Eating fruits and vegetables is good-for-you nutritious. But did you know drinking them can be fun and delicious? To judge by restaurant menus, more and more people are imbibing fruit- or veggie-based nonalcoholic drinks, whether they’re dining out or eating in.
Welcome to the expanding age of mocktails, where what’s in the glass will set your head spinning with intricate layerings of flavor, pretty colors and inventive presentations. It’s about freshness, quality, seasonality and creativity. But not alcohol.
“More people, either out of conviction or whatever, are choosing not to drink,” said Tona Palomino, formerly bar manager for Wylie Dufresne’s WD-50 restaurant in New York City. “Bars are receptive to accommodating the requests. Chances are you’re not going to get a cranberry and soda.”
It’s a spillover from the ongoing cocktail revolution across the country. And bartenders are dipping into their house-made syrups, bitters and other flavorings to answer the call.
“Now, it’s a challenge to bartenders. Can you make something you’d be proud of without alcohol?” says mixologist Christopher Hannah of Arnaud’s French 75 Bar in New Orleans.
Temperance is certainly not a new idea in North America, but it has likely never tasted so good.
“The idea has always been there’s a magic elixir to make you feel better, whether it was made from sassafras or bathtub gin. That there’s something that can make you feel better and do it without a hangover, all the better,” said Clark Wolf, a food and drink trend-meister.
“More people are saying the alcohol is not working for me anymore,” Wolf said. “But they want great meals and great experiences at the table, and they see no reason to be denied.”
Choice is key too.
Go into any supermarket and the drinks aisle is stocked with bottles containing various blends of juices and tea, says Deborah Blum, co-owner of Starbelly, a San Francisco restaurant with a roster of nonalcoholic drinks, yet most people going out for lunch have to choose between iced tea or lemonade.
“Restaurants are realizing people want alternatives and that they can be creative,” Blum said.
Expect to see more seasonal nonalcoholic choices as well, Blum predicts. Right now, most are fruit-based, but she hopes to see more vegetable-based options.
“I love juicing vegetables,” she said. “We had carrot juice but it just didn’t take off. People have a misconception that vegetable drinks taste like dirt or are thick or watery. They’re a healthy option. Celery juice and soda water are wonderful together.”
Wolf also looks for more vegetable drinks, noting most of our popular soft drinks historically derived from roots, leaves or twigs — albeit with some amount of sugar involved. He also believes the increasing patronage of farmers markets and a growing awareness of what fresh really tastes like will play a role.
“Americans like to play with their food,” he says. “And if it comes in a tall, frosty glass that’s OK.”
Mr. McGregor’s Spritzer
Makes 1 drink
Adapted from Bridget Albert. She likes to garnish the drink with a baby carrot, but we’ve opted for a few carrot greens fronds.
2 ounces fresh carrot juice
1 ounce honey syrup, see recipe
Juice from 1 lemon wedge
Blood orange soda
Pour carrot juice, honey syrup and lemon juice into a tall ice-filled glass. Top with the soda. Stir.
Honey syrup: Heat 1 cup honey and ½ cup water to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat; simmer 8-10 minutes. Let cool.
Virgin green hornet
Makes 1 drink
From WD-50 in New York City. The restaurant juices its own celery but you can use bottled celery juice. Or take this tip from Tona Palomino, WD-50’s former bar manager: Finely chop 4 or 5 ribs celery, puree in a blender, strain through a sieve.
3 ounces celery juice
½ ounce lime juice
½ ounce simple syrup, see recipe
Pour celery juice, lime juice and simple syrup into an ice-filled shaker. Shake. Strain into a wine glass. Top with tonic water.
Simple syrup: Combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to boil over medium heat; simmer until sugar dissolves. Cool.
Strawberry lemon cooler
Makes 1 drink
Created by mixologist Lane Ford for Starbelly restaurant in San Francisco. You can use any berry if fresh strawberries aren’t available.
1 ½ ounces strawberry syrup, see recipe
1 ounce lemon juice
Shake strawberry syrup and lemon juice in cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into tall ice-filled Collins/chimney glass. Top with sparkling water; garnish with lemon peel.
Strawberry syrup: Juice or puree whole strawberries for 1 cup strawberry juice (strain juice if pureed in a food processor or blender). Combine juice with 1 cup sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat to a simmer to melt sugar. Cool.
How to stock a mocktail bar
How you stock the bar says a lot about you, whether there’s alcohol or not. Just as you wouldn’t serve rotgut to guests who drink alcohol, don’t go cut-rate with guests who do not.
Here are five pointers to remember:
1. Buy the best ingredients you can afford, including juices, sodas, coffees, teas and various garnitures.
2. When looking for fruit or vegetables to mix into drinks, go for produce that’s “a little past prime,” said mixologist Bridget Albert, author of “Market-Fresh Mixology.” It will be easier to mash up and will have more natural sugars. Many sellers at farmers markets will slash prices drastically to get rid of over-ripe items.
3. Balanced flavors, color and texture are all super-important in making booze-free drinks because in removing the alcohol you are, in Albert’s words, “taking out the fire completely.” Consider what you can do to put some spark back in.
4. Keep it simple, if you want to. A nondrinking friend sips a 50-50 blend of ginger ale and club soda. A snap to make and it doesn’t taste as sugary as straight ginger ale, she says. Look for unusual flavors at your local supermarket or the nearest ethnic market.
5. Looks count. Create clever garnishes. One of Albert’s simple tricks: Put a freshly shelled pea in each compartment of an ice cube tray, fill with water and freeze to make pretty cubes.