We love cocktails, beer, and wine and 2020 gave us all the reasons, occasions, and excuses to pour drinks. But a Dry January, or any other month, can be beneficial whether your goal is resetting habits, weight loss, or better sleep.
Part of pouring craft beverages is the process of discovering, developing, and sharing tasty sips with our friends and family. “Without alcohol” does not have to signal the end of delicious and the beginning of boring. This guide to craft mocktails will deliver all of the flavor and flair of cocktails while helping you keep your commitment to #DryJanuary.
Plus, for those of us in the hospitality industry, offering thoughtfully crafted non-alcoholic choices for guests who are not drinking alcohol, for whatever reason, is excellent service and good for business.
Surprisingly, the Journal of American Speech notes the origin word “mocktail” doesn’t come from a sober mixologist but instead a 1979 Libbey Glass advertisement. By now, we have all learned that “mocktail” means a non-alcoholic drink meant to replicate a cocktail.
Just as cocktails have moved to the classic hand-shaken daiquiri, so have we moved beyond the virgin blender drink. Today, we see a wide variety of non-alcoholic options under bar menu headings that include: Zero ABV, Low & No Alcohol, Alcohol-Free, NA Options, and Zero Proof.
By whatever name you call them, craft mocktails require care, skill, and fresh ingredients like their boozy cousins. In short, they should be as well-crafted as a cocktail.
At one time, being the designated driver, or sober, meant getting to select from sugary soda, juice or tonic, lousy coffee, plain soda, or tap water. Not very appealing options.
The “big upgrade” to this list was the addition of non-alcoholic beer.
However, today, as reflected in the 2020 Cocktail Trends Report, the #1 trend is low/no alcohol drinks. The craft mocktail is a rising star due to more mindful drinking and hospitality professionals serving up what their guests want.
What gets measured gets improved, and the mocktail is no exception. If you are in doubt, consider this:
Enough talk, let’s make some mocktails.
My three principles of “craft” apply to both cocktails and mocktails. It can be challenging, but with a little bit of practice – let’s say a month, give or take you’ll be a mocktail mixologist.
Aristotle said, “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” That is true with mocktails and cocktails. The interplay between a dash of this, and a small amount of that, mixed with something else can create a flavor profile that is inspired.
These books helped me to understand flavor pairing. I consult them regularly to expand my knowledge of flavor and creativity:
Thanks to Spirity Non-Alcoholic cocktails, and other brands,craft mocktails can be as quick and painless as opening a can – after all, craft beer is still craft. Or it can be as involved as making zero ABV spirits, developing syrups, and handcrafting bitters all at home.
Usually, it falls somewhere in between; I buy some things and make others.
All three options above are perfect depending on the occasion and how much time and equipment you have available.
I keep a supply of flavored balsamic vinegar on my bar right next to my bitters collection. Currently, I have Lemongrass and Mint, Cranberry Pear, Black Mission Fig, and Blueberry flavors on hand.
I use ¼ – ½ ounce of balsamic vinegar (use more or less as you or your guest prefers) with soda water to make an excellent drink. Depending on the flavor and presentation, I use one-inch ice cubes or a single large, hand-cut cube.
¼ – ½ ounce of Lemongrass and Mint White Balsamic Vinegar
4 ounces of soda water
Bitters and soda is a classic non-alcoholic choice. Yes, bitters are generally made by using alcohol to extract flavors from roots, herbs, leaves, and fruit, but when used in small quantities has no intoxicating effect. In the US, a beverage with less than .5% Alcohol By Volume (ABV) is considered non-alcoholic. There are also non-alcoholic bitters available.
In your local liquor store and online, you’ll find a wide array of bitters. There is no reason to limit yourself to Angostura Bitters only.
Bitters and soda are also readily available pre-mixed in a can from Hella, Angostura, and Schweppes, to name a few.
Bitters and Soda
2 – 6 dashes of bitters
4 – 8 ounces of soda water
Tonic Water & Lime
Readily available and straightforward, this go-to non-alcoholic choice can be full of sugar. Still, with a few upgrades, you can reduce the sugar and increase flavor.
Elevated Tonic and Lime
4 – 6 ounces of Fever-Tree Tonic
3 – 6 dashes of Woodland Bitters from Portland Bitters Project
Today, there are many brands and choices of spirits when you are stocking your sober bar. For a deeper dive, check out the Mixology Talk podcast #177 as Chris Tunstall, founder of A Bar Above, talks non-alcoholic cocktails with Laura Lashley, a Brand Ambassador for Seedlip.
We’ll dive in by focusing on three non-alcoholic versions of classic cocktails: The Old Fashioned, the Daiquiri, and the Negroni. With a little bit of searching on the Internet or Amazon, you’ll easily find what you’re looking for.
2 ounces Ritual Whiskey Alternative
¼ ounce Simple Syrup
2 Dashes Stirrings Blood Orange Non-alcoholic Bitters
2 ounces Ronsin Non-alcoholic Rum
¾ ounce Fresh Lime Juice
¾ ounce Simple Syrup
1-ounce Seedlip Spice 94
1-ounce Lyre’s Italian Orange
1-ounce VERSIN Non-Alcoholic Vermouth
Add Seedlip Spice 94, Lyre’s Italian Orange, and VERSIN Non-alcoholic Vermouth to your mixing glass. Add ice. Stir to chill. Strain with a julep strainer into a coupe or rocks glass.
I started with gin. It’s complex, interesting, and very drinkable. It took just a few hours after gathering everything I needed. Most of the whole spices were readily available in the bulk spice section of a gourmet grocery store. A few ingredients – vegetable glycerin and angelica root I bought on Amazon.
Zero ABV Gin worked well with tonic and as a sour, but I wouldn’t try to tell a gin drinker that it’s gin. In my next batch, I will try to amplify the juniper notes by cruising the juniper berries more.
The recipe cautioned me not to puree the juniper berries, so I may have been too cautious, leaving the tincture lacking the full gin that I enjoy.
If you go the DIY route, it will help to have a few things on-hand:
Note: the blender and scales are the minimum starting place. You’ll be using your blender to make tinctures – concentrated extracts made by blending up spices, herbs, or barks in a liquid. In the Zero ABV Gin, I blended juniper berries in a combination of vegetable glycerin and water.
Many of the ingredients you’ll be working with are very aromatic, flavorful, and lightweight – a little bit will go a long way. Thus, you’ll be weighing out one to five-gram portions on a gram scale instead of using measuring spoons.
Water, fruit juice, and vegetable glycerin – heavy ingredients, are too much for the tiny gram scale. That’s why you’ll also need a kitchen scale. Plus, there are many uses for a scale once it’s part of your kitchen set up. You can weigh flour for baking, sugar and water for making syrups, and food for portion control.
Overall, I’m delighted with the outcome. I know my craft mocktail menu options will be endless when I complete the backbar. Next up is Zero ABV American Whiskey!
Limitations can inspire creativity. Eliminating alcohol is just such a boundary. Writing this guide to craft mocktails has shown me that complex, well-balanced, and visually stimulating non-alcoholic drinks are more than possible. They are a necessary part of a home bar or professional bar program.