En español | Sometimes if you're not an alcohol drinker, it can be tough to come up with anything but flavored fizzy water or sugary sodas for a refreshing treat or for a celebratory toast. And that's a shame, says Haritha Gnanaratna, cofounder of Temperance Cocktails, who explains that the makings of a great mocktail are the same as the makings of a great cocktail — balance, body, and presentation.
Here are the elements you should consider, Gnanaratna says, when concocting your own delicious alcohol-free drink.
"You want to strike a balance between sweetness and acidity. Too sweet and it feels cloying; too sour and you reflexively pucker. Both are unlikely to encourage reaching for a second drink, or even finishing the first,” he says. Balsamic vinegars or shrubs (fruits macerated with sugar and vinegar), which you can buy premade or make yourself, can help straddle that line just right.
The drink should have a little weight, which you get from blending complex flavors. Using teas in the base is an easy way to accomplish this, Gnanaratna says: “Black teas pair well with most fruits; lighter green and white teas go well with light-colored fruits and floral flavors like lavender. Cinnamon bark can add spicy notes and a touch of bitterness. You can add strong, earthy, complex flavors with savory additions like the juices from beet, celery and other root vegetables."
The presentation accentuates the drink experience. A drink with strong flavors can open up a bit with ice. Ingredients with interesting aromas may benefit from a little soda or sparkling water so the bubbles carry the scent to the surface. “Let your garnishes reflect the ingredients you use so people will anticipate what they're about to taste,” he says. Top the drink with sliced fruit. Rub the rim with citrus peels, and then drop them in the drink. Bunch up fragrant herbs and tuck them in the glass. “The possibilities are endless,” he adds.
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Here Gnanaratna and other mocktail pros share their favorite alcohol-free cocktail recipes.
1. Hibiscus Fizz
Hibiscus is a really great mocktail ingredient because it's tannic and tart, so it balances sweetness in a drink, says Philadelphia-based cooking editor and podcaster Joy Manning, who celebrates alcohol-free choices at betterwithoutbooze.com, of her go-to mocktail.
- Hibiscus concentrate, 4 to 6 oz. (recipe follows)
- Fever Tree tonic, 4 to 6 oz.
- Orange bitters, 1 dash (optional)
- 1 thinly sliced lime wheel
- Place one large ice cube in a rocks glass.
- Add the hibiscus concentrate (see below), tonic water and bitters.
- Stir, top with lime and enjoy!
To make the hibiscus concentrate:
- Filtered water, 4 cups
- Sugar, 1/2 cup
- Salt, 1/8 teaspoon
- Dried hibiscus flowers, 1 cup
- Fresh ginger, 1/4-inch piece, sliced thin
- Fresh lime juice, 1/4 cup
- A few curls of lime zest
- In a saucepan, combine the water, sugar and salt.
- Bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved.
- Off heat, add the hibiscus flowers, ginger slices and lime zest.
- Cover and let steep for 20 minutes.
- Strain into a bottle and add the lime juice.
Courtesy John Orleans
2. Cucumber Mint Crush
This mocktail is from John Orleans, a former Chicago-area bartender who has served up drinks at Holiday Club, Neo, Crobar and Avalon. It's the perfect refreshing cap to a long, hot day.
- Cucumber, seeded, skinned and cubed, 2 oz.
- Sugar, 1 teaspoon
- Mint leaves, 4 to 5 fresh
- Lemon juice, 1/2 fresh lemon
- Club soda, 4 oz.
- "Swizzle” of cucumber (1/6 cucumber wedge, 1 inch longer than the glass, seeded and peeled)
- In the bottom of a highball glass, muddle the cucumber sugar, and mint with a little club soda.
- Place the swizzle of cucumber in the glass and fill with ice.
- Pour the lemon juice, followed by club soda (don't stir) and garnish with a lemon wedge.
Courtesy Haritha Gnanaratna
3. The Darjeeling Limited
This signature mocktail from Gnanaratna is ideal for a party, he says, and is impressively complex without being intimidating to prepare. Approximate time needed: 50 minutes
Produces: 25 oz. of The Darjeeling Limited mix to use for the mocktail
- Green tea, 4 tea bags, or 4 teaspoons of loose-leaf tea
- Fresh lemongrass, 2 stalks
- Honey, 8.5 oz.
- Fresh lemon juice, 8.5 oz.
- Bring 13.5 oz. water to a boil, reduce to a simmer.
- Add 1/4 cup green tea, bagged or loose leaf wrapped in cheesecloth.
- Return to a simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes.
- Add chopped lemongrass (slice diagonally to cut through the fibrous skin).
- Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Remove from heat, strain out all solids.
- Add honey, stir to dissolve.
- Let stand to cool.
- Once cooled, add lemon juice.
- Fill a standard 14-oz. glass, like a Collins glass, with ice.
- Add 2 oz. of The Darjeeling Limited mix.
- Fill with soda, stir to combine.
- Garnish with a lemon slice and a curl of lemongrass taken lengthwise with a vegetable peeler.
DIY Mocktail Tips
Mixology pro John Orleans says you can mimic the flavor profile from popular boozy drinks and make something reminiscent and equally interesting. Here are his favorite alcohol replacements:
Tequila: “Agave syrups are great,” he notes, “because they give you a lot of flavor of tequila without the alcohol."
Rum: “Anything with molasses works well because it brings that complex sweet, bitter, earthy flavor that is the hallmark of dark rum,” Orleans says. Add bitters to take it up a notch.
Gin: Herbal combinations, such as infusions of rosemary and a bit of thyme, can mimic the botanical complexity of gin. Then you can brighten it up with a little bit of lemon zest.
Vodka: “Vodka is just booze water,” he says. Shrubs are a good way to mimic infused vodka drinks, because you can use whatever fruit and vinegar combination you like.