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Americans love to drink. On average, an American consumes between eight and ten liters of alcohol per year and between 60-70% of adults take part in alcoholic libations on a regular basis. Whether it’s working through your latest craft brew selection, taking down mixed drinks at your local cocktail bar or the wine you enjoy with dinner — alcohol is heavily incorporated into our weekly and sometimes daily routines.
As with anything else indulgent, it’s best enjoyed responsibly and in moderation. Sometimes, it’s nice to take a break and let our systems reset. Many people do this at the beginning of the year, in what’s called “dry January.” If you’re taking part this year, you should know that it doesn’t mean you need to deprive yourself of that delicious cocktail you’re craving at the end of the work week. Enter: the mocktail.
Thankfully, the best mocktail recipes make it possible for everyone to enjoy craft cocktails, sober or not. They go beyond your average juice, diet Coke or ginger beer and take cocktail making to the next level, just without the alcohol. Whether it’s due to allergies, taste preferences or substance abuse concerns, there is a large swath of the U.S. population that doesn’t partake in alcoholic beverages. Many bartenders want to give them options to enjoy during happy hour, too.
We went above and beyond just internet research and sat down with an actual bartender to ask her about her experience with mocktails. Laura Shortt is a bartender, bar and beverage manager at Valentine Distilling Co., a small-batch whiskey, gin and vodka distiller in Detroit that’s one of the most awarded craft distillers in the country. She shared with us some tips, tricks and hacks for making tasty mocktails that are so delicious, you’ll forget they’re lacking in one crucial ingredient.
You can find our whole interview with Laura below, edited and shortened for clarity.
What separates the best mocktail recipes from the mediocre ones?
She explained that “like any cocktail, fresh ingredients are key. Unique or more complex combinations will certainly enhance the experience. You want to feel like the beverage you’re drinking is just as well thought out as any other cocktail on a craft menu, alcoholic or not.”
Shortt noted that the “last thing you’d want is for it to taste like you’re simply drinking a bland juice and soda.”
Fresh ingredients make sense, but what exactly should those ingredients be? Don’t worry, we asked her about that as well.
“I’d say a good core balance involves any combination of citrus, sugar, optional flavors to accent and a mixer,” Shortt explained. “When using citrus it should always be fresh. A small amount of sugar goes a long way and will balance the citrus or bitter flavors. It can also be another way to lend flavor through the use of infused syrups (like lavender or vanilla for example).”
“Good ways to incorporate some additional flavors are in the form of fresh muddled herbs, fruits or vegetables, or botanical waters like rose water.
“A mixer will be the core of the whole dynamic and can be more neutral or bold. It can be anything from seltzer, flavored sodas, juices, or teas to vegetable waters, shrubs and more. Making an herbal ‘tea’ from different herbs, spices, dried flowers or fruits can also be a great way to make your own complex DIY mixer.”
Are the best mocktails just cocktails without the alcohol? Is there anything special or unique about them?
“I don’t view them as that. Most cocktails have a significant amount of their flavor lent from the spirit. When you strip the spirit, you strip the flavor profile that was lent. Therefore most cocktails are irreplaceable without the spirit, in my opinion.
“In that same sense though, we can create a zero ABV cocktail that is unique and can stand on its own without the assistance of alcohol. In the same way gin, for example, can lend a cocktail an outstanding amount of flavor through its botanicals, we can integreate new, thoughtful flavors in a multitude of different ways sans spirit.”
Do most bartenders know how to make good mocktails? Is it a priority within the mixology world?
“I wouldn’t expect most bars to have viable options but an increasing number of craft establishments have certainly added no or low abv options which is great.
“Relying on an individual bartender to have a personal mocktail arsenal is unreliable and inconsistent in comparison to having a few options tied into a bar’s beverage program.
“Keeping these options open I think keeps people there and keeps them happy. There are many cases where someone just needs to slow down their drinking for a period of time but still want a beverage. They’d like to continue on with a drink but want more options than water, juice or a sugar-laden soda. You don’t want someone to feel that they have to leave due to lack of options just in slowing down.”
What are some of the best mocktail recipes?
“I tend to gravitate towards non-alcoholic beverages that are light, refreshing and somewhat earthy. One favorite of mine was a concoction with cucumber water, pear juice, a ginger shrub and a pinch of salt. I also love celery juice and recall a great spring blend using that with lime, cucumber, lavender syrup and seltzer water.”
Why does the world need mocktails?
“There are a myriad of reasons why someone may choose not to imbibe, may it be for personal, health, or medical reasons. One of many reasons bars should have a few options up their sleeve for zero ABV cocktails is for the sober individuals that are out with friends who are drinking.
“When choosing not to partake, it can feel that it comes at the cost of not being able to go out with friends imbibing. It feels very natural to want to hold and sip a beverage while chatting in these social situations. For this reason, sober individuals who are out tend to crave and want something crafted with their company; just because you’re not having the alcohol doesn’t mean you don’t want the delicious beverage.
“Leaving people with the only alternative of water or soda is far from exciting. It’s important to give everyone options. We should be wise to cater to everyone and listen to this growing market.”
It’s true, you can create fantastic mocktails at home with the help of a few key tools. We’ve included some of our favorite ingredients, tools, kits and guides below that are available to order online.
Cresimo 24 Ounce Cocktail Shaker Set
This 7-piece cocktail shaker set from Cresimo has everything you need to create delicious mocktails and cocktails at home. Everything is made from high-quality 18/8 stainless steel including the 24oz shaker, built-in strainer, double size jigger tool, twisted bar spoon, full size 10″ muddler, high-end liquor pourers (for those DIY mixers Laura mentioned) and an illustrated guide to cocktails. These pieces are designed to last on your bar cart for years and are simply designed and easy to use.
Libbey Heavy Base Rocks Cocktail Glasses
You’ll need glasses to serve your delicious mocktails in, and why not put them in real cocktail glasses, so the recipient doesn’t feel like the odd one out at the party? This set of 12 glasses will give you plenty of rocks cocktail glasses to serve anything in, and are very affordable for the price. They’ve got a heavy base so they’re easy to handle while also feeling light on the lips. They’re also durable and dishwasher-safe so they’re easy to clean.
Zero Proof Cocktails: Alcohol-Free Beverages for Every Occasion by Liz Scott
This mocktails recipe book written by chef and mixologist Liz Scott is filled with 100 non-alcoholic recipes for aperitifs, mocktails, martinis, wine alternatives, infusions and more. Drink recipes inside include the Cosmopolitan Charade, Toasted Almond Cordial, Strawberry White Sangria and Raspberry Razzletini. They’re delicious, easy to make and totally alcohol-free. If you regularly host dinner or cocktail parties, set something out for those choosing not to imbibe and try your hand at mixing up one of these recipes.
Sunwink Mocktail Tonic
If you want to make great mocktails, you’ll need great mixers. This variety pack from Sunwink comes with flavored tonics designed to be used when mixing mocktails. They’re crafted by clinical herbalists and contain superfoods for extra nutritional value beyond the omission of booze. The flavors include delectable pairings like lemon rose, hibiscus mint and ginger, and each one is sweetened with organic maple syrup for extra sweetness.
Curious Elixirs Booze-Free Cocktails
This company makes delicious, alcohol-free mocktails bottled up with high-quality ingredients and zero added sugar. They’ve got four different mixes to choose from that range in flavor profile from bold pomegranate to spicy ginger, each with complexity and intrigue beyond your regular juice and soda. Some of them also include natural adaptogens and stress-relievers to help you unwind without the assistance of alcohol. Try out each of their flavors or join their subscription service and receive a different mix each month! With each order you have the choice of 12 bottles/24 cocktails or 4 bottles/8 cocktails.
Kin Euphorics Kin Spritz
Kin Euphorics is a line of alcohol-free calming beverages made with adaptogens, botanics and nootropics designed to calm the system, boost mood without causing a blur of the senses. Their Kin Spritz is their ready-to-sip cocktail made from citrus, warm spice, ginger and hibiscus for a refreshing drink without the hangover. They specialize in delicious concoctions that come ready to drink so you can skip the work and focus on play instead.
Fever Tree Elderflower Tonic Water
Elderflower is a delicious herbal flavor that’s perfect for mocktails, and now Fever Tree has made a sparkling water infused with it. This tonic water is perfect for combining with some citrus and mint for a refresher or other tinctures as a base. If you’re passionate about mocktails and looking to expand your arsenal of supplies, this brand and flavor of tonic water is a must.
Craftmix Cocktail Mixer Variety Pack
These mixer packs from Craftmix can be used with or without alcohol, and are designed to taste great regardless. They’re made with all-natural ingredients and without chemicals or additives so your mocktail will be as clean as possible. All you need to do is stir the mix into water for a refreshing, booze-free cocktail anytime, anywhere. The flavors include a Strawberry Mule, Orange Mai Tai and Mango Margarita, and each box comes with 12 packets so you’ll have plenty to go around.
Seedlip Non-Alcoholic Spirits
Seedlip is an English brand that specializes in creating delicious pre-made cocktails for drinkers and now non-drinkers alike. These three new cocktails vary in taste but are all exciting elixirs destined to satisfy any sober person who attends your gatherings. Grove 42 is a mix of three types of oranges, lemongrass and a bit of spice, Spice 94 is aromatic, woodsy and earthy all at the same time, and Garden 108 is, you guessed it, floral, grassy and herbal. They’re all worth trying and are meant to be mixed with tonic to be enjoyed.
Mocktails Alcohol-Free Variety Pack
These bottled drinks from the brand Mocktails each contain a fun, sophisticated, booze-free beverage for any occasion, you can sip on just as you would a beer. They’ve got mock Cosmopolitan, Mule, Margarita and Sangria flavors, and they’re all made without artificial ingredients and high-fructose corn syrup. They can be enjoyed on their own or with alcohol mixed in, and can be served stirred over ice or shaken for extra flair.
BlueHenry Dehydrated Fruits
No fancy cocktail is served without a nice garnish, and mocktails should be no different. These dehydrated fruits are perfect for sticking in your mocktail right before taking the first sip for a bit of added flair. All of the fruits from BlueHenry are dehydrated at peak ripeness at a low temperature to maintain the flavor, and contain only natural ingredients. They’re fully edible, so you can use them in baked goods or other dishes as well, and they’ve got a lengthy shelf life, so they’re worth the investment.