Nonalcoholic Cocktails, and Those Who Drink Them, Deserve Respect

red cocktail
You can have all the ritual of drinking a refreshing cocktail without any of the alcohol. (Photo: Atstock Productions/Shutterstock)
pouring cocktail
Nonalcoholic cocktail drinkers appreciate a drink that has the visual appeal and complexity of an alcoholic cocktail. (Photo: wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

Writer, editor, podcaster and obsessive home cook Joy Manning has been consciously choosing alcohol-free cocktails ever since participating in Dry January 2017. She no longer desires alcohol. (You can read why she chooses to stay alcohol-free in her essay Why I Quit on her Better Without Booze website.)

When I interviewed Manning, she was preparing to speak at the 2018 International Association of Culinary Professionals Conference on a panel titled "Alcohol-free Networking: Conference Sober Without FOMO." (FOMO = fear of missing out.) Alcohol is so prevalent at conferences that she and two others will provide "road-tested strategies and inspiration for getting the most out of buzz-free networking."

Manning would like to see more nonalcoholic options, whether it's at a conference, a wedding, a banquet, a restaurant or at a dinner party in someone's home. She thinks it's time for everyone to "think about normalizing the choice not to drink and not excluding non-drinkers."

The right thing to do

drinking cocktails
Those who chose not to drink alcohol should have drink choices that are just as complex and eye-catching as everyone else at at a gathering. (Photo: sirtravelalot/Shutterstock)

"It's just awkward if you're going to meet for a drink and there are no nonalcoholic options," said Manning. "It's bad hospitality and it's just not the right thing to do."

Sure, a Shirley Temple is always an option (Manning admits to not being above drinking them at weddings or banquets when the choices are slim), and of course there's always water and soda. Those beverages are missing something that she craves, though, and that's a drink that really tastes good.

"Part of the thing with taking alcohol out of a cocktail is that you need to deliver on other aspects — the ritual, the beautiful glass, the balance, and the visual," she said.

So Manning has been seeking out better non-alcoholic cocktails at restaurants and writing about them while also creating her own versions at home. She rattled off a few restaurants around the country that she says are getting it right.

"Atera in New York City not only has non-alcoholic cocktail pairings, they make a drink called Champine," she said. "They steep pine needles to get an infusion, mix it with acids that you'd find in wine, and pressurize it for bubbles. It's amazing!"

She also mentioned Royal Boucherie in Philadelphia, Decca in Louisville, Love & Salt in Los Angeles, and Oriole in Chicago as restaurants that have terrific nonalcoholic offerings. In fact, the Michelin-starred Oriole has an entire nonalcoholic pairing menu created by celebrated bartender Julia Momose, who believes "nonalcoholic drinks can be just as complex and full of flavor as cocktails," according to the Chicago Tribune.

Complex nonalcoholic cocktails

seedlip garden
Seedlip is a distilled non-alcoholic spirit to drink when you're not drinking. (Photo: Rob Lawson/Seedlip)

Tina Morey, producer of the #Winestudio education program enjoys cocktails as well as wine, but she doesn't always want the alcohol. She's been creating nonalcoholic cocktails with Seedlip, the world's first distilled, non-alcoholic spirit.

Seedlip was created by founder Ben Branson when he "tired of sugar-laden mocktails being passed off as sincere alternatives to their alcoholic kin." (Something to note: Neither Manning nor Morey mentioned the word mocktail once during our interviews.) The two Seedlip offerings— Garden 108 and Spice — are each made with six botanicals. Each botanical is "separately macerated with a small amount of alcohol to extract flavor, then distilled twice." The alcohol gets removed by a proprietary method and what's left gets blended. Seedlip is meant to be mixed with nonalcoholic ingredients. It's not intended to be sipped straight or served solo on the rocks.

Fresh herbs like lovage can be used to make syrups that become part of complex nonalcoholic cocktails. (Photo: Aneta_Gu/Shutterstock)

Morey used Seedlip when she taught a sold-out class about nonalcoholic cocktails at a local farm. The class made syrups with ingredients from the farm's market and mixed nonalcoholic cocktails, including one that she created using lovage simple syrup, which she named LovCocktail#3.

She found the syrups that had milder flavors worked better than those with bolder flavors.

"You have to be careful or you'll lose the flavors in the Seedlip," she said. But, she was so impressed with how Seedlip can be a part of a balanced nonalcoholic cocktail that she continues to use the spirit at home, often with simply tonic and a squeeze of lime.

Morey's favorite of the two Seedlip "expressions," as they are called, is Garden 108, which reminds her of gin. Manning, who has also created cocktails with Seedlip, prefers it, too. She often muddles cucumber, mint and lime, adds the spirit, and uses a better tonic to top it off.

"Quality tonic became really important when I stopped drinking," she said. She suggests Fever Tree or Q Tonic, and Fever Tree is what Seedlip sent to me along with their samples.

I preferred the Spice over the Garden, and I found mixing 2 ounces of it with a 6.9-ounce bottle of Fever Tree and a squeeze of lime over ice to be very refreshing.

Seedlip has many other cocktail recipes on its website. When summer hits and watermelon is in season, I'll be trying the Watermelon Sour made with watermelon and basil shrub.

Nonalcoholic cocktail recipes

red cocktail
You can have all the ritual of drinking a refreshing cocktail without any of the alcohol. (Photo: Atstock Productions/Shutterstock)

"It's always easy to make a nonalcoholic punch and offer spirits on the side," said Manning when talking about having mindful choices when entertaining. You can also serve one of these nonalcoholic cocktails.

Joy Manning's Hibiscus Fizz

  • 1 part hibiscus concentrate (recipe follows)
  • 1 part Fever Tree tonic
  • 1 dash orange bitters (optional)
  • 1 thinly sliced lime wheel
  1. Place one large ice cube in a rocks glass.
  2. Add the hibiscus concentrate, tonic water, and bitters. Stir.
  3. Top with lime.
  4. Hibiscus concentrate

    • 4 cups filtered water
    • 1/2 cup sugar
    • 1/8 teaspoon salt
    • 1 cup dried hibiscus flowers
    • 1/4 inch piece ginger, sliced thin
    • A few curls of lime zest
    • 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
    1. In a saucepan, combine the water, sugar and salt.
    2. Bring to a simmer, and cook, stirring until the sugar is fully dissolved.
    3. Take off heat, add the hibiscus flowers, ginger slices and lime zest.
    4. Cover and let steep for 20 minutes.
    5. Strain into a bottle, add the lime juice. Chill.
    6. cocktail, vintage glass
      Doesn't this beautiful glass make the nonalcoholic Lovcocktail#3 appealing?. (Photo: Tina Morey)

      Tina Morey's LovCocktail#3

      • 1/2 oz Lovage simple syrup (recipe follows)
      • 1/2 oz Seedlip Spice
      • 1/8 lime juice
      • 1/2 oz or more tonic (to taste)
      1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice.
      2. Add Lovage syrup, Seedlip, and lime juice. Shake.
      3. Pour into a beautiful glass.
      4. Top with tonic.
      5. Lovage syrup

        • 1 cup water
        • 1 cup sugar
        • 1 large bunch lovage (stems and leaves), chopped
        1. Place water and sugar in a small saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil for one minute.
        2. Remove from heat, add the chopped lovage and steep for 15 minutes.
        3. Strain and cool until it comes to room temperature.
        4. Refrigerate in a jar with lid for up to 3 weeks.