Making an alcohol-free cocktail can be as simple as opening a can of Bloody Mary mix, but with a little more ambition, the home bartender can create tasty, refreshing and intriguing drinks.
In recent years, a number of companies have introduced alcohol-free “spirits,” like Seedlip, an English brand of complex botanical and spice concoctions. From Australia, Lyre’s is a new brand of stand-ins for malt whiskey, rum, gin, coffee liqueur, Italian-style aperitifs and more in fancy bottles (named for that country’s lyrebird). Spiritless, an alcohol-free “bourbon” from Kentucky, is scheduled to hit the market any day. All of these are distinguished by being distilled, supposedly making them closer to the real thing.
But without investing in these “impossible boozes,” there aremany ways to create sophisticated mocktails. Some, like the unspiked cosmopolitan that follows, can be made by the pitcher to serve over ice and enhance anyone’s summer picnic, including children’s. (For those who insist, you can always offer vodka on the side.)
The one relatively uncommon item that is worth investing in is verjus, the alcohol-free juice of unripe green grapes, usually made by wineries. In the kitchen, it is a milder stand-in for vinegar (wine vinegars do have a little alcohol). But in a glass topped with soda or good tonic water and a spritz of lime, it becomes an easy party drink. It can replace the rum in a “mojito” or the cachaça in a “caipiriña.” An excellent verjus is made by Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack, N.Y., but there are others.
Verjus contributes acidity, a critical component in a well-made drink. Lemons, limes and other citrus, and unsweetened pineapple juice also provide appealing acid. Bitter flavors and the puckery tannins that you’ll find in many black and some green teas and in fruits like blackberries, cherries and cranberries are important, too. They help tame the sweetness of many mocktails.
Drinks usually calling for vodka are the easiest to make nonalcoholic, since that spirit adds little or no flavor to begin with. A mute Moscow mule, for example, is simply ginger beer and lime served over ice; it takes on cocktail party allure if served in traditional copper mugs. Similarly, the faux Kir Royale below deserves a champagne flute. Using proper glassware enhances any drink, not just those with alcohol. And be generous with the garnishes.
Time 15 minutes
Yield 2 servings
1. Place the marmalade in a strainer over a small bowl. Gradually add 2 tablespoons boiling water as you force the jelly, not the peels, through the strainer. This is your marmalade syrup. You should have 4 tablespoons. Stir it.
2. Place marmalade syrup in a mixing glass. Add lime juice, cranberry juice and ice. Stir well.
3. Strain into two chilled stemmed cocktail glasses and garnish with twists. If desired, the drink can be served on the rocks in large wine goblets.
Time 10 minutes
Yield 4 servings
½ pint fresh blackberries or blackberries and raspberries
16 oz. ginger ale, well-chilled
1. Set aside 8 of the best berries for garnish. Force the rest through a sieve to remove the seeds. You should have about a quarter cup of berry purée.
2. Slowly divide ginger ale among 4 champagne flutes. Add a tablespoon of berry purée to each without stirring. Garnish each drink with a couple of whole berries on a toothpick or wooden skewer and serve.
Time 10 minutes
Yield 1 serving
¼ cup strong brewed Lapsang souchong tea cooled to room temperature
4 teaspoons maple syrup
Pinch freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon egg white, organic, pasteurized or reconstituted
½ slice orange
Maraschino cherry, preferably good quality not marinated in alcohol
1. Combine the tea, maple syrup, pepper and lemon juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake. Add the egg white and shake again, vigorously.
2. Place a couple of inch-square ice cubes, or one very large one in an old-fashioned glass and strain the cocktail over the ice. Garnish with orange slice and cherry and serve.