When you think of the holidays, you might think tablescapes filled with glasses of luscious red wine, free-flowing cocktails at company parties and that distinctive pop of a Champagne cork to celebrate special times together with family. Yet this year, the celebrating the holidays will be different than years past — including what and how we’re imbibing. That’s where mocktails come in. If you’re giving up booze, you don’t have to compromise on flavor and complexity. Not only can mocktails taste as delicious as an alcoholic drink, they’re easy to make; the flavor combinations are endless; and they’re better for you, too. Consider this your guide to creating the perfect mocktails for the holiday season.
Health benefits of switching to mocktails
Cutting back on alcohol by opting for a mocktail over a cocktail has plenty of short- and long-term benefits. “You’ll see improvements in your energy, sleep and digestion. Expect your mood to lift and your skin to clear up and brighten [when you cut back on or stop drinking alcohol],” says Mascha Davis, MPH, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Los Angeles who works with Ritual Zero Proof, a producer of non-alcoholic spirits. Less alcohol also means better hydration, which helps curb cravings, ease headaches and regulate your body temperature, she adds. Imagine feeling bright and energized waking up the next day, instead of foggy and run-down from alcohol the night before.
The ideal formula for mocktails
When you’re making any basic cocktail, the general formula is two parts spirit to one part syrup and one part citrus, says Revae Schneider, founder of Chicago mixology consulting company RS Collective and Simplicite Co. alcohol-free cocktail mixers. For mocktails, you’re removing the alcohol, so you need to replace that first ingredient with another liquid. That can be a non-alcoholic mixer meant to mimic the taste of alcohol (look for brands like Ritual, Kin or Ghia, or distilled alcohol-free spirits like Seedlip), as well as water, tea, sparkling water, juice, kombucha, fruit-based mixers — or anything else you want to get creative with.
One thing to keep in mind when selecting your main liquid: Be sure you’re not replacing your alcohol buzz with a sugar buzz. While mocktails are alcohol-free, they can be full of sugar when you use sodas or juices, making them unhealthy in a different way, Davis says. “For a truly good-for-you mocktail experience, be as mindful about mixers and garnishes are you are about alcohol content,” she adds.
How to stock your bar for mocktails
For the citrus portion of mocktails, keep lemons and limes on hand, as well as grapefruit — which tends to be a better alternative to orange that can skew too sweet, says Schneider. Then, think big when it comes to fresh ingredients. Any kind of berry or seasonal fruit is great, as are freshly snipped herbs like mint, basil or cilantro. Some of these can add a savory twist to mocktails, which is refreshing.
Schneider also loves to use floral garnishes, such as marigold. Then, when you take a sip, “it can be a nice, herbaceous aromatic,” she says. Don’t rule out vegetables, either: Cucumbers, peppers and jalapenos can each be star ingredients for mocktails, and you can even experiment with carrot juice or beet juice as a liquid as well, says Schneider.
Have a variety of mixers on hand to suit your taste. Lighter options like soda water or sparkling water are nice in summer, while in winter you may want to opt for a little bit more complex choices like tonic water or ginger beer.
Essential tools for making healthy mocktails
You don’t need much, depending on how clever you want to get. Just like cocktails, you can make mocktails shaken or stirred — it’s just a matter of preference. The rule of thumb here is that if you’re using citrus juice, though, you should shake it, as the ice helps to “bring the flavor up,” Schneider notes. Shaking is also a good way to extract the most flavor from ingredients like berries or fresh herbs without muddling them. (Pro tip: If you don’t have a fancy shaker, you can also use a blender bottle to easily mix mocktails. “It’s not the prettiest, but it’s the easiest,” says Schneider.)
It’s great to invest in a citrus juicer to extract maximum juice from your citrus, too. But if you don’t have one, make do with a fork instead of just using your hands to squeeze halves. Simple cut your fruit in half, stick a fork into the center and twist, while squeezing at the same time. And
If you need help thinking of flavor combinations — beyond just considering the flavors you personally like together — check out “The Vegetarian Flavor Bible” book for ideas, suggests Schneider.
Holiday twists on mocktails
One of Schneider’s favorite tricks is to peel an orange, then use mini cookie cutters to cut out festive shapes — like Christmas trees or gingerbread men — to top of mocktails with. Cranberries are another seasonal ingredient to use as a floater in cocktails (especially delicious paired with a sprig of fresh rosemary), and pomegranate seeds as well. Apple cider makes a perfect mixer this time of year, especially when combined with flavors like chai or citrus. You could even incorporate hot chocolate and make a warm mocktail as a cozy drink to sip by the fire.
This is the time to break out your prettiest glassware, too. If you’d use a fancy glass with a cocktail, treat a mocktail no differently. You can get creative by making a sugar or salt rim, too (if you try this, start by sugaring or salting only half the rim, so you can have a sip without the ingredient if you like). “There is still an experience to be had in a drink that doesn’t have alcohol — you just don’t end up with a buzz,” says Schneider.
Remember, you don’t have to overthink things: The point is to have fun and craft something you (and your guests) will enjoy, not stress over. “There are mixologists that make it overly intimidating [to make] mocktails,” Schneider says, “but it’s really not that difficult.”