Seasons by the Sea: Mocking Aside

Teetotalers should not be left out of the fun and flavors
A “mocktail” of turmeric muddled with lime juice and maple syrup Laura Donnelly

First of all, let’s try to come up with a better name than “mocktail.” It’s quick, it’s clever, and everyone knows what it means. It’s certainly less cumbersome than saying “Barkeep, I’d like a non-alcoholic beverage, please.” But it’s silly, and the word “mock” has too many dismissive associations: scoff, taunt, jeer, and scorn. “Mock” as in fake, artificial, bogus, false, counterfeit, and pseudo. Perhaps proxy, deputy, ersatz? Is brummagem too much? 

January is the month of resolutions, and quitting drinking is a common one. “Dry January” began in the United Kingdom three years ago as a public health campaign. A study of the participants found that party animals who whooped it up during the holidays had little success quitting. Moderate drinkers, however, were likely to drink much less for the rest of the year after quitting completely for the month of January. One of the challenges people face when not drinking is . . . every social situation. This is ever so dryly referred to as “drink refusal self-efficacy.” We all know the benefits to your health, waistline, and wallet.

When I started reviewing restaurants, there were very few, if any, vegetarian options on menus. (Veganism was as far away as the internet.) If the chef made an effort to make something creative, it was evidence that he or she was paying attention to every guest’s needs in the restaurant.

Nowadays, mixology,  craft cocktails, and drinks with funny names and esoteric ingredients are a booming business. I have lots of friends who don’t drink when they go out. They tend to order the same things: sparkling water or a soda pop full of sugar. I push them to push the bartender to come up with a worthy “mocktail.” Why should I be mulling over the wine list and deciding to pair a Faiveley Mercurey with the roast chicken and truffled macaroni and cheese while they sip a drink they could get on the Jitney to go with their lamb chops and creamed spinach?

Dave Arnold, owner of one or two bars in New York and author of “Liquid Intelligence,” the most fascinating and complicated tome on “the art and science of the perfect cocktail,” is well aware that teetotalers should not be left out of the fun and flavors. His latest establishment, Existing Conditions, has several non-alcoholic cocktails (yes, he still calls them “cocktails”) and they are every bit as complex and costly as a drink with alcohol. The Serendipity, Doyenne, Horse and Carriage, and Stingless have clarified juices, cold brewed exotic teas, and mysterious elixirs in delicious combinations.

I like experimenting with non-alcoholic cocktails. I don’t care for sugary drinks, nor do I want to go to too much trouble. So a muddle of fresh spearmint, cucumber, lime juice, maple syrup, and chopped jalapeno is a go-to with club soda in the summertime. Try this drink with Asian or Mexican food. Good tomato juice with mint and lemon slices may sound strange but is delightfully refreshing. Hibiscus tea has a brilliant magenta hue and super tart flavor; this is delicious with Indian food. It’s pretty logical, pair the flavors of the country with your drink. Try a dolled-up Milk Pail apple cider with a French pork and apple recipe. 

The possibilities are truly endless. However, I draw the line at such concoctions as I heard about on Heritage Radio. I didn’t catch the name of the drink so let’s call it “Bushwick Butchers the Bearded Millennial Mixologist.” The ingredients are five ounces de-alcoholized white wine, four tablespoons wine jelly, four tablespoons sugar, seven drops Cognac oil, three drops chamomile essential oil, three drops green peppercorn oil, and two tablespoons glycerin. Madness!

According to Newsweek magazine, as of 2018, more than 40 percent of American adults consume excessive amounts of alcohol, and this is up 10 percent from 2014. Thirty percent do not drink at all, according to a 2015 study by the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. People who don’t drink, don’t drink for various reasons: religious, medical, health, social, and/or economic.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt is credited with creating the first dirty martini, improvised in a coffee pot. John F. Kennedy had a taste for frozen daiquiris. Churchill preferred “hot baths with cold champagne, new peas and old brandy.” Some infamous teetotalers are Hitler, Rommel, and Trump. Uh-oh, sorry, we’re going in the wrong direction here.

Coming up with names for your signature “mocktail” can be fun. Some real drink names are Vesper, the Missionary’s Downfall, Corpse Reviver, Death in the Afternoon, el Diablo, and the Widow’s Kiss, so named by a bartender whose wife died from a black widow spider bite. The cherries garnishing the drink are skewered to resemble the telltale spider’s markings. Going darker, there’s also the Irish Car Bomb and Redrum, from Stephen King’s “The Shining.”

There is a non-drinking rapper and record producer named Chamillionaire. His portmanteau is obviously chameleon and millionaire. I’m going to name a drink after him, a triple portmanteau of chameleon, chamomile, and millionaire: the Chamomillionaire.

A Moscow Mule can be just as tasty without booze, so can a Southside. You can make your drinks as simple as you wish, or make them as complicated as Dave Arnold. Don’t drink “responsibly,” drink creatively!

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An assortment of fresh citrus and herbs, bitters and juices, teas and mixers makes your “mocktails” healthy and sophisticated. Laura Donnelly