A Mixologist's Guide To 'No-Proof' Cocktails

May 26, 2019
Originally published on May 26, 2019 5:31 am

The alcohol-free cocktail isn't an oxymoron.

"Mocktails," as the boozeless concoctions have been called by some, are getting more popular — not just among millennials, who are drinking less than their parents, but among people seeking healthier lifestyles, pregnant women and people who simply don't feel like having alcohol.

Derek Brown, a Washington, D.C., bartender and author of the book Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters: How the Cocktail Conquered the World.
Claire Harbage / NPR

Derek Brown is finding ways to cater to drinkers who don't want to drink. He's a Washington, D.C., bar owner, bartender and author of the book Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters: How the Cocktail Conquered the World.

At his Columbia Room bar in D.C., he says he's moving the "no-proof" cocktails from their own menu section to be alongside the boozy drinks in the main section.

Just in time for a nonalcoholic Memorial Day, Brown offers a few tasty recipes.

Brown places a star anise on top of the Spirit-Free Lion's Tail, an alcohol-free cocktail he just made.
Claire Harbage / NPR


An alcohol-free version of a drink usually made with bourbon:

Spirit-Free Lion's Tail

5.5-7.5 oz. coupe/ (use a sour glass)

2 oz Seedlip 94

1 oz allspice-infused maple syrup*

1 oz lime juice

1/2 oz aquafaba (chickpea water)

Dry-shake, add ice and shake a second time. Strain into chilled glass. Float star anise on foamy head.

* Heat 1 cup maple syrup with 4 whole dried allspice berries for 5 minutes. Strain out allspice and allow syrup to chill.


Brown also recommends a sophisticated variation on lemonade:

Orgeat Lemonade

(adapted from Jerry Thomas' The Bar-Tender's Guide or How to Mix Drinks)

10-12 oz. highball/ (use a large bar glass)

1 oz. orgeat syrup

2 oz. lemon juice

Shake well and strain into highball. Add ice and top with sparkling water to taste. Garnish with seasonal berries.

Drink mixers for alcohol-free cocktails.
Claire Harbage / NPR


And for an advanced, "zero-proof" cocktail, Brown shared a recipe with some exotic-sounding ingredients:

Apollo's Crown

(Use highball glass)

1 oz bay leaf soda syrup*

0.25 oz oleo saccharum

1 dash Fee Bros. black walnut bitters

1 dropper acid phosphate

5 oz sparkling water

Build in highball. Stir to combine. Add ice. Garnish with torched bay leaf.

*Bring 10 bay leaves, 8 oz cane sugar, 8 oz water, and 2.25 g citric acid to a boil. Simmer for 10 mins. Strain, seal, and refrigerate.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

SUSAN DAVIS, HOST:

This weekend is a drinking weekend for some but not everyone. And if you want a non-alcoholic drink, it's a good time to be alive. The alcohol-free cocktail is real. It's getting more popular not just among millennials, who are drinking less than their parents, but among people seeking healthier lifestyles - pregnant women and, sometimes, people who just don't feel like it. Derek Brown is finding ways to cater to them. He's the president of Drink Company here in Washington and served as the chief spirits advisor to the National Archives Foundation.

Hi, Derek.

DEREK BROWN: Hey. How are you?

DAVIS: So I made a point not to use the word mocktail because...

BROWN: Thank you (laughter).

DAVIS: I know you have thoughts about this word.

BROWN: That's right. I mean, almost every indication of what the definition for mock is or to mock is negative. So, you know, we've got to find a better word. I don't - I actually don't even know what that word is (laughter).

DAVIS: Well, I was going to ask you, as someone who thinks a lot about this - I mean, I've heard them referred to as alcohol-free cocktails. I've heard zero-proof cocktails.

BROWN: Right.

DAVIS: Do you have a brand? Or how would you sell it in one of your bars?

BROWN: Well, the Columbia Room, which is a bar in Washington, D.C. - what we've done is we've used the label no proof, but we're switching that. And here's what we're doing. Instead of having this as a separate section, we're working it into the drinks menu. And we're just going to find a way to indicate it by a symbol or gradient.

DAVIS: What do you think is driving the trend of people drinking non-alcoholic drinks?

BROWN: I think a couple of things. One - those people have always been there, but they've always kind of been relegated to the shadows of bars. You know, they're embarrassed to order for whatever reason because it's called a mocktail or because they just don't have it. You know, you've gone into so many bars. And you ask them what non-alcoholic drinks they have, and they go, Coca-Cola. And that's it. Some people, actually, just have a higher concentration of taste receptors on their tongue, so alcohol tastes like burning to them. So they need something different. And so one - they've always been there. Two - I think there are a lot of health issues that are kind of popping up around alcohol and mental health in general. And I think that you can drink and drink non-alcoholic drinks. You don't have to choose.

DAVIS: I mean, to be clear, your business still very much is alcohol-based. Do you...

BROWN: Oh, absolutely.

DAVIS: Does the industry see sort of this rise or people's interest in drinking less as sort of threatening to the bar and restaurant industry?

BROWN: No, I don't think it's threatening at all because what we do is we make delicious drinks. Can we make delicious drinks without alcohol? Yes. And also, there's a whole new wave of ingredients that are distilled but not alcohol.

DAVIS: OK, so let's get to the fun stuff.

BROWN: Today I'm going to mix something that's based off a actual cocktail called the lion's tail. This one is called the spirit-free lion's tail. And so what we do is we're going to start with Seedlip Spice 94, which is an aromatic distilled spirit, for lack of a better word, but there's no alcohol in it. Then I'm going to add a little bit of maple syrup that's been infused with allspice. I'm going to now add a half-ounce of fresh-squeezed lime juice. And then lastly, I'm going to add a quarter-ounce of aquafaba.

DAVIS: What?

BROWN: Aquafaba is a confusing word to most people.

DAVIS: Probably not a kitchen staple in most places.

BROWN: No. Well, it might be. It depends if they make hummus or not. This is a chickpea water.

DAVIS: Interesting.

BROWN: And it's actually used instead of egg whites. So...

DAVIS: Give it, like, a texture.

BROWN: Exactly. So in this case, this drink is not only alcohol-free. It's also vegan.

DAVIS: It's basically a health food is what you're telling me.

BROWN: Yeah, exactly. Drink a lot of them.

DAVIS: Drink a lot of them.

BROWN: You probably can't even hear this over the microphone. But I'm shaking it without ice first because that helps to give it more volume. So now I'm going to add ice to it. I'm shaking sitting down. This is so weird for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF ICE CUBES RATTLING)

BROWN: Fellow bartenders are counting how much I'm shaking, so...

DAVIS: How many times should you shake it?

BROWN: Well, you know, about 12 seconds, I guess, is just perfectly fine.

DAVIS: Oh, this - I mean, it looks like your cocktail. You're serving it in what is a very - how would you describe this glass? Is this like...

BROWN: This is...

DAVIS: It's kind of like a coupe but not really.

BROWN: Yeah, like a sour glass.

DAVIS: OK.

BROWN: You know, it's a little bit wider. So now on top, I'm going to put a star anise pod.

DAVIS: I mean, it almost tastes like it could be one of - to me, this could taste like an alcoholic drink that tastes so good, you don't taste the alcohol in it.

BROWN: Exactly.

DAVIS: That's how I would describe it.

(LAUGHTER)

BROWN: It's one of my favorite non-alcoholic drinks.

DAVIS: One thing I didn't think about, too, is you serve these in cocktail glasses, which also lends itself to sort of an equilibrium at the table - right? - among the drinkers and non-drinkers.

BROWN: Exactly. Nobody will know that you're drinking something non-alcoholic.

DAVIS: So many people this weekend are having people over or going over to a party. If you're throwing a party - and I think most Americans are going to have beer and wine at their barbecues. But if you want to offer something beyond just canned soda, is there a way that people in their homes can maybe think of offering drinks that are catering to their non-drinking friends?

BROWN: Absolutely. I think one of the keys is to use fresh ingredients. So if you're using a citrus component or lime in this case or lemon, make sure you're using fresh citrus. Squeeze it. Then you can mix sodas as well, which is kind of nice. You can make some kind of - use anything, any fruit. Strawberry's a great example. Add sugar to it. Create a syrup, and then add a soda water to that. There are also different kinds of non-alcoholic ingredients, like the Seedlip, or bitters. Like, Fee Brothers makes a black walnut bitter that's a great addition to it that adds a more complex ingredient to it than just sort of lemonade per se. So I think that what you're looking for is the same thing you're looking for with classic cocktails. You're using fresh ingredients. You're basing it off recipes that are out there. You can find so many great recipes on the Internet. And I know that there's more and more books that are coming out that have non-alcoholic drinks.

DAVIS: Derek Brown - he's also got a book - "Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters: How Cocktail Conquered The World" (ph).

Thanks, Derek.

BROWN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.