A guide to good non-alcoholic drinks
What to drink when you're not drinking
Words— Kate Dingwall
“What are you having?”
For most, this is a welcome prompt. Rye and soda! A martini, extra dry! A Manhattan, good sir! But for those who aren’t drinking, whatever the reason may be, this can be cringe-inducing. It’s a question that will give you the thrilling option of a Coke or Pepsi, a gin and tonic hold the.....gin, or if you’re feeling really extravagant, a water.
As a booze writer, the need for a night off comes often given my constant proximity to beers, spirits, and wine. But when I find myself in a bar and looking to give my body a breather, the question stands: what do I drink when I’m not drinking?
I’m by far not the only person asking this question. Be it by pregnancy, solidarity for your partner’s pregnancy, or a designated driver status. If you’re on call for work, if you’ve taken a break for your physical or mental health, if you have to be up early, if you drank too much the night before, or if you just don’t really feel like it. Whatever the reason may be — and don’t think you need a reason — the options constantly seem sparse.
If you’re not drinking, far too often you can be reduced to sub-par libations. The full range of the soda gun’s offerings or the sickly sweet cheap juices that are usually reserved for mixing, where alcohol can hide their overt sugariness. Perhaps a non-alcoholic beer? Far too often those taste like a shudder-inducing ghost of their wetter counterparts. The concept of a ‘mocktail’ can feel arduously asinine. Shirley Temples, Arnold Palmers, Rob Roys, and a host of clinically dull drinks tagged with the word “Virgin” in front of the name.
One entrepreneur, Ben Bransen, entered the cocktail market a few years ago with the goal of changing how non-drinkers drink. Instead of making ‘mocktails’ by removing the alcohol from cocktails, Branson’s company, Seedlip, decided to keep the same cocktail recipe, instead, crafting a spirit that mimics the consistency and flavor of alcohol but doesn’t have a single drop of alcohol.
The spirit-free spirit brand currently has three iterations: Seedlip Garden, Spice and Grove. Spice (made of cardamom, oak, and allspice) is designed to appeal fans of grown spirits: dark rums, whiskeys and the like. Garden (made of peas, rosemary and grain) was crafted with the clear spirits enthusiasts in mind, looking to replace the gin in your gin and tonic, and the vodka and the vodka and cranberry. The newest introduction to the line, Grove, is a celebration of citrus, with blood orange, bitter orange, mandarin and lemon.
Each of the spirit’s recipes stems from a 300-year-old distillation recipe that looks to vegetables, herbs, and grains to craft a ‘spirit’ that can be sipped simply with tonic or to sub out real spirits in cocktails. Since its inception two years back, Seedlip has now made its way onto the back bars of many of the world’s top drinkery. You can now order a Martini riff with verjus and lavender at Momofuku, or riff off your old favourite cocktails in London’s Dandelyan, New York’s The Dead Rabbit, or countless other bars across Canada and the United States.
Flash back to 2018’s Tales of the Cocktail, the booze world’s most-watched conference. Every year, the first night of the conference kicks off with an absolutely revelatory, blow-out of a welcome bash thrown by William Grant & Sons, owner of Glenfiddich Scotch, Hendrick’s Gin, Sailor Jerry’s Rum, Tullamore Dew and others.
This year, curiously, not a single drop of alcohol was to be had at the party. The conceit? To focus on taking the pressure of drinking and put the focus on enjoying each other’s company and showcase flavours outside of alcohol. Plus, no one had a hangover the next day.
How to save yourself from docile flavours and sugary sodas
It’s easier than you may think. For starters, if you’re at a craft cocktail bar, challenge your bartender to make you something non-alcohol that goes beyond a gin and tonic. Any bartender worth his salt should be able to whip you up something more sophisticated than a Shirley Temple.
If you see the term Seedlip on the menu, task the bartender with creating a Seedlip cocktail. The association alone should clue him into the fact that you’re looking for the sophisticated taste profile of a cocktail without the alcohol.
Or try one of these simple spirit-free serves. They have all the flavour of a cocktail but without the consequences. You’ll find combinations that are easy for most bartenders to replicate, and just as simple to serve at home. One thing to note, if you are pregnant or worried about consuming even the smallest amount of alcohol, avoid bitters. While bitters are 44% alcohol, usually only a drop or two are added to each drink so if you are conscious about consumption, keep an eye to avoid.
- Soda water, bitters, garnish with an orange slice
- Soda water, lime juice, salt
- Equal parts lemonade, ginger ale, cranberry
- Soda water, Yuzu juice
- Soda Water, Watermelon, Salt
Just Like Your Favorite Cocktail:
- Hangover-free Mojito: Muddle mint and lime with brown sugar in the bottom of a glass, fill with club soda. For a more elevated nod to a Mojito, add elderflower syrup.
- Faux Fashioned: Muddle cherries and oranges in the bottom of a glass. Add a dash of bitters and top with ginger ale.
- Shrubs: A shrub is one of a bartender’s secret weapons. Similar to a syrup, a shrub can be used to infuse flavors into a cocktail. It’s a 17th-century recipe that combines fruit, sugar and vinegar to create one of the most refreshing additions to your drinking repertoire. One of the best parts: you can batch it and refrigerate it for each execution. There are two main ways to make shrubs: the first, the purist way, is to toss your fruit of choice in syrup and let it sit for a few days. Once it looks particularly juicy, strain and add an equal amount of white wine or cider vinegar. For a hot shrub, add fruit to simple syrup and strain when cool. Each of these recipes follows a 1:1:1 ratio. One of the best parts of shrubs? You can really run with the flavors. Strawberries? Sure! Pear? Why not? While you’re at it, add some cinnamon to the pair or some balsamic to the strawberries. Lavender? Heck yeah! Peach Ginger? Send me some!
This take on a classic White Lady cocktail pairs elderflower and grapefruit instead of Gin and Cointreau.
- 0.5 oz Elderflower Cordial
- 0.5 oz Grapefruit Syrup
- 0.5 oz Lemon Juice
- 1 Egg White
Instructions: Add egg white to shaker and shake thoroughly. Add ice, elderflower, grapefruit, and lemon juice, shake, and strain into a coupe glass.