The new year is upon us and, as the tradition goes, many people are seeking ways to better their health, wellness, and productivity to start out on the right foot. “Dry January” has gained popularity over the past few years as many choose to forgo their typical imbibing lifestyle for a booze-free month.
It’s a great way to focus on healthy choices while pleasantly skipping hangovers and keeping wallets happy. It can be a tricky pledge to stick to for those of us who routinely enjoy cocktails and socializing, particularly because non-spirited choices tend to be water, soda, or something incredibly sweet that was originally intended for children. It isn’t very life-affirming to sit at a bar and order a Shirley Temple.
Having weathered several personal pledges of sobriety, I feel the pain of resentfully sipping a diet soda while my friends enjoy a bourbon or martini only a few feet away. So in the spirit of good health and happy drinking in the new year, I’ve come up with eight soft cocktails that didn’t just replace the booze with juice and sugar. They also taste good.
Any basic black tea bag (I use Bigelow English Breakfast) is perfect in this tasty, easy recipe that has a delicious spice element perfect for cold winter months. This is also a great “make-ahead” recipe so you can make plenty to pour whenever you feel drawn to your neglected liquor cabinet.
3 Cups water
4 Cardamom pods
1 Cinnamon stick
3 Teaspoons sugar
3 Tea bags
1 Cup apple cider
Combine water, spices, and sugar in a saucepan over low heat. Dissolve sugar completely, and allow water to simmer, then remove from heat. Add tea bags and steep for ten minutes. Remove bags, add apple cider, and chill. Garnish with an orange wedge and enjoy over ice. For those who enjoy tea on the sweeter side, feel free to increase sugar to taste.
This one is a truly grown-up “mocktail” with a delightfully tart flavor that perfectly balances the sweetness of berry and maple. It’s a fantastic sipping drink that is also a great pairing for rich dishes like steak and pork. Wonderful for those who might be missing their favorite glass of red wine.
½ oz Apple Cider Vinegar
½ oz Maple Syrup
1 oz Lime Juice (or squeeze of one whole lime)
1 teaspoon Blackberry Jam
1 oz Ginger beer
Combine the first four ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Pour over ice in a rocks glass. Top with ginger beer and garnish with a lime wedge. This drink is definitely on the strong, sour side but if you’d like to tone it down you can pull back on the apple cider vinegar or increase the ginger beer.
The 1920 Mule
This nod to Prohibition will not be the last cocktail on this list to feature ginger. Ginger is a friend to any non-imbiber, as it has a delicious spice character that can mimic the slight burn of alcohol on the palate. The Moscow Mule is one of my favorite cocktails when not I’m holding to a month without liquor, so I played around with several ways to keep my copper mugs in rotation while observing Dry January. This was definitely the winner.
1 oz Lime juice
1 Tablespoon ginger paste (I use the Gourmet Garden ginger paste sold in the produce section of most grocery stores. It does have a bit of a texture to it, so if you want to skip the occasional speck of ginger in your sipping, you can make a ginger syrup like this one)
½ oz Simple Syrup (one part sugar and one part water, heated until sugar completely dissolves)
Combine lime juice, simple syrup, and ginger paste in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Pour over ice in a copper mug or rocks glass. Top with ginger beer until full, garnish with lime.
G & T & Drive Yourself Home
There is nothing quite like a Gin and Tonic. It’s simple, yet sophisticated, and every bartender living knows how to make one. It may seem hard to imagine how to replicate this classic pleasure without gin, but this extremely simple variation captures the essence nicely.
Lime-flavored sparkling water
*Juniper water (optional)
Combine equal parts of tonic water and sparkling water in a highball glass over ice. Add two ounces of infused juniper water. Garnish with lime wedge. Note that the juniper water is truly optional.
I find that the simple combination of tonic and unsweetened lime soda (like lime La Croix) makes a very satisfying drink. However, here is the juniper water recipe that I have used and liked. It really tastes like the real thing. This drink is not sweet, other than the sugar from the tonic water, so if you’d prefer a sweeter style feel free to add a bit of simple syrup.
2 Cups distilled water
1 Tablespoon crushed juniper berries
1 Cardamom pod
2 Lemon Peels
2 Orange Peels
2 Sprigs thyme
Note that I found this fits my personal taste for gin, so feel free to tweak this recipe to your own. It’s a very forgiving process.
Combine all and keep in a cool, dark place overnight. Strain ingredients through a fine strainer, and keep water refrigerated for future use.
The Flightless Dove
For those of us who enjoy a little salty and sweet in our cocktails, this is an excellent choice. Inspired by the Paloma, this version the draws a tinge of vanilla from the agave syrup, which mimics the absent tequila, making it a wholly satisfying alternative.
1 ½ oz Fresh grapefruit juice
½ oz Agave syrup
½ oz Lime juice
Grapefruit-flavored sparkling water
Combine grapefruit juice, agave syrup, lime juice, and a small pinch of salt in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Pour over ice into a salt-rimmed highball glass. Fill to top with grapefruit-flavored sparkling water. Garnish with a lime wedge.
The Preggo Fashioned
Pregnant women are the most neglected beverage consumers in the market. For them, it’s not just Dry January, it’s at least nine months of having little choice other than water and tea. As a tribute to these remarkably patient, sacrificing mothers, I offer my favorite non-alcoholic cocktail as a tribute. This one is by far the most satisfying for a whiskey lover, as it comes very close to tasting like a real Old Fashioned.
2 oz Strongly brewed barley tea*
3 dashes Angostura Bitters
3 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters
½ oz Simple syrup
Candied cherry (My favorite cherries are Luxardo (brandy-free), but in any event, I recommend you avoid the neon-red variety)
Muddle orange slice and cherry with simple syrup and bitters. Add barley tea and ice, stir for 60 seconds. Pour through strainer over ice in a rocks glass. Garnish with orange swath. (Full disclosure, bitters do contain alcohol, but the amounts in this drink are very small. Non-alcoholic beer has much more alcohol than this cocktail does.)
*Barley tea can be tricky to find in normal grocery stores. This one from Amazon typically ships fast and I love it. Brew 6 tea bags in one quart of boiled water for 20 minutes. Remove tea bags and refrigerate tea until cooled (about 2 hours).
The Volstead Toddy
It was The Volstead Act that famously enacted the ban of alcohol back in 1920 at the onset of Prohibition. Happily, the federal government repealed that nonsense, but the name of this drink reminds us of a time where Dry January was not voluntary, and much longer than one month.
A Hot Toddy is a well-known cure for what ails you, featuring hot water, bourbon, lemon, honey, and ginger. A chilled version without the hot water and booze is actually remarkably good when the right ingredients come together.
1 Tablespoon ginger paste
1 oz Lemon juice
½ oz Honey
Lemon soda (Like San Pellegrino Limonata)
Combine ginger paste, lemon juice, and honey in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Pour over ice in highball glass, fill to top with lemon soda, garnish with lemon wedge.
Even if these seem like too much work, sticking to a 31-day commitment to avoid alcohol can be really tricky, so seek variety. The flavored sparkling waters are guilt-free choices for dieters, and tea is a great alternative to many things for me. While these choices may not be quite the same as a real cocktail, and they aren’t available at many dive bars, it’s nice to know you don’t have to rely on water and soda until February.