The classics may historically call for booze in those recipes of old, but there are ways to make your favourite timeless tipple sans-spirit. Here, MoM chats with three drinks experts for tips on making a cracking alcohol-free classic cocktail (and a recipe for the non-alcoholic French 75)…
Think about your favourite cocktail. What makes it so delicious? Is it the crisp, fresh notes associated with a Martini? The sweet, hot unctuousness of an Old Fashioned? Whatever it is, the drink is more than simply a platform for the base spirit with which it’s made. So it makes sense that there’s more to creating a alcohol-free classic cocktail than simply switching out the alcohol. After all, flavour is just one element of an alcoholic base spirit – there’s also a mouth-coating texture, a cooling effect, and later, a gentle, warming heat.
“Alcohol is a fabulous tool for carrying flavour and without it, you do lack a certain amount of bite, so you have to be clever,” says William Borrell, owner low-alcohol spirit Willow, which contains 15mg of broad-spectrum CBD in each 700ml bottle. “I’ve seen a few startenders in the market use peppers and chilis for that reaction, that mouthfeel.”
Making a non-alcoholic serve that accounts for those factors without drastically changing the flavour (or tasting like flavoured water) really isn’t easy. Just like the greatness of a restaurant is often better measured by the deliciousness of its vegetable dishes rather than its steak, the world’s finest bars can be judged by the complexity and downright tastiness of their alcohol-free offering.
“It takes a good bartender to make a good cocktail with no alcohol,” acknowledges drinks expert Camille Vidalle, founder of mindful cocktail website La Maison Wellness. “You don’t have the structure of the spirit to give you the backbone of the cocktail. So, how can you use an alcohol-free spirit to make a sophisticated, grown up cocktail – and not like a juice straight from the kids menu?”
The journey to a truly delicious alcohol-free classic starts in the supermarket. Before you even think about dusting off your shaker, choose your ingredients wisely. “You don’t have much to hide behind, so the quality and the taste of each and every ingredient is crucial – as it always should be,” Vidalle says. “Use fresh ingredients like you would in cooking. Fresh and in season is always the best.”
When it comes to methodology, construct your drink “from the aroma to start and the taste on the finish,” says Vidalle. “Layer the flavours of your drink so it doesn’t fall flat. Non-alcoholic spirits give structure and complexity to a cocktail – layering juices on juices won’t work.” She also advocates for incorporating high quality essential oils, herbs and spices, so long as you’re careful about the quantity.
While creativity is always encouraged, a little technique (and a little bar know-how). “Know what’s in the glass and how it will react,” Vidalle suggests. “For example, if you’re using an essential oil, how are you incorporating it into the cocktail? If it’s shaken, shake it quick – most non-alcoholic spirits are water-based and you don’t want to over dilute your cocktail.”
Finally, don’t forget about presentation. Lots of lovely ice, an attractive and aromatic garnish, and a fancy glass can make a striking difference to a cocktail’s drinkability. “You drink with your eyes, the same way you eat with your eyes,” explains Vidalle. “Even if you aren’t aiming to make it the most Instagrammable cocktail in town, you do have to make it look like an appetising adult beverage and not a smoothie in a pint glass.”
When it comes to non-alcoholic cocktails, the texture, mouthfeel, and length of the experience is something that drinkers really do care about, attests Geyan Surendran, development scientist and botanical alchemist at non-alcoholic spirit brand Three Spirit. “What we do differently further to that is function, addressing why people drink in the first place,” he says. “To elevate them, to keep them going, to relax them.” As such, each Three Spirit bottling incorporates plant-based ingredients that interact with your nervous system to mimic some of the sensations brought about by alcohol.
These days there’s no shortage of choices, with bottlings and flavours inspired by rum, bourbon, amaro, vermouth and more, as Vidalle points out. A word of advice here: don’t assume you can always safely store those bottles in your spirits cabinet – check the label first. “You’ve got loads of options to choose from to build a mindful home bar, but remember that most of those ingredients are better kept in the fridge after opening,” she says.
Why not kick off your alcohol-free classics creativity with what’s said to be the world’s first no-alcohol ‘Champagne’ cocktail, the appropriately named Fizz The Season? Borrell has kindly shared the recipe below…
5ml lemon citrus
15ml elderflower cordial
Eisberg Sparkling Blanc to top
Add the Willow, lemon citrus and elderflower cordial in a mixing glass with ice, stir and strain into a chilled coupe. Top with Eisberg Sparkling Blanc.
Alternatively, you could try Let’s Get Fizzical – a booze-free take on a French 75.
7.5ml sugar syrup
Eisberg Sparkling Rosé to top.
Add the Willow, citrus and sugar syrup in a mixing glass with ice, stir and strain into a Champagne flute. Top with Eisberg Sparkling Rose.