After spending the last seven+ years as a non-drinker (mostly due to being pregnant or breastfeeding), when I tried drinking again, it did not feel good in my body. I experienced headaches and felt sluggish from barely a taste and was not the fun and enjoyable experience that I so fondly remembered. At that point, I decided to listen to my body and stop drinking. Little did I know that choosing not to drink would start trending, providing so many new great options to experience complex and amazing flavors without the hangover (and with health benefits!).
One of the first commercially prepared N/A craft cocktails that I tried was the sampler pack by Curious Elixirs. They use only “organic juices, herbs, spices, roots, barks, and botanicals to make your mouth dance.” And these cocktails did exactly that!
They opened my eyes up to the possibility that not drinking could still be social and could taste incredible. These mocktails include adaptogenic herbs, which means these herbs help to bring balance to the body, especially when it comes to stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Similar to alcohol, adaptogens can help you “unwind” after a long day.
Favorite Adaptogenic Herbs
I’m only picking my favorite three, but there are many more:
- Tulsi (leaf): I started growing tulsi in my garden several years ago after visiting a local herb farmer who had me taste tulsi growing in his field. It was love at first taste! He described the flavor of the leaf as bubblegum, and I would agree, but it was so much more. Bees love tulsi, too. One of my favorite teas is Tulsi Sweet Rose, which combines the calming effects of tulsi with the heart-centered properties of rose. This tea is beautiful as a cold infusion or brewed warm and it makes a beautiful base for a N/A cocktail (more on that to come!).
- Rhodiola (root): The root of Rhodiola contains more than 140 active compounds. I love Rhodiola tea to help support energy, reduce fatigue, and support memory. Rhodiola leaf and flower have a light rose flavor with both sweet and bitter tastes while the root is slightly bitter and sweet.
- Ashwagandha: Although ashwagandha is often described as tasting like dirt, it has bitter and earthy notes that can lend well to craft cocktails. Ashwagandha is my absolute favorite herb to support rest, slow down thoughts, and promote sleep. I prefer to work with ashwagandha as a powder, glycerite, or tincture (which contains alcohol) when making cocktails. Ashwagandha contains both water and fat-soluble compounds, which work well in drinks containing dairy or dairy alternatives (for example, coconut milk).
*As always with herbs, check with your healthcare provider first to make sure they are safe with your medications and medical conditions.
When I first started trying to figure out what to drink without alcohol when in social situations, it felt awkward. Tonic water? Club soda with lime? Luckily there are so many more options now and Chef Tristan Acevedo is going to help explain the basics of creating non-alcoholic cocktails at home—complete with recipes!
Basics of Non-Alcoholic Mixology
Adding complexity to non-Alcoholic drinks can initially seem tricky, but the process is relatively straightforward.
Aim for Balance
When you hear mixologists talk about balance, they most often refer to the balance of sweet and sour tastes in a drink. A drink that is appropriately balanced will not overpowering you with excessive sweetness or acidity.
As an example, consider the margarita. Many recipes yield good margaritas, but the base ingredients' ratios are the foundation of the beverage.
A very common margarita is the 3:2:1:
- 3 parts tequila or another base spirit
- 2 parts Triple Sec (a sweetened orange liqueur)
- 1 part lime juice
A good starting point for a mocktail would be to follow these ratios, and then adjust as necessary to suit your preferences and ingredients.
Recipe: 3:2:1 Mocktail Margarita
- 3 parts fruit tea, club soda, or non-alcoholic tequila alternative
- 2 parts orange syrup
- 1 part lime juice
Combine all ingredients and pour over ice in a salt-rimmed glass.
Many of the most popular classic cocktails incorporate what can seem like bizarre ingredients in the pursuit of texture. Sours and flips use egg for body and viscosity. Clarified milk punch uses curdled dairy to add whey for creaminess and smooth mouthfeel. Beyond ingredients, some beverages use temperature to differentiate themselves. Frozen drinks achieve a slushy texture by being served at very cold temperatures but use agitation from a blender or mixer, sugars, and alcohol to keep from turning into a solid mass.
In the world of mocktails, ALL of these same techniques still apply! Losing the booze does not have to mean losing the fun in a drink.
Consider pasteurized egg whites, gomme syrup, aquafaba, and whole milk powder for body, air, and viscosity in shaken mocktails. As is the case with classic shaken cocktails, a dry shake (agitation in a cocktail shaker without incorporating ice) for thirty seconds followed by a shake with ice will result in a frothy drink with a lovely foamy head.
For frozen drinks, begin by making a mocktail of your choice. This can be as simple as an herbal tea or lemonade sweetened with a homemade herb or fruit syrup. When the taste is to your liking, freeze the mixture in ice cube trays. When frozen, use a blender to puree the cubes into a slushie. To prolong the life of this frosty beverage, you can serve it in a well-chilled glass, preferably one that was previously stored in the freezer.
Before we consume with our mouths, we consume with our eyes. Taking care of the presentation's details will not usually make much difference to the actual flavor of a mocktail, but can have a significant effect on its overall impact and perception. Heavy-bottomed rocks glasses will make a drink feel more substantial while thin walled stemware can add to the air of lightness in a drink.
Moving beyond glassware, asking any good bartender about the role of ice in a drink can keep them speaking for minutes, if not hours, on end. At home, simple considerations would include the shape and clarity of ice. Superb, clear ice is easy to find at most grocery stores, and the internet is full of molds for making unique shapes. With little effort and a small cooler capable of fitting in your freezer, you can even make large blocks of clear ice for use in your cocktails. A quick internet search will conjure a plethora of instructional blogs and video recipes for its production.
Lastly, consider the garnish(es). Every garnish says something about a drink, whether it be a bouquet of flowering herbs, a sprig of mint or basil, a dried citrus slice, or even a little paper umbrella. Some drinks, like margaritas, can even feel incomplete without their traditional salt rim. Be intentional in your garnishing of a drink, and both you and any guests will be grateful for the thoughtful accent that makes the mocktail feel a bit more sophisticated.
Embrace Intensity of Flavor
We've established that it is crucial in most cases to strive for balance in the departments of sweet and sour. There are other tastes and taste experiences like bitterness and spiciness where slightly tipping the scales in their direction will make for a more complex and memorable beverage. For example, using whole oranges or incorporating orange peel into your recipe will add aroma and a slight bitterness if you make your own orange syrup. While a bitter orange syrup can seem intense on its own, it is very welcome in many drinks, particularly those with inherent sweetness. Likewise, a few jalapeno slices steeped in this same syrup will be a point of differentiation when making something like the 3:2:1 mocktail margarita.
Recipe: Homemade Orange Syrup (Non-Alcoholic Triple Sec)
- 1/2 cup of cane, coconut, or beet sugar (alternatively, you can use 1/3 cup of honey or agave syrup)
- zest of 3 oranges.
- 2-3 thumb-sized slices of peel (with pith) from an orange (you can use a potato peeler or paring knife to accomplish this)
- 1/4 cup of orange juice (about 1 orange)
- 1/2 cup of water
- Optional*: a few slices of fresh jalapeno
Bring the orange juice, water, and zest to a gentle simmer. Add the sweetener of choice and stir to dissolve. Remove from the heat, and add the orange peels to steep while the liquid is still hot. If using them, now is also the time to add the jalapeno slices. Allow to cool to room temperature before straining and storing in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Consider following this same format with another citrus like yuzu, kumquat, or grapefruit.
Formula, Then Flavor
Below is a ratio for a very approachable mocktail with only slight variations. A budding NA bartender can use this ratio as a starting point for a beverage after which point they will taste and make fine-tuning adjustments. By using a formula, you can quickly find a balanced flavor. It is within constraints such as this that we suggest experimentation. When experimenting, remember that aroma is king. All other things being equal, the aromas and flavors of your concoctions are what will make them memorable.
A Look at 4:1:½
4 Parts Base Liquid (4oz)
This can be any combination of unsweetened tea, a commercial NA spirit, sparkling or tonic water, or even soda (just be sure to taste and consider omitting the sweetener in the recipe).
1 Part Fruit Juice (1oz)
Citrus works especially well, but pineapple, pulpy tropical fruit juices, and even muddled berries can take its place. Naturally, acidity and sweetness levels will vary among all these ingredients. So, if you find you need to acidify them with, say, a squeeze of lemon or a splash of vinegar, do so to your liking.
½ Part Sweetener (½ Oz)
This is entirely optional, and you may find that, for your preferences, it is entirely unnecessary. Take into consideration the sweetness of any fruit juice or muddle fruit you use and apply your discretion when adding sweeteners.
NA Gin and Tonic
- 2 oz tonic water + 2 oz club soda
- 1 oz lime juice
- ½ oz of simple syrup
We suggest a muddling thumb-sized piece of cucumber, adding a few drops of juniper bitters, which may contain alcohol but will not significantly impact the alcoholic by volume of the drink.
Combine the muddled cucumber and lime juice in a glass, top with ice, and add tonic water. Stir then serve.
Molasses, Lime, and Ginger
- 4 oz spicy ginger beer
- 1 oz lime juice
- ½ oz molasses
In a mixing beaker, combine the lime juice and molasses. Stir to dissolve the molasses, and then strain over ice. Finish with spicy NA ginger beer and a gentle stir. Garnish with orange peel and a charred cinnamon stick.
Mocktail Bonus Tips
Mindful creation begins with mindful consumption.
In the case of non-alcoholic beverages, adding complexity begins with defining it. As you experience beverages in your everyday life, be mindful of their qualities. What are its textures? Was this served or made with a specific intention? What is its smell? How does it present visually? What do I enjoy about this experience? What do I dislike? What does this drink set out to accomplish? What did I set out to accomplish when I ordered or purchased it?
On Taking Notes …
Everyone’s palate is different. For this reason, we recommend the optional step of documenting your creations. A simple notebook or digital document will suffice. The critical bit is to create a reference point, so that each time you engage in the activity of making a mocktail, you get a bit closer to the perfect drink for you.
On Entertaining …
A friendly, inviting, and well-thought-out beverage cart or display will take into account that not all guests know what they genuinely enjoy. Whether for a cocktail or a mocktail, providing some guiding recipes and tasting notes on your bar cart will go a long way toward engaging your guests in a friendly conversation with their palates.
On Outsourcing …
The fastest way to experiment with mocktails is to buy pre-made products like bitters, tinctures, syrups, and spirit alternatives. Many NA "spirits" are designed to be used as direct 1-to-1 swaps with their alcoholic counterparts. This allows for easy substitution in any cocktails you may already enjoy.
Look to the Pros
You can find inspiration in the following books:
- Zero Proof: 90 Non-Alcoholic Recipes for Mindful Drinking by Elva Ramirez
- Zero: A New Approach to Non-Alcoholic Drinks by Grant Achatz
- The Bartender's Guide to Mocktails: Create On-Trend, Nonalcoholic Drinks by Attitude
Farmacy at The Chef’s Garden, Health and Wellness Collections
Non-alcoholic cocktails are a great start to supporting liver health. In addition, we recently launched our Build Your Own Box Collections, including Liver Health where you can curate your own box to help support your liver with vibrant vegetables grown on our 400-acre, third-generation regenerative farm.
Here’s more about loving your liver.
Everything You Need for Seasonal Farm Fresh Craft Cocktails
The possibilities are endless when you consider the 600-800 different varieties of herbs, vegetables, and edible flowers we grow each year. A few of our favorite vegetable and herb-forward options:
Purple carrots: Juice with a squeeze of lime and sparkling water, and then add honey to taste or a splash of orange syrup (recipe above).
Fresh Herbal Tea Sampler: This makes the perfect base with refreshing and relaxing herbs. Prepare these fresh herbs as a cold infusion for smooth herbal flavors.
Bloody Mary mocktail, anyone? Summer is tomato season and our heirloom tomatoes are so juicy and flavorful that they make the perfect Bloody Mary. Consider juicing cucumbers and garlic along with the tomatoes to add more flavor. Add a pinch of watercress along with the traditional garnish for added color and a little spicy kick.
Beet and tonic: Simply juice a few of our beets (try orange beets for a fun variation), add ginger beer, tonic water, and honey to taste, or a splash of orange syrup (recipe above).
We hope that you will tag us on Facebook and Instagram @farmerjonesfarm and @amysapola to show us your favorite non-alcoholic cocktail creations. If you haven’t already, join us in our Farmacy at The Chef’s Garden Facebook group.