Proposed by: David
Co-fulfilled by: Jonathan
This proposal to make non-alcoholic drinks originally came in honor of Dry January, an actual event in the UK promoted by Alcohol Concern. People raise money for the charity by pledging to go without drink for one month. Of course, January is long over, and this post is (my bad) overdue. I should confess I failed anyway. About January 4th, I started researching whether one month really makes up for the other eleven—surprise, surprise, it turns out moderation is the best strategy for good health. I decided to moderate instead.
Besides, there’s nothing like a “mock-tail” to make you realize most of the work of drink-making isn’t the alcohol. A few libations call for infused spirits—and we’ve done some on this blog—but, when it comes to alcohol, the hardest part of any cocktail is buying the right kind (that, and sometimes paying for it).
To prepare my mock-tail this time around, I created two new simple syrups—juniper and grapefruit/ginger. The former I created because I had some juniper left over from making my own gin, and the latter just sounded good to me. And neither were terribly creative because the first thing I did was search for recipes online, and both popped up right away
In the world of the interweb, no one is unique.
And I had no trouble finding a plethora of mock-tail recipes either. One site offered a lengthy slideshow of concoctions invented by various restaurants, and another featured some non-alcoholic alternatives to familiar libations. No claims of “just like the real thing” appeared on any of these sites. No writer would be so foolish, and, as I was sipping my mock-tail I kept imagining a designated-driver twirling his umbrella as his friends laugh about nothing that makes the driver laugh. Still, most of the drinks I encountered seemed imaginative, at least distracting.
The cocktail I chose, the Virgin Cucumber Gimlet, comes from Ocean Prime, a nationwide restaurant:
1.5 oz club soda
4-5 slices muddled cucumber
1 oz fresh line juice
1 oz simple syrup
They said to “Combine ingredients and shake with ice,” but that’s loco. Shake all of the ingredients except the soda. Add the soda to the drink in a rocks glass filled with ice. Garnish with a rolled cucumber slice, because, without alcohol, visuals are important.
I tried this drink with both of my simple syrups, and the juniper one seemed best. It gave the drink more character and complexity. Most of the mock-tail recipes I encountered seemed much too sweet to the point of being—dare I use the word again?—cloying.
This one was sweet as well, and I tried it with tonic water and without simple syrup (a little better), but, still, something seemed to missing. I finally decided it was gin.
David and I will disagree about this. I have never understood tofu. The whole purpose, in my view, is to eat a meal that is ordinarily and properly prepared with meat without that essential ingredient. The tofu is just a substitute because the person eating the meal does not eat meat, not because anyone likes tofu. I am prejudiced but would be willing to bet that they would like the dish better if it were prepared the way intended.
Okay, now that I have irritated most vegetarians we need to talk about mock-tails. The whole purpose with them is to create a drink with everything but the alcohol, yet there is no tofu to substitute. Many of the best cocktails have a bitter or contrasting element that comes from the spirits or a dash of alcohol based bitters. There just doesn’t seem to be a good tofu/substitute for those elements.
That is not to say I don’t understand a usefulness for the alcohol-less drinks. Any mock-tail google search will lead to results that start with ideas for drinks for pregnant women, which is a worthy reason. Right behind that are the “my kid wants to drink what I do and a Manhattan just doesn’t seem right in a sippy cup” explanations. That doesn’t quite rate with pregnancy as a reason for mock-tails but okay. There are a few other explanations right down to page seven of the search which would probably lists drinks for ice road truckers who want a little pop yet they can’t afford the buzz right before sliding down treacherous highways.
I did find a couple of recipes that seemed worth a try though. The first was an Italian Cream Soda. It qualified for this blog if for no other reason than it required cooking up a fruit based syrup complete with straining. That syrup is combined with sparkling mineral water, then ice and finally a small pour of cream. It is beautiful, adaptable since many fruits can be used and quite tasty. Is it a cocktail? No, not really.
The second mock-tail also followed a theme that we know oh so well. The Juicy Julep uses three freshly squeezed, and/or strained, fruit juices. I had just established enough amnesia about juicing a pineapple to try it.
1 measure fresh pineapple juice (I used 1.5 ounce for the measure)
1 measure fresh orange juice
1 measure fresh lime juice
Roughly 2 measures ginger ale
Teaspoon crushed mint
Mint, pineapple, lime or whatever for garnish
Mix juices and mint, add ice, top with ginger ale and garnish
This one had some contrast and I think a little fresh ginger root crushed with the mint might have elevated it to the contrasting spice and sweet of a real cocktail. With the garnish, it even looked like a real cocktail.
Jonathan’s take: I liked the Juicy Julep especially after I threw in a shot of rum.
David’s take: #fail
Next Time (Proposed by Jonathan):
The mock-tail being part of the no-alcohol January resolutions, I should reveal one of my resolutions. I am trying to pare down the liquor cabinet. It is made more difficult by needing certain things for the blog and not drinking any of the liquor except when we are experimenting with a new cocktail. That said, my goal has been, with the help of friends and neighbors, to finish off bottles and only replace them with a classic or local example of that spirit. That way three types of vodka should become one and all that gin should eventually be single bottles of the most classic categories. The other way to reduce is to use up some of the oddities like Pisco. While the Pisco Sour is the classic, the Chilcano is an intriguing alternative. Not sure I can make enough to finish off the Pisco but at least it will be progress.