The Ultimate Guideline To Keep In Mind While Styling A Non-Alcoholic Cocktail

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What do you drink when you're not drinking? That question is on a lot of people's minds as sober — and sober curious — folks are collectively changing the culture of alcohol these days. The zero-proof movement has matured from a social media side note into a full-fledged industry, spawning an array of non-alcoholic spirits and watering holes dedicated to the booze-free lifestyle, per The New York Times.

Unlike the times of temperance leading to Prohibition (per PBS), the modern trend of not partaking took off thanks to a mix of health-conscious people looking for a lifestyle change and younger generations eschewing alcohol. In turn, that gave folks in alcohol recovery permission to be significantly less anonymous, notes the BBC. The New York Times adds that these days, it's common to see zero-proof offerings on any decent cocktail list.

Gone are the days of swapping a club soda for a whiskey sour. Today's zero-proof cocktails are every bit as thoughtful and craft-conscious as their spirited brethren. With that in mind, if you want to design an NA cocktail or two, take some cues from the craft cocktail movement. Add a few principles of spirit-free drinking, shake or stir ... and voila, you'll have an eminently drinkable, totally original sipper that won't drag you down the next morning.

Think like a bartender

Designing a non-alcoholic cocktail isn't hard — all you need is a little spirit of invention. The most important quality to keep in mind is to aim for something elevated and complex — a drink that's more than just a juice or soda. A cocktail is more than a simple refreshment; it's an experience. You can achieve mocktail excellence a couple of different ways, either by using interesting zero-proof spirits, adding aromatics or botanicals, or experimenting with juices, spices, and syrups. Or try some combination of everything and take notes as you go — just strive, above all, for balance (per Popular Mechanics).

The first step to cocktail design that even the most seasoned bartenders use is choosing a base. This is easier than ever with zero-proof cocktails. These days you can swap out, say, regular bourbon for Spiritless Kentucky 74 — a distilled oak-aged whiskey from Kentucky that is dealcoholized (per Punch) — to make a non-alcoholic Old Fashioned. Many of the NA spirits coming on the market have all-new flavors that have nothing to do with traditional liquors, such as Seedlip's line of herbaceous offerings, which opens you up to a world of flavor possibilities.

Once you have a base flavor in mind, add aromatic elements such as non-alcoholic Italian bitters, citrus peels, or tea leaves — anything that makes the flavor a little more complex. You could also use an unusual mixer, such as a non-alcoholic bitter Italian soda, suggests Punch.

More than juice

If you're not starting with a non-alcohol spirit, the temptation to mix juices together and call it a mocktail can be strong. But even if it's in a crystal coupe glass, it'll still just be a juice. To give a juice-based drink more personality, first try using varieties that aren't store-bought. Squeeze your citrus by hand and try some more unusual variations, such as blood oranges and pomelos. You can also juice almost anything with a decent juicer or by using a blender or food processor, which opens up a lot of possibilities. Plenty of fancy juice recipes out there would make great bases for mocktails.

You can also create recipes that employ floral or herbal elements, such as this violet lemonade recipe. Or, make a homemade sour mix or soda to use as a mixer.

The easiest zero-proof cocktail tool of all is infused simple syrups. Start with a 1:1 ratio of white sugar and boiling water and add any herbs, fruits, and vegetables (try cucumber) to steep. You can use these syrups with other elements to build a complex cocktail. Or, if you're short on time, keep a simple syrup or two in the fridge and add a few dashes to a glass of flavored seltzer over ice, garnish with a sprig of thyme or basil, and you've just made yourself a perfect mocktail.