of the evening. It’s an extrovert, waiting for the the next adventure to begin…it’s not fancy or fussy. It’s approachable…it doesn’t require your attention; you’re not supposed to stop and admire it, you’re just to enjoy it, as you enjoy those you’re with.”

– 2 ounces Campari
– 2 ounces sweet vermouth or Cinzano
– 2 ounces club soda
– orange

Fill a highball glass or large Old Fashioned glass with ice. Build the drink in the glass, adding the club soda last (I always keep the rest of the can nearby, to top off the drink if it’s seeming strong, or just to hydrate.) Squeeze or flame an orange peel over the drink and drop in.

Pimm’s Cup

I love ginger beer, but the spicy-citrus accent of the Pimm’s takes it to another level. I wouldn’t expect to have liked the cucumber garnish as much as I did, but on summer nights it’s heavenly.

– 2 slices cucumber
– .5 ounces simple syrup
– 2 ounces Pimm’s No. 1
– 1 ounce ginger ale or ginger beer
– lemon and cucumber for garnish

Fill a highball glass with ice. Muddle two cucumber slices with the simple syrup. Add Pimms and lemon juice, then shake with ice. Strain into glass and top with ginger ale or ginger beer, stir. Garnish with a slice of lemon and cucumber

– Beer –

On the other side of the equation, beer. I am lucky that this year has seen a renaissance of session beers, which are by definition low alcohol.

Stone Levitation

I blogged about this back in February, where I first promised a post on these types of drinks. This was my gateway drug into so-called “light” beer (<5% alcohol) that didn’t taste like beer-flavored water. Thank you Stone, for sponsoring not only one of my favorite triathletes/people on the planet, but for unofficially sponsoring my 2014 tri season. (Which, nobody but us needs to know, hasn’t actually been that successful!) Levitation was a revelation. With a “herbacious hoppyness, a nice citrus acidity, and some caramel sweetness for balance,” you won’t even know it’s only 4.4%. (Review by Keith from Brew, Drink, Run. See his list of low-alcohol goodies here.) Stone’s new-ish Go-To IPA is another winner.

Stone Levitation

For when I’m feeling light.

Rip Ryeder Red 

I first had this beer, from local Rip Current Brewing Co. in San Marcos, at the Regal Seagull pub with friends last month. I’m not even sure if they bottle it. I was blown away. It’s amber/red in color and has a nice balance of caramel malt flavors (used to make it red) with citrus, herbal and somewhat fruity hops aromas and flavors. It sits at a 4.7%, and is complex, balanced and easy drinking.

Ponto Session IPA

Another local, this 4.5% “Sessionable” I.P.A. from Port Brewing is hoppy and refreshing. It comes in a 16 ounce can, which just means more fun for all.

Sip the S.I.P.A.

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