I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading about zero-proof cocktails—virgin cocktails, cocktails, zero ABV, non-alcoholic, or whatever you want to call them. There are many ways to name them, but none of these names is particularly satisfying, because they describe what they’re not rather than what they are. I feel that drinks without alcohol can easily stand on their own when given the proper time and attention. There are so many ways to create complexity and depth without using alcohol. There can even be a moderate amount of fermentation to achieve this complexity, as even kombucha or non-alcoholic beer sold in stores contains 0.5% or less alcohol.
I believe that everyone deserves a special drink, and no one should be left out. It used to be at family gatherings and potlucks of my childhood there would often be multiple 2L bottles of pop that my cousins and I would pour out glass after glass into our little styrofoam cups. Those days of the cup of pop are gone. I know there are so many ways I can create exciting drinks that are for adults and kids alike. My kids are my best taste-testers and always give me the double thumb rating for everything I make.
There is a trend in non-alcoholic drinks that has been growing. Many companies are marketing their own mixed drinks in a can, or making “virgin spirits,” such as Seedlip. On the local scene we have Benjamin Bridge’s Piquette Zero and PEI’s Libra Beer, which is starting a campaign with Serena Ryder to advocate for and inspire non-alcoholic drinks in social settings. I’m excited about the availability of non-alcoholic drinks and the increasing quality of pre-made cocktails. Bubly water takes fizzy water up a notch and there really is so much more. It’s always nice to have something pre-made in a can, but we all have special gatherings with our friends where we want a little something more. My bet is you’re more likely to get your friends to appreciate non-alcoholic drinks if you have little extra intention and make something from scratch. Last time I had my friends over, my friend Alex polished off his drink and said “I always love a good gin and tonic” while there was no gin in sight.
What makes a drink special? Is it the way bubbles run over your tongue? Is it having something in your hand while standing in a circle with your friends? Is it sharing a similar experience? It’s not all about the buzz. My mission is to empower you (and myself) to make drinks on your own terms, with or without alcohol. Why not change things up? If you’re gathering for an evening, sprinkle in a few non-alcoholic cocktails between the wine and beer or drinks on the rocks.
Over the next little while I’ll be testing out various drinks in my kitchen and I’ll curate a few of my favourites for you. Choose an ingredient that inspires you. I tried to make this first recipe with ingredients we all have in our pantries. Change a spice and make the drink your own. Taste, find what you love, and enjoy!
Enough with the outdated cranberry and soda with lime restaurants serve as an option for non-alcoholic drinks. More people would probably go for zero-proof drinks if there were more exciting options. If my recipe here is the first or only non-alcoholic drink you decide to add to your repertoire this season I will be honoured that you’re entrusting me, and my kids, to make you a good drink. I decided to take my riff on a cranberry drink (many of which you may have made from Cranberry Connection by Beatrice Buszek) and make it special. Feel free to make it your own and change up the herbs that go in. Either grated fresh ginger or ground juniper, if you have it on hand, would be really nice instead of the black pepper. If you’re seeking simplicity, just stick with cranberries and sugar. The apple cider vinegar in this recipe alone may be the something different that pops your tastebuds.
Cranberry Black Pepper Shrub
1 cup cranberries (fresh or frozen)
3/4 cup sugar (preferably cane sugar)
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup raw apple cider vinegar (preferably Boates)
Place your cranberries in a bowl. Pour the sugar and black pepper over them and go to town with whatever “muddling” device you may have on hand and get those cranberries to pop and smash. Cover and leave to macerate on the counter overnight.
The next morning pour one cup apple cider vinegar on top and cover and leave in a cool dark place to infuse for 2-4 days. Cover with a non-reactive lid or place a piece of wax or parchment paper under the metal lid of a jar. Shake it once a day. Some recipes use heat to extract the flavours, but this technique will keep all the benefits of the live culture in the apple cider vinegar.
Strain and press down on the fruit to extract all the juices. Place in a bottle or jar and store in the fridge.
1 oz Cranberry Black Pepper Shrub
6 oz sparkling water or tonic water
Cranberries for garnish
A few dashes ginger or angostura bitters (optional)
No shaker required, just pour and serve. Enjoy!