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Cocktail culture has been enjoying a renaissance for several years now. But what if you don’t drink alcohol? Lots of local bartenders are focusing renewed attention on their non-alcoholic menu offerings. Whipping up everything from artisanal sodas to takes on drinks like gin and tonics and Pimm’s cups minus the liquor. We take a look at the creative non-alcoholic drinks popping up on more and more menus across the region and beyond.
- Jon Harris bartender and bar manager, Firefly
- Michael Saccone bartender and bar manager, Hank's Oyster Bar Capitol Hill
Firefly’s Virgin Gin & Tonic
Gin Infusion Ingredients
1qt cold water
1/2 cup ground juniper
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground star anise
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Zest of 1 lemon and 1 orange
(recipe is highly variable — play with it. If you like Hendrick’s, for example, toss in some cucumber and rose water and cut back on the juniper)
Place all ingredients in a container, with the water fully covering the spices. Cover and place in the refrigerator to sit overnight.
1/4-1/2 oz simple syrup
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4oz – 1oz Jack Rudy’s Tonic Syrup or similar product
Gin infusion mixture
2 (at least) lime wedges
In a 12 oz glass, mix simple syrup and baking soda. Fill the glass with ice, add the tonic syrup and fill with the “gin” infusion. Stir briefly. Squeeze the lime wedges into the drink and drop them in. Serve.
200ml/7fl oz tomato passata
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 tsp Tabasco sauce
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
55g/2oz ice cubes
1 tbsp chives, chopped
In a blender, mix the passata, spring onions, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco sauce and ice cubes. Blend for two minutes, or until smooth.
Pour into a tall glass and garnish with chopped chives.
60ml lime cordial
60ml elderflower cordial
3 drops orange blossom water
250ml ice cold soda water
Pour all the ingredients into a jug and give it a stir. Serve in champagne flutes to blend in at a party.
2 cups boiling water
2 black tea bags (or 2 teaspoons loose-leaf tea in an infuser)
2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups pomegranate juice
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 orange, sliced into thin rounds
1 lemon, sliced into thin rounds
1 lime, sliced into thin rounds
1 apple, cored and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
3 cups carbonated water
Pour boiling water over tea bags and cinnamon sticks and steep for 5 minutes. Discard tea bags and stir in sugar to dissolve.
In a large jar or pitcher, combine tea, cinnamon sticks, pomegranate juice, orange juice, orange, lemon, lime, and apple. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour and preferably overnight.
Just before serving, stir in carbonated water. Serve in glasses over ice.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIWhatever your reason for abstaining from alcohol and whether it's a decision that's permanent or temporary, you might feel a little left out come happy hour, especially as cocktail culture continues to make a comeback in a big way. But a growing number of bartenders are making it more inviting for nondrinkers to belly up to the bar, mixing growing menus of craft sodas, creating virgin versions of classic cocktails and coming up with original non-alcoholic beverages so good you won't even miss the liquor.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHere to tell us about the growing trend is Michael Saccone. He's bartender and bar manager at Hank's Oyster Bar on Capitol Hill. Michael, thank you for joining us.
MR. MICHAEL SACCONEThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Jon Harris. He's bartender and bar manager at Firefly in the Madera Hotel in Dupont Circle. That's a Kimpton hotel. Jon, thank you for joining us.
MR. JON HARRISThanks for having me.
NNAMDIJon, some might ask, why would you go to a bar if you don't want a drink? But there are plenty of reasons. What made you decide to expand your non-alcoholic offerings?
HARRISWell, we get a lot of people coming in ask, looking for non-alcoholic drinks, especially during lunch, for example. You know, you don't want to drink too much before heading back to work. So we'd like to have something to offer those guests when they come in for sure.
NNAMDII'm old enough to remember when Washington was known as the place of the three martini lunch. No more, huh?
HARRISYeah, not anymore. It's three lemonades, maybe, and an iced tea or a fancy mocktail.
NNAMDIIs the way you approach creating a non-alcoholic offering fundamentally different from crafting a cocktail? I'll start with you and then go to Michael.
HARRISIn some ways what I do is I try to mimic cocktails. So, for example, we do a gin and tonic mocktail, we do a cosmopolitan and we do an old fashion. So in a sense, it's the same. Because we're trying to do the same things we do with a cocktail, we're trying to balance out the sweet flavors with sour and bitter and the dry. But obviously we don't have the alcohol. So usually what I do is I kind of take those classic drinks and rip them apart and put them back together in a different way.
HARRISSo, for example, in our cosmopolitan instead of using Triple Sec or Cointreau, you use orange flower water to get that flavor without the alcohol. So it's similar in the sense that you're trying to achieve the same goal, but different in that you have to achieve it through alternative means.
SACCONEYeah, we do a lot of house-made sodas at Hank's. We change our cocktail menu weekly, so we're always trying to find new seasonal things to play with but at the same you take into account that you don't have the alcohol there, so you might need to change the flavors a little bit, make things less sweet or just adjust it in order to compensate for the lack of alcohol.
NNAMDIOur number here is 800-433-8850. Are you apt to order a non-alcoholic drink or mocktail when out for the evening? Tell us what your go to is, 800-433-8850 or shoot us an email to email@example.com. Michael, cocktails, like so many recipes, are about ratio. So when you take a liquor out, even one that has little flavor like vodka you have to replace it. What might you put in its place?
SACCONELike Jon said earlier, Orange Flower Water or rose water, certain things like that where you're still going to get some of the floral notes and adding flavor to it. You also can just use regular water or club soda works great as well to get that carbonation there. So we're always trying to find different ways to compensate for the lack of liquor.
NNAMDIIf I'm the designated driver for the evening but I have a hankering for a Manhattan, gin and tonic, is it a mistake for me to expect a mocktail version to taste just right?
SACCONEYes. Short answer, yes.
HARRISWell, what we can do is we can try to get as close as possible. The most difficult thing is mimicking the weight of the alcohol. I find that's the most difficult thing. Alcohol has texture and weight to it. You can feel it on your lips when you drink it. You don't get that when you don't have the alcohol, unfortunately. So that's, for me, the most difficult thing is trying to get that right.
HARRISSo I've started developing tricks for it. One of my main tricks is to use baking soda. Actually baking soda adds a little bit of weight to a drink. It also adds some fizz. So in the case of our gin and tonic, we use the baking soda partly for fizz, so we're not diluting it even more with club soda and it also gives it a little bit of heft, so you can almost feel as if you're drinking the real thing.
NNAMDI800-433-8850. Have you noticed more bars trying to up their offerings for non-drinkers. What have you noticed? And what more might you like to see? 800-433-8850. What's this, Jon, that you brought?
HARRISThat's our gin and tonic actually.
NNAMDIOkay, I'm taking a sip of it right now. FCC regulations say I can't drink alcohol on the air. So if I start slurring...
NNAMDIIf I start slurring after this...
NNAMDIYou're going to fake me out. Oh, it does taste...
HARRISYeah, add over some ice, a little bit of lime, you know, you're almost there.
NNAMDIIt does have that flavor.
HARRISYeah, we use a gin tea basically infused water with juniper berries and orange peels and lemon peels, basically just take the ingredients that you would find in a standard gin and turn it into a tea and then use that as the base for the drink.
NNAMDIJon Harris, he's a bartender and bar manager at Firefly in the Madera Hotel in Dupont Circle, a Kimpton hotel. He joins us in studio along with Michael Saccone, bartender and bar manager at Hank's Oyster Bar on Capitol Hill. Michael, for a lot of people certain foods go with certain drinks. Champagne or maybe a martini with oysters at Hank's, for example. What non-alcoholic beverage would you suggest as a good pairing?
SACCONEWe have our citrus sage soda on the menu and that's the one soda that we always have year-round. Just lemon juice, a little bit of lime, sage and I think that goes really well with oysters and seafood because you get a lot of that citrus bite to it and some (word?) from the sage as well. It's not very overpowering.
NNAMDIYou work closely with Gina Chersevani, the mixtress behind both Hank's, Eddy Bar and a Soda Fountain, Buffalo & Bergen at Union Market. What are some of the specialties there and what brings people into that shop?
SACCONEOh, Buffalo & Bergen is a lot of fun. It's a kind of throwback to old school New York soda shop where they do egg creams and house-made sodas with the pumps and the syrups. So I know she does put a Nutella egg cream on the menu last week at Buffalo & Bergen which has been very popular and a lot of people seem to like that. But we do some similar sodas at Hank's and Buffalo & Bergen just depending upon what's in season or what she's making or what cocktail we have on the menu that we can use those sodas for as well.
NNAMDIAllow me to go to Sopa (sp?) in Fairfax, VA while I sip on my mocktail gin and tonic. Sopa, you're on the air, go ahead please.
SOPAHi, Kojo. Thank you so much for taking my call. I appreciate it.
SOPAHi. I'm just wondering what are the thoughts on, you know, with the growing obesity and the sugar with the diabetes linked with type 2 diabetes, I'm wondering how these cocktails are going to really, you know, with eliminating the alcohol which is a great thing. I'm wondering what are their views on the sugar content in it.
HARRISYeah, it's actually a great question. Yeah, it's very difficult and I think a lot of people have an expectation that a mocktail is going to be very, very sweet and fruity and juicy and all of that. But I think what both Michael and myself try to do is get away from that. So there isn't too much sugar in any of my drinks, for example. The gin and tonic that Kojo is drinking right now is about half ounce of simple syrup in there. It's not sweet, it's mostly the gin tea base that's been fizzed up, again, with the little baking soda.
NNAMDII can testify.
HARRISYeah. So it's not meant to be sweet. You know, gin is inherently dry, so that's what you're going for. And then I also tend to rely on tart flavors and also those floral flavors and things like that. So it's like I said before, it's all about balance. So just like I don't make overly sweet cocktails, I'm not going to try to make an overly sweet mocktail.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from the Bethesda, "Is a ginger beer with lime almost as good as a dark 'n stormy?" Have you ever tried that, Michael? Ginger beer with lime?
SACCONEYeah. I love ginger beer and lime. Dark 'n stormy, just has the dark rum float on top of it, but you get that nice kind of bite from the ginger there and then the lime just cuts through to some of the sweetness. It gives you a little bit of acidity.
NNAMDIWell, you're absolutely right, according to Michael, Bethesda. Jon, some cocktail ingredients like shrubs and bitters are either non-alcoholic or have an extremely low content per serving. How do those ingredients factor into your non-alcoholic drinks?
HARRISThose are actually great. I've made lots of shrubs in the past. And there's pretty wide tradition in Asia, for example, of drinking vinegars. So those are starting to get a lot of play. They're a lot of fun. You get like that acid from the vinegar and you just get fresh fruit flavors and just a little bit of soda and it's refreshing even if you're not looking for a mocktail per se, you're just looking for a refreshing drink those are fantastic. I really enjoy them myself.
NNAMDIOn to Marie (sp?) in Arlington, VA. Marie, you're on the air, go ahead please.
MARIEHi. This has been a problem for a long time for me because I found as a young businesswoman that I couldn't go to business lunches and keep up with all the martinis that my middle-aged male counterpart and be safe. And so I realized at a young age that I couldn't drink and think and that I was far safer if I drank non-alcoholic drinks. And so I found a way to solve this by ordering an orange spritz, so it's not a mock, it's not a mock, it's an alternative.
MARIEIt looks like a girly cocktail so the men didn't mock me too badly about it. But it was orange juice and ginger ale. It's a -- the combo lightens the weight of the orange juice and took some of the sweetness of the ginger ale away. It looked like I had a cocktail and I can participate without losing my thinking ability.
NNAMDIGood for you.
MARIESo I put that out to you guys.
NNAMDIGood for you. I guess you have drunk thousands of orange spritzes over the past several years.
MARIEWell, I have, over the years, I have and it's kept me safe.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. We cannot let the hour pass, however, since she mentioned orange spritz, without the mention of Shirley Temple who the real Shirley Temple recently passed but the drink of course lives on. Her namesake drink is often a childhood favorite, but that can be overly sweet for grown-up palates. If I ordered one at Hank's, what would I get?
SACCONEWell, at Hank's we make our own grenadine. We make a traditional grenadine from pomegranate juice, orange peel, a little bit of lemon juice and sugar. So you would get that over top of exactly what the last caller just said, ginger ale and orange juice, which is the way that it was originally created, not with Sprite and bright pink syrup.
NNAMDIWhat would I get at Firefly?
HARRISMuch the same. We make our own grenadine in-house. We used to do that with a little bit of ginger ale and some cured cherries. We do add probably, you know, we're a health-oriented restaurant, so to speak. So we don't really want to give the kids, for example, all the high fructose corn syrup you get in your cherry whatever you find in your store-bought grenadine. So we do it in-house. So we get a drier, cleaner flavor.
NNAMDIHere's Ted in Washington, D.C. Ted, you're on the air, go ahead please.
TEDHi. I was a bartender many years ago and a lot of guys who didn't want to drink or who were alcoholics always wanted (word?) beer. And so I invented a beer by having soda water with just a little bag of coffee in it. And there's a (word?) and it had the consistency of coffee, the color, I mean, of beer -- the color of beer and it was almost like a very dry ale. And we used to have a lot of fun just making different beers and different cocktails.
NNAMDIBut of course, now, there's so many non-alcoholic beers around that you don't have to do that.
HARRISThat's true but they aren't that great. To be perfectly honest...
NNAMDIThis is true.
HARRIS...I actually did a beer cock -- mocktail -- we kind of did a shrub with grapefruit and shrub with it. Just get some hop flowers and infuse it with some hops. So you got that kind of beer taste. And luckily we have all these various ingredients nowadays, thanks to all these modernist chefs so you can create a lot of different things. So I added some additives to make it foamy into soda water. So...
NNAMDISpeaking of which, if someone wants to get serious about making their own sodas or non-alcoholic drinks from scratch at home, are there one or two tools that you think are essential, Michael?
SACCONEI think, making syrups at home can be fairly easy, just using fresh ingredients, fresh produce and then just kind of cooking them on the stove with a little bit of sugar and water. And then they can adjust it to their own sweetness or tartness and just have fun playing around with their own flavors and spices and herbs.
NNAMDIAnd you should know that for former drinkers at Firefly, Jon offers his take on two cocktails, he mentioned the Cosmo and the Manhattan. Manhattan features a house-made rye whisky and rough vermouth bitters. While the Cosmo features Fee Brothers Cranberry Bitters, Orange Flower Water, orange, lime and grenadine. I am enjoying the gin and tonic. Jon Harris, thank you so much for joining us.
HARRISOh, my pleasure.
NNAMDIJon Harris is a bartender and bar manager at Firefly in the Madera Hotel in Dupont Circle. That's a Kimpton hotel. And Michael Saccone is bartender and bar manager at Hank's Oyster Bar on Capitol Hill. Michael, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. Happy non-alcoholic drinking. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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