If you’re participating in Sober October or Dry January it’s good to have some cocktail alternatives at your ready when you want something other than water or soda. Let me walk you through some mocktail basics to get you crafting non-alcoholic beverages at home that are sure to impress.
Cocktail Basics Apply
A great mocktail has the same building blocks as a great cocktail and is a balance of Strong, Sour, Sweet, and Bitter. In this case instead of the strong being alcohol it will be your base ingredient that has, dare I say it, the strongest flavor.
- Strong - Things that make a good, strong base are tea, coffee, ginger ale, apple cider, fruit nectars, or alcohol-free spirits.
- Sour - Fresh lemon or lime juice is your friend. A little sour, or acidity, brightens things up and makes the drink pop in your mouth. Without at least a little acidity things tend to taste flat and boring.
- Sweet - Mocktails often get a bad rep for being too sweet, but some sweetness not only balances the other flavors it also adds body to your drink like alcohol does. This is where flavored simple syrups can be extremely tasty. Simple syrups made with fresh herbs, seasonal fruit, or spices like ginger or cinnamon layer in flavor along with sweetness.
- Bitter - A few dashes of bitters bring the whole drink together and add complexity.
You’ll find that a lot of mocktails call for soda water or soda, that’s because bubbles add texture and make the flavors dance on your tongue. It can be as simple as topping off your creation with a splash of soda water or using ginger ale or sparkling cider as your base. Maybe even both.
Muddling is gently crushing ingredients like herbs, fruit, or sugar to release their flavors. It's a fantastic way to infuse your mocktail with vibrant, seasonal flavors. Try muddling fresh berries, mint leaves, or citrus slices. The aroma alone will have your mouth watering. Just remember that you’ll probably want to strain the drink if you muddle so you don’t get bits of mint or raspberry seeds stuck in your teeth.
The Right Ice
Just like a cocktail, dilution is key. If you’re using strong flavors like fresh pressed juices, flavored syrups, and concentrated bases you’ll want a little water to open things up and make them easier to drink. On the other hand there’s nothing sadder than a watery mocktail. So if you’re building something strong layered that’s more akin to a Manhattan or Old Fashioned use a large ice cube that will melt slowly giving you some dilution without watering things down. But if you’re mixing something bright, citrusy, and bubbly you may want multiple smaller cubes or even crushed ice.
A few dashes of bitters will add complexity and interest to your mocktail. They also help to bring the balance that makes a drink great. You are also more likely to slowly sip and savor a drink if it's lightly bitter.
Think of your garnish as the accessory that brings everything together. The same way a necklace, belt, or perfect pair of shoes can really make an outfit, a garnish is a worthy final touch. Use a slice of fruit, sprigs of herbs, citrus twists, or even dried spices like a cinnamon stick, star anise, or a grate of nutmeg.
With a little experimentation and creativity, mocktails can be just as intriguing and complex as cocktails. The same basic principles apply, go for balance and lean heavily on flavor combinations you already know you love.