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Sipping into summer

By Dana Carpender

United Feature Syndicate

Cookout season is in full swing, and if you're like me, it makes you want to throw a party. What could be better on a sunny day than a bunch of friends getting together to enjoy something sizzling from the grill, a killer salad or two, tunes on the boom box and a Frisbee?

But wait, I forgot something: For most of us, a party also includes festive libations. What are you going to drink at your summer bash?

Summer party beverages are different than winter party beverages. Eggnog and other heavy, creamy drinks seem cloying now. And when you're playing in the sun, it's best to have a drink of modest potency, with a high water content. In other words, you want your beverages to refresh as well as relax.

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Cookouts and beer naturally go together, and there are several low-carb beers on the market. The lowest in carbohydrates of the bunch is Michelob Ultra, but it's too bland for my tastes. I prefer Miller Light, which at 3.2 grams of carb per 12 ounces has only about a half a gram more than Michelob Ultra.

Many summer parties feature coolers full of alcopops -- hard lemonade, Bacardi Silver, Smirnoff Ice, and the like. These sweet beverages all have one thing in common, other than alcohol -- they're high in carbohydrates. If sugar-free versions are on the market, they haven't made it to my hometown yet, and I couldn't find them online, either. Interestingly enough, in the beverage industry, these sweet alcoholic beverages are known as "alco-carbs." Need I say more?

So do yourself a favor, and mix your own drinks. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

HARD LIQUORS: Whisky, vodka, rum, gin, tequila -- are all carb-free. It's the mixers that you have to worry about.

MIXERS: Of course you know that regular soda is sugary, but so is tonic water. Buy diet tonic water. Club soda is fine, as is sparkling water, which comes in some flavors that are good for mixing -- lemon, lime, orange, berry, and the like.

CHILLED WINE: Put three ounces of dry wine in a tall glass full of ice. Top with sparkling water or diet lemon-lime soda, depending on how sweet a drink you want. Made in a really huge glass, this will make you merry, but not blotto -- plus it helps to fight the dehydration that can come with drinking alcohol.

HARD LEMONADE: Add a shot of vodka to sugar-free lemonade to make your own "hard lemonade." Want it fizzy? Put a quarter-teaspoon or so of the lemonade mix powder in your glass, add vodka and ice, then fill with club soda. Add a little more lemonade mix if you think it needs it, and decorate with a lemon wheel.

GIN RICKEY? You can probably figure out rum and diet cola, and gin with diet tonic, right? You might try a gin rickey for a change -- put a tablespoon of lime juice and a shot of gin in the bottom of a tall glass, add ice, and fill with club soda. Very refreshing.

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MOJITO: From sunny Cuba comes the Mojito. Put a shot of white rum, 1 tablespoon lime juice, a sprig of fresh mint, and 1 teaspoon Splenda in a tall glass. Use a spoon to bruise the mint, releasing its flavor. Add ice and fill with club soda.

CRYSTAL LIGHT: Don't forget about this potential mixer. You can make a de-carbed Seabreeze with a shot of gin in a glass of pink grapefruit Crystal Light. By the way, Crystal Light mixes are made with aspartame, but the new premixed Crystal Light Bottles use Splenda.

Dana Carpender can be contacted online at www.holdthetoast.com.

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