Knowing how to whip up an impressive cocktail without using alcohol allows you to enjoy a delicious mixed drink while staying sober. But, as the alcohol-free trend continues to grow, many questions arise.
What actually makes a good non-alcoholic drink? Does removing the alcohol impact the taste and quality?
The secret to making great-tasting virgin mixed drinks and mocktails is treating them with fresh and quality ingredients as you would with a cocktail.
A good NA drink includes a well-balanced mixture with a zero-proof spirit base, mixer, ice, and garnish. It should have more than one dimension in terms of flavor, complexity, temperature, and texture. Home mixers can follow the Golden Ratio of 2 parts NA spirit: 1 part sweet: 1 part tart.
If you’re joining the sober curious trend or simply want a booze-free weekend, keep reading for the ultimate guide to making delicious non-alcoholic drinks.
How Do you Create a Tasty NA Drink?
Creating a great-tasting non-alcoholic drink has never been easier, thanks to modern zero-proof spirits.
In response to the upsurge of the sober-curious movement, a fast-growing market emerged with non-alcoholic replacements for traditionally distilled spirits. Some brands, like Seedlip, chose to branch out into creating entirely new and unique botanical drinks for non-drinkers.
Non-alcoholic spirits are meticulously crafted to fill the same role as their boozy counterparts – they are sippable, mixable, complex drinks designed for adults.
Follow the same rules you would for a mixed drink or cocktail, but instead of gin, rum, or vodka, switch it with a non-alcoholic spirit instead.
Note: Many producers distill their products with alcohol and later re-distill them to remove the alcohol. This helps recreate the texture, flavor, and perfume compounds of traditional alcoholic spirits. According to the FDA, non-alcoholic drinks can contain up to 0.5% ABV. People who want to avoid alcohol altogether may want to consider a different beverage.
Understanding The Ingredients
Understanding the components of a great mixed drink can be compared to a car engine. Each part performs a specific function, and if out of balance, your drink falls apart. As the “drink mechanic,” you need to help each ingredient work together to enjoy the sweet sound (or taste) of a humming engine.
Like a cocktail, a great mocktail generally consists of the following three components:
- Base spirit (non-alcoholic)
A fourth favorite, but not an essential component, is the garnish.
Zero-Proof Base Spirit
The base of non-alcoholic drinks used to be built around fruit juices, cola, grenadine, and iced tea. However, we can create mixed drinks and mocktails replicating their boozy cousins’ thanks to modern zero-proof spirits.
Your base will be a non-alcoholic alternative to one of the “big 6” – vodka, gin, rum, tequila, brandy, and whiskey.
Some delicious zero-proof spirit brands worth adding to your home bar include:
Mixers or modifiers are complementary ingredients that modify, mask, or enhance the flavors of a mixed drink or mocktail. They are what separate different mixed drinks made with the same base.
Popular modifiers for non-alcoholic mixed drinks include:
Bitters are essential for a home bar. The first definition of the term “cocktail” in 1806 even considered bitters a required ingredient.
A dash or two of bitters is a quick and easy way to add depth flavors to your alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
The most popular bitters include:
- Angostura Bitters
- Peychaud’s Bitters
- Orange Bitters
Bitters are typically marketed as non-alcoholic as most drinks only call for a few drops of bitters, making the AVB minuscular. However, they are generally bottled at 35 to 45% alcohol.
Fee Brothers Bitters is the best alcohol-free choice, offering 19 different flavors. These bottles can last years.
Fruit juice is a primary component of many cocktails. While freshly squeezed fruit juice offers unmatched flavor, ready-to-pour fruit juices are convenient.
The best fruit juices for your at-home bar depend on your personal preference. However, there are several staples worth having on hand. To make the most standard cocktails, stock your home bar with a set of lemon and lime, orange, cranberry, pineapple, and tomato juice.
- Lemon & Lime juice: Both juices are invaluable for a home bar. They are used in countless cocktails, including daiquiris, martinis, margaritas, and more.
- Orange juice: OJ is used in a wide diversity of cocktails, from mimosa to the classic screwdriver, tequila sunrise, and many more.
- Cranberry juice: Cranberry cocktails are a major hit, be it a cosmopolitan, sea breeze, cranberry margarita, red lotus, or long beach iced tea.
- Pineapple juice: Pineapple juice is the best ingredient for tropical cocktails like the piña colada, Bahama mama, blue Hawaiian, French martini, and more.
- Tomato juice: Keep tomato juice if you love a bloody Mary or red snapper cocktail.
Syrups are essential to a well-stocked home bar. They are a great way to add flavor, a little sweetness, or a fun twist to your favorite drinks.
- Simple syrup: It is a true must-have ingredient in your home bar. It is effortless to make, consisting of sugar and water – that’s it!
- Sour mix: It is a simple syrup base flavored with lemon and lime juice. This non-alcoholic drink mixer is used in many tropical recipes.
- Grenadine syrup: This sweet-tart syrup consists of pomegranate juice, sugar, and a dash of orange flower water. It is essential for drinks like a Shirley temple and tequila sunrise.
You can include fruit, vanilla, honey, and nut syrups to your list for more variety.
Stock up your home bar with a variety of flavored sodas, club soda, tonics, and seltzers. Try to buy individual servings or small bottles to avoid mixing your drinks with flat soda.
Some of the essentials include:
- Soda water
- Club soda
- Tonic water
- Ginger ale
- Lemon-lime soda
- Ginger beer
- Root beer
Spicy sauces are excellent non-alcoholic mixers for mixologist enthusiasts that enjoy adding an edge to their drinks.
Some essentials can include tabasco, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. They add a spicy kick and savory flavor to many drinks.
Ice is an essential component of most mixed drinks and mocktails. It serves a greater purpose than simply chilling a drink. The form, texture, number of ice cubes, and level of dilution are vital for the perfect signature drink.
Stirring or shaking a mocktail breaks the ice down and adds water to your drink. The dilution marries and mellows the drink’s flavors, creating a smooth, unmatched taste.
There are four primary forms of ice for mocktails:
- Cube: Ice cubes melt slowly, making them ideal for shaking, stirring, on the rocks, or with juices and sodas.
- Cracked: Cracked ice melts faster, adding more water to mixed drinks. They are preferred for frozen drinks.
- Shaved: Shaved ice is perfect for creating a thick, slurry mocktail.
- Block: These large blocks are used for chilling party punches. Ice balls are ideal for lowball mocktails.
The Ice Book by Camper English is a handy guide – and excellent gift – for the right ice to create the perfect sipping experience for boozy and non-alcoholic beverages.
Although not technically essential, garnishes add visual appeal to non-alcoholic mixed drinks. Some fun garnish ideas include:
- Citrus: Orange, lemon, lime, and grapefruit are perfect for wedges, wheels, and twists.
- Maraschino Cherries: You can purchase them in various colors, including red, orange, yellow, purple, green, and blue.
- Olives & Cocktail Onions: A nice addition to dry martinis and Gibson’s.
- Mint: Essential when mixing mojitos.
- Coarse Salt & Granulated Sugar: You can use these to add flavored texture to the rim of your glass.
Balance Is Key
Separating great mixed drinks from average ones boils down is simple. Do you keep leaning in for more after a couple of sips?
A good mixed drink isn’t as simple as mixing one or two zero-proof spirits with diverse flavored ingredients. It should have balance and tension that hooks you with every sip.
Tension exists when you create the perfect balance between the sweet, sour, bitter, spicy, and salty elements. However, flavor alone isn’t enough to deliver a good non-alcoholic drink. You need a balanced drink with more than one dimension in terms of complexity, temperature, and texture.
Once you gather the essential components for your drink – base, mixer, and ice – you need to mix them in proper proportions to create a balanced, flavorful drink.
Follow The Golden Ratio
Making mixed drinks and mocktails at home does not have to be complicated. Most classic drinks are made using the Bartender Golden Ratio. It allows you to make tons of drinks using one fundamental formula. It’s truly a fool-proof method to ensure excellent mixed drinks.
The Golden Ratio
- 2 parts non-alcoholic spirit: vodka, gin, rum, tequila, brandy, whiskey, etc.
- 1 part sweet: simple syrup, caramel syrup, agave syrup, fruit syrups, honey, etc.
- 1 part tart: fresh citrus juice from lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, etc.
Converting it into actual measurements looks something like this:
- 2 ounces (60ml) zero-proof rum
- 1 ounce (30ml) simple syrup
- 1 ounce (30ml) lime juice
As you gain confidence, tweak the ratios and experiment with ingredients while relying on these fundamental proportions.
Creating The Perfect NA Drink
The idea of mixing modern non-alcoholic spirits into drinks is quite exciting. When composing a mocktail at home, follow these steps. They don’t have to be in this particular order – just have fun.
- Choose a base spirit and decide which “cocktail family” you’re trying to imitate: ancestral, sour, highballs, fizz, juleps, hot drinks, tiki – you get the idea.
- Find a flavor in the base that you can accentuate. For example, non-alcoholic whiskey generally boasts vanilla, nutty, and dark caramel flavors. Accentuate these flavors with caramel or nut syrups.
- Use the Golden Ratio to create a mixed drink.
- Taste and tinker: Do the flavors harmonize? Does it taste like something is missing?
- Experiment with different flavors, temperatures, textures, and ratios to create the perfect mocktail. Ensure you can still taste the base.
- Invite friends over for a second opinion.
- Most importantly, have fun experimenting!
One of the best ways to learn how to craft amazing mocktails and spiritless drinks is to follow the masters. This course from A Bar Above for example is the best we have come across in teaching home bartenders and mixologists alike on everything mocktail. Check it out here.
Putting it all together
Skipping alcohol does not mean you have to skip enjoying delicious drinks. Enjoy making mixed drinks with modern zero-proof spirits that taste as nuanced as their boozy counterparts.
Tinkering with non-alcoholic mixed drinks may take a little practice and experimentation, but it’s definitely rewarding and delicious.