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How Not to Drink So Much: The New Happy Hour

Cocktails long on flavor and short on alcohol will leave you (and your liver) happy — but not reeling 

By Donna Sapolin

Let me say right off the bat that I’m not someone who can be accused of drinking too much. Far from it. In my circles I’m known alternately as the really, really cheap date (just in terms of booze, mind you), the one-drink optimist and the smart-stupid drinker.

One beer and I’m officially silly, one cocktail and I can’t possibly figure out how to split a bill ("Yay!" — that gets me out of having to do dinner math), one glass of red and not a single negative phrase will come out of my mouth.

And when I start to feel myself getting too Pollyanna-ish or losing memory and general brainpower, I stop drinking. What I do while drinking is gulp water, order or prepare my cocktails "on the rocks" and sip slowly to counteract both the dehydrating aspect of alcohol (your body can expel up to four times as much liquid as your alcoholic beverage contains) and its rapid absorption rate (the body absorbs alcohol more quickly than it metabolizes it).

The fact that alcohol makes me voluble also means that I drink it more slowly, which is why I usually give myself a pass on the Chatty Cathy score.

Until a few months ago, I never, ever drank alone and that also helped me restrict my consumption.

Be that as it may, I still very much enjoyed imbibing one drink (or so) per sitting while interacting with friends and family. And I’ve always loved learning about wines, writing about them on occasion, experimenting with new cocktail mixtures and serving delicious alcoholic beverages to others — all interests that have little to do with alcohol’s mind-numbing qualities and much more to do with my intense fascination with food and all that goes with it.

Supporting my restrictive behavior: The fact that I have no genetic disposition to excessive drinking and that I grew up in a household in which I witnessed very little alcohol consumption. (The only truly vivid and lingering impression I formed of alcohol during childhood: helping my mother carry groceries in from the car and dropping the bag that held all the costly liquor she had just purchased for a party.)

My naturally moderate inclinations may seem fortunate to those who find it difficult to limit their drinking. Their concern about alcohol’s impact and their desire to curb consumption are warranted, especially as we age. Many conditions affecting older adults are made worse by alcohol, among them stroke, breast cancer, memory loss, mood disorders and high blood pressure. And alcohol has definitely contributed to a host of health problems rooted in past boomer behaviors.

(MORE: Is Reckless Youth Putting Your Liver at Risk?)

Cutting back is, without question, a very good idea.

My New Moderation Scheme: 'Thimble' Cocktails

The alcohol-associated health concerns are prompting journalists to address the notion of moderation with greater frequency. But there appears to be great confusion about what moderation means and conflicting advice about how to establish it.

I recently decided to redefine my own approach so I could have fun experimenting with concoctions and also enjoy a late-night "happy hour." To that end, I began drinking alone several nights per week.

Now, don't jump to any conclusions. The manner in which I did this was the definition of moderation and it was sparked by two things: 1) a memory of my insomniac step-mother’s highly restrictive way of drinking — every evening, just before bed, she’d down a single shot of wine to help her get to sleep; and 2) my own research into cool, British stainless steel spirit measures, which the Brits call "thimbles."

While I’m not using these mini vessels to craft my cocktails, the notion of a "thimbleful" of alcohol inspired me — I liked the teeny portion the phrase implies.

My moderation scheme involves using a traditional shot glass to prepare some delicious two- or three-ingredient cocktails with perhaps a fourth nonalcoholic ingredient. I pour just 1/2 oz. of any particular type of liquor so that the mixed drink contains no more than 1.5 ounces of booze in total.

While doing this has actually upped my alcohol consumption, the results have been tasty and they've definitely helped me relax without causing me to wake up during the night — more potent drinks make me toss and turn.


Some may call this strategy a tease and my technique will certainly do nothing for those who truly struggle with alcohol. But it may be helpful to those who don't have a big problem with restraint and want a practical way to significantly trim back the quantity they consume.

(MORE: Beating Alcohol Addiction in Midlife)

If you choose to stick with normal-size cocktails, you might want to take a look at how much alcohol is in your preferred mixture by plugging in the ingredients and quantities into’s Cocktail Content Calculator, which is part of the site's Drink Alcohol Only in Moderation initiative.

Below, I share a few of the classic "thimble" concoctions I’ve been mixing — they make for perfect autumn tipples and are super simple to prep because they rely on equal parts of the main ingredients.

Just place three ice cubes in an old-fashioned glass, measure and pour each ingredient over the ice and stir vigorously for about a minute.

Remember to take small sips and to savor each and every one.

Here’s to a very happy hour of moderation — and to a good night’s rest. Cheers!

1/2 oz. brandy
1/2 oz. heavy cream
1/2 oz. dark crème de cacao
Optional garnish: pinch of nutmeg

1/2 oz. gin (or Prosecco, if you want to reduce the alcohol content even more)
1/2 oz. Campari
1/2 oz. red vermouth
Optional garnish: orange twist

1/2 oz. gin
1/2 oz. Lillet Blonde
1/2 oz. Cointreau
1/2 oz. lemon juice
Optional garnish: orange twist

SLAVIC & TONIC (a twist on a Gin & Tonic)
¾ oz. Becherovka (a cinnamon- and anise-tinged liqueur)
¾ oz. tonic
Optional garnish: grapefruit twist

Donna Sapolin is the Founding Editor of Next Avenue. Follow Donna on Twitter @stylestorymedia. Read More
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