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 are many 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.)
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.
Time: 15 minutes
Makes: 2 servings
1/4 cup Seville (bitter) orange marmalade
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup cranberry juice
Lemon twists for garnish
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
Makes: 4 servings
1/2 pint fresh blackberries or blackberries and raspberries
16 ounces 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
Makes: 1 serving
1/4 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
1/2 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.