Serious Cocktails: Drinking Without Drinking

Cocktails and Spirits with Paul Clarke

Weekly insight into the world of drinks with Paul Clarke from the Cocktail Chronicles and Imbibe magazine.

The idea of an alcohol-free cocktail is an oxymoron to some, and an easy punchline to others. But as Jason Wilson points out in today's Washington Post, creating booze-free libations is not as easy as it looks.


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In "Taking Mocktails Seriously," Wilson talks to bartenders and drink experts who are pioneering creative alcohol-free concoctions, and not just for the under-21 set. As he notes, simply leaving out the alcohol isn't quite the common-sense solution it might seem. "Nonalcoholic cocktails can present more of a challenge than regular cocktails because liquor usually offsets the sweetness of other ingredients and adds complexity," Wilson writes. "Take away the booze and you've got to find a new way to layer and balance flavor."

Like Wilson, I've got two kids at home who aren't always content to let the tiki mugs and swizzle sticks stay on the shelf until people my age come over to play—though I'm also not happy with the common alternative of having heavily sweetened soda around the house for when they want some kind of special drink. And when preparing a drink menu for parties, I'd feel like a schmuck if I overlooked the non-drinkers or the designated drivers in the crowd (and yes, I've done it), assuming they'd be fine with a glass of soda while I'm working up a sweat making harder drinks for everyone else.

Thankfully, there are helpful books out there that venture beyond the tired old Shirley Temples. Wilson mentions Timo Janse's Shake It!, published in the Netherlands, a cocktail book for kids that includes drinks such as the Dark Invader, with blackberries, pineapple juice and vanilla syrup. Here at home and aimed squarely at the grown-up set, Natalie Bovis-Nelsen recently published Preggatinis: Mixology for the Mom-to-Be, which features an array of original drinks that have special properties for expectant mothers, as well as creative drinks with grown-up flavors such as the Salty Puppy, which swaps tonic water for vodka in the standard grapefruit juice highball, served with a salted rim.

These couldn't come at a better time. I've been making do with lime and pineapple juice mixed with (alcohol-free) homemade grenadine and blasted with the soda siphon for the kids, and with whatever I can improvise with from the fridge and the bar prep for the grown-up guests; I'm running short of ideas. These books should provide a lot of fresh fodder for alcohol-free drinks; so can you. What do you serve your teetotalers and designated drivers that shows a little creativity? And do you fix something special for the kids that's more adventurous than a simple glass of soda? Fill us in.