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.
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"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.
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