A cocktail is, by definition, an alcoholic beverage, built on a base spirit or spirits, with sodas and other ingredients added to enhance them. Anything non-boozy has historically fallen into an entirely different category. The term “mocktail” evokes images of Shirley Temples and virgin pina coladas, enthusiastically ordered by the under 12 set. At parties and restaurants, non-drinkers and designated drivers often resort to nursing fancy lemonades and pop.
But bartenders are rethinking their drinks; as the bar scene evolves, both with more interesting, multifaceted cocktails and a shifting attitude toward non-drinkers, people are choosing to pass on alcohol more often. “I think the more bartenders take the creation of non-alcoholic drinks as seriously as they do cocktails, the more folks will be interested in ordering them,” says writer Talia Kleinplatz, founder of the cocktail-focused website Two for the Bar. “People go out to have a quality experience, whether that involves alcohol or not.”
The new wave of booze-free cocktails are more sophisticated than the virgin varieties of yore, with more inspired ingredients and complex flavour profiles. And then there’s Seedlip: The purveyors of the world’s first non-alcoholic distilled spirits, made in Britain with fruits, herbs and botanicals (including citrus, cardamom, oak, lemongrass and hay), created their product to address the dilemma of what to drink when you’re not drinking. With so many ingredients behind the bar, there’s no reason the happy hour experience has to include getting buzzed.
Typically made with tequila, a Paloma is bright and springy, and a favourite of cocktail writer Kleinplatz. Feel free to adjust ingredients to suit your taste (more syrup for sweetness, or lime juice for acidity). For the grapefruit soda, Kleinplatz says she’s partial to San Pellegrino Pompelmo. For a boozy version, add 2 oz tequila to the shaker.
- Juice of half a lime
- 1/2 oz (15 mL) grapefruit juice
- 1/2 oz (15 mL) simple syrup
- Grapefruit soda
Rim a highball glass with salt by rubbing a lime half around the rim and dipping it in a shallow dish of salt.
Combine the lime juice, grapefruit juice and simple syrup in a shaker and shake over ice. Strain into your highball glass, over fresh ice. Top with grapefruit soda and gently stir to combine. Garnish with a lime wheel or wedge.
Every cocktail at Crowbar in Vancouver is inspired by 1990s movie characters. Proprietor William Johnson created and named this one after the main character of The Wedding Singer. Butterfly pea flowers can be found at herbalists, bartending supply stores and online at DavidsTea – add a few flowers to a bottle or container of vodka or simple syrup to turn it brilliant blue. It will change colour to pink when it comes into contact with an acid, such as citrus juice. For an alcoholic version, add 2 oz (60 mL) butterfly pea flower-infused vodka (or regular vodka).
- 1 oz (30 mL) grapefruit juice
- 1/2 oz (15 mL) lime juice
- 1/2 oz (15 mL) butterfly pea flower or honey syrup
- 3 dashes lavender bitters
- 3 dashes strawberry bitters
- 2 oz (60 mL) soda water
- Dried or fresh strawberries, for garnish
Shake all the grapefruit and lime juice, butterfly pea flower syrup and bitters and pour into a Collins glass, over ice. Top with soda and garnish with dried or fresh strawberries.
This bright, citrusy, sweet and salty cocktail tastes mildly of the ocean thanks to sheets of nori, and comes from bar chef Julien Duval at Hanzo Montreal. Calamansi is a citrus hybrid that resembles a lime, but is orange inside – the fruit and juice can be found at Filipino grocery stores. For a boozy version, shake 1 1/2 oz gin, 1/2 oz dry saké, 1 1/2 oz nori syrup, 3/4 oz lime juice and 1/2 oz calamansi juice or puree.
- Himalayan salt (optional)
- 2 oz (60 mL) nori syrup
- 1 1/2 oz (45 mL) lime juice
- 3/4 oz calamansi juice or purée
- 2 oz (60 mL) tonic
- Sheets of nori, for garnish
If you’re using a highball glass, rim it by running half a lime around the edge and dipping it in a shallow dish of Himalayan salt. Shake the nori syrup, lime and calamansi juice or purée in a shaker with ice and strain into a glass, with or without ice. Garnish with nori.
Little Oasis in a Desert
This cocktail is a favourite at the Deane House in Calgary, which was built in 1906 as the home of Captain Deane, Fort Calgary’s last serving North West Mounted Police superintendent. Its name was inspired by a journal entry written by Captain Deane about his stay in Lethbridge, one of the first places he visited in Alberta, which he referred to as “a little oasis in a desert.”
- 1 1/2 oz (45 mL) Seedlip garden
- 1 1/2 oz Turkish sherbet
- 1/4 oz Porter’s grapefruit tonic (or other craft tonic concentrate)
- Sparkling soda of choice (elderflower, ginger, lemon lime)
- Turkish delight, for garnish
Shake the Seedlip, sherbet and tonic concentrate with ice and strain into a chilled coupe glass, top with soda and garnish with a piece of Turkish delight.
How to make your own simple syrup
Simple syrup is a bar staple, but true to its name, it’s simple to make. Start with an equal quantity of sugar (or honey, for honey syrup) and water in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar completely. Remove from the heat and let cool, then store in the fridge.
If you like, infuse the syrup as it simmers with aromatics like fresh herbs (rosemary, mint), spices (cinnamon, coriander, star anise), fresh ginger, citrus zest, fresh or dried flowers (butterfly pea flowers, lavender) or sheets of dry nori. Once it cools, pour your syrup through a strainer into a bottle or jar to store in the fridge.
Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.