I spent a few weeks going from bar to bar in Philadelphia this past December, doing research on a magazine piece I was writing. I noticed that non-alcoholic cocktails — aka zero-proof cocktails, aka ABV-free cocktails, aka mocktails (although thankfully, that word is being used less and less) — are getting space on cocktail menus throughout the city.
That experience proved to me that there's a quality non-alcoholic cocktail movement going on. And it's a growing movement, one that shows respect for people who choose not to drink alcohol and want something different than the usual soda or iced tea options. People are bringing this idea into their homes, too, offering mixed-drink choices to their guests, leaving alcohol out of the mixers.
A Super Bowl party, where drinking is a common part of the festivities, is a perfect time to introduce booze-free cocktails to your guests. Those who don't want to drink alcohol, or who want to limit the number of alcoholic beverages they consume, will appreciate some quality zero-proof options like these.
Seedlip Spice & Tonic: Seedlip is an alcohol-free distilled spirit that has many of the flavor-notes of gin because each version of the spirit is made with botanicals. Seedlip Spice and tonic water is a refreshing, booze-free alternative for those who enjoy gin & tonics.
Juniper Tonic: For a different (and less expensive) tonic-based drink, make your own juniper syrup — which can be done days ahead of time — to mix with tonic. Juniper berries, cardamom and orange peels are boiled with sugar and water for a syrup that's super easy to make but will totally impress your guests when you say, "I just threw it together."
Chai Blossom: This is not your average iced-tea. Chai tea bags and sugar are steeped in boiling water to create a syrup-like mixture, and then the cooled syrup is mixed with lime juice and club soda. You can make a large batch of the tea syrup and sugar ahead of time and have it ready to mix with the ingredients once game time hits.
Cucumber Ginger Mocktail: Flavored simple syrups seem to be a key ingredient in quality non-alcoholic drinks. For this drink, you'll make a simple syrup with fresh cucumber and fresh ginger. The syrup is mixed with soda water to create a straight-up drink you can serve in a Champagne flute or coupe, a martini glass or a Manhattan glass.
Miss Nightingale: Hibiscus juice, cinnamon syrup, fresh herbs, lemon juice and club soda are combined to make a pretty ABV-free drink served on the rocks.
Grapefruit Rosemary Fizz: Fresh grapefruit juice, rosemary syrup and lemon-lime soda combine to make this non-alcoholic cocktail that also uses muddled cucumber to add to its freshness.
A few tips
Quality no-proof cocktails get built just like full-proof ones. Here are some suggestions to make the process easier.
- Make it as easy as possible for guests to create these drinks by doing as much prep work as you can in advance. Make syrups days in advance. Juice the fruit and cut up garnishes a few hours ahead of your guests' arrival.
- Use quality ingredients. Juice fresh citrus instead of buying juice. If you're serving a drink with tonic, and your budget allows for it, skip the supermarket plastic bottles of high fructose corn syrup tonic, and buy Q Tonic or Fever Tree.
- If you're going to have a cocktail bar where people make their own, print out the instructions and have them visible so people know how to build their non-alcoholic cocktails properly.
- Since many of these drinks rely on balance, have the right bar tools handy for guests to use such as shakers, cocktail spoons, muddle sticks and jiggers.
- If you can, serve these drinks in real cocktail glasses. (They lose some of their pizzaz in a red plastic cup!) Scour thrift stores for great cocktail glasses that are inexpensive. I scored some beautiful Mad Men-era, etched Manhattan glasses for 50 cents each at a Habitat for Humanity ReStore recently.