Photo by Drew Farwell on Unsplash
By Liz Crowe
Welcome to November!
I’ve had a bit of an epiphany of late, with regard to our monthly chats here in Brick Mag. It occurs to me that I’m being a touch exclusionary. I mean, not all of you drink alcohol, I assume. And here I am prattling away as if we all enjoy the same level of tolerance—mine being one that I’m simultaneously proud of and embarrassed about.
Given the events of the past nine months, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of you former semi- or complete teetotalers changed your ways.* For those of us lucky to be able to make such a decision, we are choosing to go in different directions. Me? I’m cutting back because of “empty calories,” and I need no help in that area. But also, I take my research quite seriously, and so for that past few weeks I’ve ventured into the ever-expanding world of what we Gen X types used to call “mocktails” and are now known as “Sober Curious Drinks.”
Clever, that. Never mind that most of us fully realize what being sober feels like.
Nomenclature aside, these days you can find all sorts of fun recipes for drinks to enjoy or share with your socially-distanced friends that go well beyond the Shirley Temple or the Virgin Daiquiri. A lot of this is thanks to dedicated creative types who’ve gone well outside the bartender’s comfort zone recipe of ice, booze, additional liquid (preferably fizzy), and maybe some limp fruit or an olive (probably not).
If you managed to venture into a bar** prior to March 16th or so this year, you probably found yourself faced with a stunning array of options, drinks-wise. Never mind the five hundred beer taps and seven hundred wine bottles—you now have two completely different cocktail menus: “Traditional or Classic” (see above) and “House-Made” or “Specialties” or (shudder) “Craft.”
Now don’t get me wrong, when I was faced with this back in The Before Times, I was known to freeze up and go with gin and tonic or an old-fashioned, just to see if those still got the same attention as the ones that took twenty minutes, six different tincture bottles, fire, and a sprig of fresh-cut, non-GMO greenery to create. But a quick check back at the Liz Archives will show you that I also enjoyed sampling some of the whackier ideations of our local mixologists (the milk-washed mescal springs to mind). And we can thank all that bartender creativity with the super cool tonics, washes, vinegars, shrubs, kombuchas, bitters, and whatnots for the current delicious state of the Mocktail Revolution.
There are brands that have capitalized on this, of course. Curious Elixirs is an online shop full of options that are sugar-free. They’re pre-mixed and come with some fairly lofty recommendations from the Wall Street Journal and other serious media places. I can tell you right now that they are delicious, and you can choose based on your favorite flavor profile: Negroni, Dark & Stormy, French 75, the super trendy Aperol Spritz, etc. I went with the sample box and can attest that they’re super yummy and satisfying, if a little pricey.
Another buzzy company cashing in on our new Sober Curiosity is Kin Euphorics. These folks take the whole alcohol-free drink and jack it up a notch by saying their drinks are designed to relax the spirit and elevate the body—or maybe vice versa. But either way, they have created a serious alcohol-free culture with their products, with a bar out on the West Coast and everything. Their website makes me want to do power yoga, have a vigorous massage, and then drink one, but I’m a sucker for great packaging (as we have already established). The company acknowledges that “drinking” is one of the world’s oldest traditions and they claim to “bliss up the cup” of said world. I’m still waiting for my shipment of High Rhode, which I’m told contains notes of earthy florals, tart citrus, and warming spice, that I can drink straight from the bottle, pour over ice, or mix with… oh, right. Sorry.
Anyway, a visit to their website is worth the time spent. I love any site that asks me how I really feel before recommending one of their three options: the Kin Spritz (for your seltzer lovers), the High Rhode, and something they call Dream Light, which might replace melatonin for all you insomniacs out there.
Seedlip is the only company that makes a liquid marketed as a “nonalcoholic spirit.” It’s actually distilled by macerating herbs and botanicals in neutral grain spirit and water, putting each one through a copper-pot distillation, then removing the alcohol before blending and bottling. Again, the packaging is top-level gorgeous, and it’s been around a few years now, so it’s no flash in the pan. I grabbed a bottle of Seedlip Spice 94, one of their three options, via special order. You can’t order directly from them unless you’re reading this while sitting in England, but many stores will get it for you at your request and many stores in large cities have it in stock.
Seedlip Spice 94 is made from allspice and cardamom berries, and some “bark,” whatever that means, but it’s a luxuriously complex beverage that I topped with club soda in order to appreciate it more or less purely, with some carbonation. One recipe I also tried from their website was the “Panoma,” which had the Spice, a bit of fresh grapefruit, fresh lime, simple syrup, and club soda, and it was knock-your-socks off delish.
Their other two options are Garden 108, which is gin-style aromatic, and the Grove 42, which is ginger/lemongrass and orange citrus. I highly recommend the Spice, and once I can locate the others I’m going to add them to my liquor cabinet for when I want something non-alcoholic at happy hour that’s nicer than 7-Up and cherry juice.
One more company worth mentioning is Surreal Brewing. This is a brewery that only makes non-alcoholic (NA) beer in Campbell, California. I haven’t been lucky enough to try any of their options yet, but their story and products are fascinating. They chose an alcohol-free life after the wife side of the husband-and-wife team survived breast cancer, but were not terribly impressed with the NA beer options available in 2018, so they decided to brew their own. The rest is a success story that includes multiple World Beer Awards and Championship awards for their flagship Chandelier Red IPA. If you look at their cans and their website, you’d figure them for just another california craft, but they are definitely not. They’ve moved to the top of my beer and travel bucket list for sure.
In the name of mocktails, sober-curious, zero-proof, spirit-free, and guilt-free drinking, I can also recommend adding aromatic bitters to juice. Mind you, they do contain alcohol, but are typically used in such minuscule quantities that you can still feel all of the above, plus virtuous.
This drink I found is made of stuff that’s relatively easy to locate without a long web-based or liquor specialty store search that would be perfect for Thanksgiving this year. It’s called the Pomegranate Negroni:
- 200ml pomegranate juice
- 2tsp Montmorency cherry concentrate
- Ice cubes
- 3 good dashes of Angostura bitters
- A twist of orange peel
Pour the pomegranate juice and cherry concentrate into a tumbler of ice, then stir well before shaking in the Angostura bitters. The drink should have a bittersweet tang, so add more Angostura if needed. Twist the orange peel on top of the drink to release the oils. The cherry concentrate gives an extra layer but isn’t essential. However, I recommend keeping the cherry concentrate in the fridge as a sugar-free cordial. It’s also delicious with hot water.
Whether you’re being alcohol virtuous or not, it’s always fun to see what the creatives are doing with drinks—and some of these companies are definitely doing things with drinks that are worth a try.
Cheers and stay safe,
*I am not speaking to those of you who suffer from alcoholism. I may be flippant about booze, but I watched a family member drink themselves to death quite literally, so I do not joke about that. I realize that it’s a disease, and one that must be treated by whatever means the sufferer deems necessary, so please, don’t think that I’m speaking to you. If you suffer from it, I wish you all the healing strength in the known universe.
**By “bar” I mean someplace where the minimum drinks price is $15 and you don’t call them bartenders, they are “mixologists.”
Amazon best-selling author, mom of three, brewery founder, beer and wine consultant, and avid sports fan, Liz Crowe is a Kentucky native and graduate of the University of Louisville currently living in Ann Arbor. She has decades of experience in sales, public relations, and fundraising, plus an eight-year stint as a three-continent, ex-pat trailing spouse, all of which provide ongoing idea fodder for novels and other projects. She helped found and is the current president of Fermenta Michigan, a non-profit organization dedicated to the education and employment of women in the fermented industries.
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