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It's All in the Proof: Diet and Sugar Free Vodka

Smirnoff Zero Sugar Infusions 5I received a press release today for Smirnoff Zero Sugar Infusions, a new line of lower-calorie flavored vodka. It's interesting because in specifying that these flavored vodkas are sugar-free, they're implying that other flavored vodkas are not. 

That implication is true. 

Vodka is a neutral spirit, defined by the US government as "Spirits distilled from any material at or above 95% alcohol by volume (190 proof), and if bottled, bottled at not less than 40% alcohol by volume (80 proof)." and furthermore, vodka is "Neutral spirits distilled or treated after distillation with charcoal or other materials so as to be without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color."

Flavored vodka is defined as:

  • Vodka flavored with natural flavoring materials, with or without the addition of sugar, bottled at not less than 30% alcohol by volume (60 proof)·
  • The name of the predominant flavor shall appear as part of the class and type designation, e.g., “Orange Flavored Vodka”
  • Wine may be added but if the addition exceeds 2½% by volume of the finished product, the classes and/or types and percentages (by volume) of wine must be stated as part of the class and type designation

This means that flavored vodka can have sugar added, and there is no upper limit to that sugar as long as there is still at least 30% alcohol in the bottle. So the line between a flavored vodka and a liqueur can overlap and often does. 

Particularly for the vanilla/cake frosting/whipped cream type of sweet flavors, a lot of sugar is added to flavored vodka. Not all brands do this, but many do. 


Diet Vodka

KetelSo the new Smirnoff line has no sugar added to the flavored vodka, but if calories are the concern, there is more savings from its low ABV of 30% alcohol than there is from its low sugar content. 

Ketel One launched their Botanical line in 2018, though the title positioning wasn't ringing of calorie savings as the Smirnoff line. Those are also 30% ABV but it turns out those aren't even categorized as flavored vodka. "Ketel One Botanical will be marketed as simply “made with vodka” because though it may seem like the real deal, it technically doesn't classify as actual vodka... "There actually doesn't exist a classification for this product," Jim Ruane, Ketel One Vodka director, says. "It's not a flavored vodka because of our two-tier production process, with the second distillation and the flavor infusion at the end."" according to this article.  

Flavored vodka must be at a minimum ABV of 30%. Unflavored vodka must be a minimum of 40% ABV.

Vodka_BareNaked_0 Vodka_BareNaked_0There are unflavored diet vodkas on the market though, including Skinnygirl Bare Naked Vodka. What's their trick? The trick is that they're actually flavored vodka, flavored to taste like nothing. You can see on the label that the Skinnygirl is "vodka with natural flavors."

At least one brand has figured out how to get the calorie count even lower: KEEL vodka is bottled at 23.8%. They claim, hilariously, "At KEEL, we dare to be different, and in making the world’s first premium light vodka, we chose to distill our vodka to just the right amount of alcohol: 23.8%. Why? Too much alcohol can overpower the palate. At 23.8% our flavor profile is at its peak, providing you the best tasting and smoothest vodka on the market. "

Sure. But the labelling on this one is a mess, and it's hard to believe it got TTB approval. The label says it's "Vodka with Natural Flavor," but also it's a "Premium Light Spirit." So it's not even a flavored vodka. 

Long story short: In diet/flavored vodka, the vast majority of calorie savings are in the proof of the alcohol, not in the added sugar. 




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Steve Nicholson

My uncle Gary was way ahead of the curve on this diet vodka thing. He was drinking vodka and water back in the 70s. And, after all, that’s all this is, right?


How much sugar is in Skinny Girl vodka? There label and web site is void of any mention of the word sugar.

Camper English

@Joyce Could be none, but they don't have to label it either way.


My question is:
Does alcohol kill off or disable the nutrients of infused herbs/spices/fruits - when a base alcohol is used and ingredients are added afterward - such as bottling to infuse - no more distillation or heating, just simple infusion, then straining and re-bottling..? Will the integrity of the nutrients last or diminish..
Thanks in advance...

Camper English

@Cath - Well there are two issues: The first is whether there can be a net positive from botanical nutrients when we're drinking alcohol generally. Many companies market 'healthy' alcohol and I disagree with framing booze as healthy in general.

But to your question (and I am not a chemist or nutritionist) - I think it depends on the nutrients in question. For example, I think the essential oils would be okay since essential oils are often extracted/preserved in alcohol generally. Minerals would be fine. Some things will oxidize- either right away (like mint) or over time and render those things ineffective. The alcohol will help kill living critters like bacteria, while preserving organic matter.

So my very non-specific and non-scientific answer overall is that alcohol should preserve some but not all of the organic nutrients from matter infused into it. But at the end of the day they're preserved in alcohol and nobody should try to drink their way into health.


Thank Kindly - I appreciate your respone and agree totally with your opinion :)

Am a Chef - just toying with a few cooking ideas..

Have a good day sir.. :)

Ellen Israel

I saw an article that was labeled The 11 the least calorie vodka’s

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