The word "mocktail" makes me cringe. Even typing the title, I felt a little twitch thinking of the watered down, overly sweet drinks I've come to associate the term with. Too often, mocktails are mixed with the same ratios as a cocktail, but without the necessary balance lended by gin or vodka.
On the flip side, I love cocktails—more specifically, "cocktail hour," the time around 6 o'clock when Jonah and I transition from our workdays into our evenings, with a walk or beverage on our porch before dinner. The only problem is, I have a ridiculously low tolerance and don't love how alcohol makes me feel (something I've written about quite a bit here). Though I love the taste, I can barely enjoy one drink, before feeling groggy or, honestly, drunk. And I could do without the impact it has on my sleep.
A few months ago, I started creating my own mocktails concocted from slightly sour berry-soaked shrubs, bright citrus and mint, and rosemary-infused simple syrup. What I found is that the practice of having a cocktail hour is just as much about the routine as it is the beverage. No longer cringe-worthy, below are three not-too-sweet drinks perfect for mocktail hour:
I love shrubs and drinking vinegars, but the fact that they're easy to make came as something of an epiphany to me this year—just be sure to start your shrub at least 24 hours in advance, to allow the flavors to meld. I usually start mine on Friday afternoon, to have the shrub ready by Sunday.
For the berry shrub:
1 pound ripe mixed berries (I use blackberries or blueberries and raspberries, generally)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
For the mocktail:
1/4 cup berry shrub
1 cup sparkling water
Mint, as garnish
1. Add the berries and sugar to a glass bowl, and mash with a fork to incorporate. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for 24 hours.
2. Stir, add vinegar, and put back in the fridge for another hour, or up to a few days. The longer you leave it, the better, so the vinegar can take on the flavor of the berries. Strain your shrub through a fine mesh sieve into a glass bottle or Mason jar to use as a concentrate for mocktails or cocktails. (Optional: Reserve berries to add to a pie or add to yogurt with granola. They're slightly tart from the vinegar, and might be a bit mashed from straining, but still edible and delicious!)
3. To make a simple mocktail, pour roughly 2 tablespoons into a glass glass and top with 1 cup sparkling water and some ice Add some mint as garnish if you're feeling fancy!
A mocktail that takes its inspiration from refreshing mint-based drinks, like Moscow Mules and caipirinhas. I make this with either kombucha or ginger beer, both of which are technically fermented, but won't make you feel a buzz.
4 fresh mint leaves
1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice, from 1/2 to 1 lime
4 ounces ginger beer or ginger kombucha
Lime wedge, as garnish
1. Muddle mint in a highball glass.
2. Add lime juice, followed by ginger beer or kombucha. Garnish with a lime wedge!
The original inspiration for this recipe came from this "Healthy Grapefruit Paloma Mocktail" Ashlea's blog All Healthy Things. Her idea to mix grapefruit and lime juice yields a bright, citrusy drink I've come to love. While she adds maple syrup as her sweetener, I add in David Leibovitz's rosemary simple syrup, which is delicious with the grapefruit!
For the rosemary simple syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
For the mocktail:
2 ounces grapefruit juice
1 ounce fresh lime juice
1 ounce rosemary simple syrup
Rosemary spring, as garnish
Sparkling water (optional)
1. To make the rosemary simple syrup, add the sugar, water, and rosemary to a small saucepan and heat to just below a simmer. Stir occasionally until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Once cool, strain the syrup into a jar and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.
2. To make the mocktail, you can either drink it as a spritz or straight up: Add the citrus juice and simple syrup to a shaker with ice. Shake, then either strain into a cocktail glass adorned with a sprig of rosemary, or add to a highball glass and top with ice and sparkling water.