Mocktail? Nah. Spirit-free cocktail? Sure. Whatever you call them, modern nonalcoholic drinks are delicious, and deserve to be given the same degree of attention we pay to the classics. The tricky thing is that when you remove alcohol from the equation, you’re also removing texture, viscosity, certain flavors, and that telltale back of the throat “burn” so many of us associate with a stiff drink. So, while the options in the nonalcoholic drinks category have been improving and growing at a rapid clip for the last few years, there remains a bit of a learning curve.
Any home bar set up, alcohol free or not, will benefit from having a few specific tools on hand. You don’t need the fanciest cut crystal mixing glass to make delicious drinks, but at bare minimum you should have the following:
Yes, you can (and should!) be using jam and marmalade in your cocktails! They bring not only texture, but a lovely fruity tartness, and the variety of flavors is literally endless.
Sweeteners do more than balance a cocktail’s sour notes; they add flavor and texture too, which are especially important when making nonalcoholic drinks. You should master a classic simple syrup (known in the industry as 1:1 because it is equal parts sugar and water) as well as its sibling, the rich simple syrup (known as 2:1, twice as much sugar as water). And think beyond white sugar: darker sugars like muscovado, demerara, and our own Okinawan Black Sugar offer a world of nuanced flavor. Some of our other go-to sweeteners include honey, maple syrup, pomegranate molasses, and pine cone bud syrup, not to mention the wide world of fruit preserves. Yes, you can (and should!) be using jam and marmalade in your cocktails! They bring not only texture, but a lovely fruity tartness, and the variety of flavors is literally endless.
How To Make Simple Syrup
Classic Simple Syrup
Measure out 8oz of water and 8oz of sugar; add the water to a saucepan and heat over medium heat (but don’t boil!). Add the sugar, and stir. When the sugar is completely dissolved, remove from heat, pour into a glass jar, and cool in the refrigerator.
Rich Simple Syrup
Measure out 8oz of water and 16oz of sugar; follow the steps outlined above.
Citrus (And Other Fruit Too!)
Lemons and limes are de rigueur, and there’s a reason they’re considered classics. They are supremely versatile, and work as well in a margarita as they do a martini. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t shout out oranges; orange juice is particularly fun in shaken drinks, as it adds a super fluffy mouthfeel and airy texture. But perhaps our favorite of all is the grapefruit. Whether you juice it or use it as a twist, its pithy bitterness, bright aromatics, and tangy-tart flavor adds a nice pop and helps to boost the citrus notes of many different drinks.
Adding something bubbly to a drink (nonalcoholic or otherwise) does a lot: it adds texture, body, and lift, not to mention that mysteriously unquantifiable something that makes a drink so refreshing. Along with classics like seltzer and tonic, we’re huge fans of imported bittersweet sodas from Italy like Sanbitter, Crodino, and Stappi. Their diminutive nature (they are often packaged in tiny 100ml bottles) belies their huge impact, as they offer a concentration of flavor and aroma rarely seen in alcohol-free products. We’re also big fans of the new school of so-called Ready To Drink (RTD) canned nonalcoholic offerings from brands like Ghia, For Bitter For Worse, Lyre’s and Casamara Club. You can certainly drink RTDs on their own, but we love using them as mixers to add extra layers of flavor to our spiritfree concoctions.
Glassware is another important consideration, and can really set the vibe. While we love high-end, fancy glassware, when it comes to hosting parties we’re generally using the less precious stuff (nothing spoils the fun like watching a guest accidentally break a beloved or expensive glass). For fun, flashy options we love thrifting vintage glassware (which can be found on the cheap) and for more casual get-togethers we’re partial to legendary French producer Duralex. We’re also bigs fans of the “high/low” concept; there’s something casually chic about serving a beautiful cocktail in a simple glass.
Another way to add not only visual pop but more flavor and aroma to non-alcoholic beverages is with garnishes. We often employ a simple citrus twist, but things like fresh and dried herbs, berries, pomegranate seeds, and even flowers from your garden can be a simple way to take a drink to the next level.
Fresh herbs like mint, thyme, and rosemary add visual pop and highlight botanical flavors
Berries, pomegranate seeds, and other fruits add color and a bust of flavor
Citrus twists are a classic for a reason. Pro tip: express the oils from the citrus peel across the top of your drinks for extra aromatic punch
Use this guide to experiment with nonalcoholic cocktails at home. The options for zero-proof drinks are literally growing by the day, and there are so many new, interesting, and (most importantly) delicious products out there to play with. Just remember that a well-equipped home bar doesn’t need to be a huge investment, and that with just a few tools, ingredients and a bit of creativity, a whole new world of flavor opens up. Cheers!
Try this recipe:
Why should vermouth drinkers have all the fun? The easy Wilderton Fizz is a zero-proof spritz that offers a similarly refreshing bitter, botanical, citrusy flavor profile.