How do you know someone is on a ketogenic diet? Because they won’t quit talking about it. Especially if they’re shit-faced. Welcome to KetoDrunk, a Reddit community that currently counts over 28,000 members. Its motto: “Getting hammered while getting thin.” In this strange niche of the internet, the strictest dieters of us all try to thwart their silly, self-imposed regimens in the pursuit of a decent drink. KetoDrunk is the place where their truly hilarious hacks for low-carb mixology are tried, tested, and championed.
“I think most people drink in general, and some people find it hard to give up that last indulgence, as they have already given up so many hedonistic pleasures from their unhealthier lifestyles before,” says Daniel Wiseman, the group’s founder. He started KetoDrunk in 2013, just as the nearly century-old, high fat, very-low-carb diet was again becoming trendy. These new adopters of keto were questioning what they were actually allowed to imbibe, and Wiseman hoped to help them.
“You decided you want washboard abs and SWEET GAINS but also want to get crunk,” he wrote in his welcome message to the group. “Are these goals mutually exclusive?”
If you know anything about keto, you know followers are supposed to eschew carbs. If you know anything about alcohol, you’ve probably noticed it’s completely packed with carbs—malty beers, fruity wines, and all those $15 cocktails loaded with juices and syrups and sometimes straight scoops of granulated sugar. As Wiseman explains, however, it’s pretty simple for him to drink while sticking to his diet, assuming you understand the lingo: “A ketogenic diet is one that puts you into a state of ketosis, and most people find that alcohol does not inhibit ketone production," he says. (In plain English: So long as he doesn’t drink any carbs that would kick him out of the metabolic state of ketosis, he’s cool.)
Wiseman drinks straight whiskey, which he prefers neat, favoring brands like Booker’s and Four Roses Single Barrel. Even though whiskey is made from grains, once you distill a spirit it becomes 100-percent carb-free. Any unflavored spirit (gin, vodka, tequila, etc.) works for KetoDrunk, though be careful of rum, a poorly regulated category notorious for being secretly dosed with sugar. As with any diet, cognitive dissonance is also helpful.
“I believe the reason [Captain Morgan] has a sweet taste to it is because of the hydrocarbons released during the barrel aging,” said one commenter who really wanted to drink the spiced rum in peace.
For most people, pounding tequila shots is not an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday night. That’s why Wiseman also maintains a lengthy line of bitters bottles at home, allowing him to splash some of the carb-free ingredient into his whiskey to manipulate flavor, something he also does with MiO, a water enhancer offered in flavors like berry pomegranate and mango peach. Not that he usually needs it.
“[M]any people will find that their taste buds become more sensitive to the sweetness naturally found in alcohols and the addition of any sweet component is unnecessary,” he wrote on the subreddit.
Other KetoDrunk practitioners are more adventurous, often looking for acceptable analogs to iconic cocktails. The biggest problem for keto mixology is that most of these necessitate a sweetener like simple syrup. Unfortunately, simple syrup—a 1-to-1 blend of sugar and water—has around 28 grams of carbs per ounce, which is more than most keto dieters aim to consume in an entire day.
“My coworkers and I are probably going out to drinks later in the week at a really fancy, upscale cocktail place downtown,” one commenter fretted. “Would it be super weird to order those cocktails that include sugar...without sugar? I can bring along some of my own Stevia too if I find I need it.”
The group is always looking for sugar-free cocktail sweeteners, utilizing ones you’ve heard of like Stevia and Splenda, and ones you probably haven’t, like allulose, erythritol, and something called Swerve to make their own faux simple syrups. (These can have a thin mouthfeel, so some followers add egg whites for extra body—which gives you protein to boot!) There are some store-brand options like NuNaturals and Simply Simple Sugar Free Simple Syrup, but you really have to read the labels; though they may be listed as “sugar-free,” Wiseman warns that some have “carbohydrate-laden ingredients such as maltodextrin,” and that’s no good.
While certain cocktails like, say, the Manhattan are nearly impossible to make keto-friendly—there's no good substitute for sweet vermouth—others are a cinch. Easy highballs like G&Ts and Moscow Mules are popular; just use diet tonic or ginger beer, natch. So are Whiskey Sours and Margaritas, so long as you make them with sugar-free triple sec. Since calories from fat are actually desirable on a ketogenic diet, you can have a “Keto Colada” made with coconut vodka, heavy whipping cream, and pineapple seltzer. Even better, a 1,000-calorie Mudslide made with vodka, Ketologie chocolate shake mix, erythritol, almond milk, and heavy cream. “Jesus. That’s ridiculous,” as one commenter said.
The White Russian seems to be the unofficial cocktail of KetoDrunk, with members constantly attempting their take on The Dude’s favorite drink—it’s quite easy to make delicious. A typical go might use sugar-free coffee syrup, nut milk, heavy cream, and vodka. (The verdict: “fuckin great!”) An advanced attempt opts for a butter- and chocolate chip-infused vodka shaken with heavy cream and homemade coffee liqueur, with pink Himalayan salt on the rim for added electrolytes. Despite all that effort to get loaded, one unimpressed Reddit commenter could only reply: “Help me understand if I’m wrong, but [a chocolate chip] uses soy lecithin and I thought that isn’t good for keto.”
Yes, a constant trope on KetoDrunk is that even when you’re buzzed and feeling good, you can still be a pedant—as big a hallmark of following this diet as subbing in a side salad instead of french fries. KetoDrunk is likewise surely the only drinking forum on the internet that has deep arguments about things like “gluconeogenesis” and “autophagy.” (Don’t ask.)
The group has even spawned its own cocktail book: Ke-Tiki: The Keto & Low-Carb Guide to Tiki Drinks by Jason Gawron, an Atlanta-area man and formerly overweight tiki enthusiast. Tiki drinks are notoriously some of the most keto-unfriendly cocktails around, laden with sugars, syrups, and fruit juices—as in, “the majority of ingredients found in the tiki drinks I had come to love,” Gawron writes in the book’s intro. Remarkably, he figured out how to make keto-kind versions of everything from the Mai Tai to the Fog Cutter to the typically sugar-packed Zombie, for which he swaps in crystalized citrus powder instead of lime juice and makes a grenadine using Diet Ocean Spray Cran-Pomegranate juice.
No, ke-tiki cocktails don’t taste as good as legit tiki. "But the way I see it, close enough is better than no tiki at all," Gowran tells me.
Of course, when you’re attempting KetoDrunk, you will have to go without some things you used to love. Many in the group lament the lack of a truly tasty low-carb beer, forced to drink the watery Michelob Ultra. Many instead opt for low-carb alcoholic seltzer or Nude (essentially a vodka soda) when they desire a canned crusher.
But you can honestly drink anything on KetoDrunk, so long as your body remains in ketosis. Ketosis means that, due to a lack of carb-created glucose, your body instead burns stored fat, which creates an elevated level of acids in your system called ketones. Gawron monitors his ketone levels by bringing testing strips out to the bar, which he urinates on to make sure what he's drinking hasn’t “knocked him out” of ketosis. Some KetoDrunk enthusiasts don’t find the strips reliable enough, however (and yeah, you might not want to be peeing toward your hand while buzzed). Wiseman simply pricks his blood in the morning to see if enough ketones are present. “Anyone completely altering their metabolism and still consuming alcohol needs to be aware that things change,” he says.
So, exactly how drunk do people get on KetoDrunk? There seem to be two vastly divergent camps. You would expect that, lacking a solid base of bread in the belly, many keto drinkers would immediately become lightweights—“zero to absolutely trashed,” as one commenter said. And some do.
“The other pattern is that people will achieve a sort of plateau of inebriation where two drinks and seven drinks feel the exact same, but that eighth drink just lays them down like a sucker punch,” says Wiseman. He theorizes that the neuroprotective effects of deep ketosis, which studies have found to reduce seizures in children and Alzheimer’s in old people, may also “work” for preventing the feeling of drunkenness. This theory is unproven. Gawron, for his part, finds he can often drink all night long and never get loaded.
Some keto dieters find drinking is no longer fun at all.
“When I drink on carbs, the music sounds 1000 [times] better,” lamented one KetoDrunk commenter, with another describing the feeling of being drunk on keto as “less euphoric and more intoxicated.” A third said, “Basically it just makes me sleepy.”
If only sleepiness were the most pressing issue. There are some bigger health concerns to contend with as well. Bad breath is one, as ketosis causes acetone production; you might want to bring sugar-free mints on your Tinder date. Rashes are likely, too. Bloating is also possible, a common side effect of overconsumption of natural sweeteners. But dehydration is the biggest concern, as people on keto store less water than someone eating SAD (their somewhat derisive acronym for the “Standard American Diet”). Plus, alcohol is a diuretic, which causes many people to flush all the electrolytes from their body after a night of hard boozing. This often manifests itself in severe leg and foot cramping.
“I woke up this morning yelling out of pain and my roommate ran in the room to check on me,” complained a rare woman in the group; a sympathetic commenter revealed that cramps kept hitting him during post-bar coitus.
That’s why many KetoDrunk practitioners have started to chug pickle juice once they get home for the night. Others start electrolyte-loading while drinking, using pickle juice as their mixer—Tito’s vodka and pickle juice on ice is particularly popular. Stranger, perhaps, is the pickle juice Daiquiri, a mix of brine, lime juice, and rum, which you can garnish with a bread-and-butter slice when you’re feeling snazzy. (Pickle juice has not been conclusively proven to be an effective source of electrolytes.)
If you have the willpower to be KetoDrunk, there’s still the concern about what to eat for KetoDrunk food. Pizza and nachos are obviously off the table. Pork rinds and unsauced chicken wings are a great option, as are bunless burgers and crustless pizza, where browned mozzarella acts as the bottom layer.
“If I’ve had a few drinks on a fasted stomach, you may find me spreading butter on a slice of cheddar cheese,” Wiseman tells me.
Even KetoDrunk’s most monk-like followers know the other shoe is all but guaranteed to drop the next day, no matter what they ate or drank the night before. No, not in the form of weight gain, but as one of the apparently legendary hangovers you can only get while on keto, which some practitioners say last up to three days. “The headaches are like nothing else I’ve experienced,” said one dieter on the forum, while another said they frequently found themselves “wishing for the sweet release of death to put me out of my misery.”
One KetoDrunk enthusiast offered yet another hack, this one to get around the hangovers: “I usually just drink 1-2 Nuun caplets dissolved in some water throughout the night. And a ton of blow,” this commenter wrote. “Usually wake up feeling like a billion bucks.”
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