We have more than usual to celebrate this summer, with vaccination making worry-free gatherings with friends and family possible again. It’s a far cry from the tentative, “Is it OK to have a backyard barbecue if everyone’s masked and 6 feet apart?” socializing of summer 2020.
There are a lot of summer days between now and Labor Day, with ample opportunities for real celebrations as well as casual get-togethers. And many of those occasions will include alcohol. It’s no big secret that alcohol intake increased during the pandemic, as people turned to wine, beer or cocktails as bright spots in the gloom of what felt like endless lockdown. If you just raised your hand and said, “Yep, that was me,” you might wonder what to do now if you want to feel festive yet know you would benefit from cutting back a bit.
First, know that you’re not alone. Interest in low- and no-alcohol beverages has been on a major upswing, especially among millennials, who are currently between 25 and 40 years old. Even though increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic created a bit of a blip in the overall trend line, the fact is that millennials have been driving an overall reduction in alcohol use, largely due to increased awareness of how their food and beverage choices make them feel physically. Older consumers have been less likely to consciously reduce their normal alcohol intake unless it, say, helps them manage a health condition, or if they notice that it takes more or less alcohol than it once did to feel impaired.
This trend has created demand for low- and no-alcohol beverages that still feel a little festive — in other words, not just a glass of club soda, an old-school “near beer” or a sugary Shirley Temple — and the beverage industry has stepped up their game. Craft breweries, wineries and distilleries are offering tastier low- and no-alcohol beer, wine and spirits, and there is no shortage of other low- and no-alcohol concoctions, from attractively packaged ready-to-drink mocktails featuring ingredients such as bitters and herbal extracts, to drinking vinegars and shrubs, bottled and draft kombucha, and “hard” seltzers.
Another aspect of the low- or no-alcohol trend is that what it means to imbibe, or not, has become more flexible. In other words, you don’t have choose between being a drinker or a teetotaler. Maybe you’re “sober curious” or “sober sometimes.” Maybe you observe Dry January. Or maybe you are thoughtful about the extent to which you partake in daytime drinking. Regardless, if you choose to not consume alcohol but want to feel and maybe look like you are, you have a lot of options that support that choice while recognizing that celebratory drinks are part of our culture.
Now back to those summer gatherings. If you’re looking for a middle ground between ready-to-drink beverages and complicated cocktail and mocktail recipes that require a toolbox of shakers, muddlers and strainers, here are some of my favorite fun and flavorful low- and no-alcohol summer libations, featuring two low-ABV (alcohol by volume) spirits — Lillet and Campari — plus fruit juice and club soda or sparkling mineral water.
Lillet (pronounced lee-LAY) is a French wine-based aperitif similar to vermouth that’s 85% wine and 15% citrus-infused liqueur. It comes in blanc, rosé and rouge varieties. If you’re a James Bond fan, or a cocktail aficionado, you may know that it’s also an ingredient in the Vesper martini. You may not know that Lillet is the preferred drink of Hannibal Lecter, but I digress. In France, it’s generally served chilled on ice with a citrus garnish, but it also serves as a low-alcohol cocktail ingredient, with an ABV higher than wine but lower than spirits.
I personally love a Lillet Spritz on a hot day because it’s lightly citrusy, fun and refreshing. Simply pour 1 part Lillet blanc or rosé over ice, top off with 2 parts club soda or sparkling mineral water, and add a twist, slice or wedge of orange, lemon or lime. Swap tonic water for the soda and you have a Lillet Tonic. Either way, you’re ready for Bastille Day.
Campari is an Italian aperitif made from herbs and fruit infused in alcohol and water. Its bright red color and bittersweet flavor make it an essential ingredient in the classic Negroni and Americano cocktails. In Italy, you can buy Campari soda, a premixed drink of Campari mixed with soda water — but, alas, we’re not in Italy. To do it yourself, use a ratio of 1 part Campari to 3 parts club soda (or sparkling mineral water) poured over ice and garnished with orange or lime. You can use less Campari if you want an even lighter beverage.
Also pretty, and lower in alcohol, is to mix 3 cups sparkling lemonade, 1/3 cup each Campari and orange juice, and 2 tablespoons grenadine in a pitcher. Serve over ice, garnished with orange slices. Or, go super basic and add a splash of Campari to a glass of sparkling lemonade. To take a totally different route, mix that sparkling lemonade 50-50 with lager for a riff on a shandy (a true shandy uses lemon-lime soda).
What about no-alcohol options? Here’s two. For one, mix 2 parts pomegranate juice to 1 part sparkling lemonade, pour over ice, and garnish with frozen blueberries, a slice of lime and a mint spring. Bonus points: A day ahead, drop blueberries in ice cube trays, top up with water and freeze, and use instead of plain ice. Or go more tropical by combining 3 cups pineapple juice, 2 cups club soda and the juice of 1 lime in a pitcher and pour into glasses over ice. Garnish with a lime wedge.