Infused syrups. Muddled fruit. Zippy garnishes. Stylish glassware. Why should drinks made with a shot of the hard stuff have all the fun? Move over, Shirley Temple. “Soft” cocktails are growing up. This is the philosophy of the folks behind the bar at New York’s Eleven Madison Park. Here, alongside the usual booze-laden summer classics, is an intoxicating array of alcohol-free composed drinks. We stopped by on a hair-curlingly muggy day earlier this week, and sampled a few tall, cool originals. First up was the Chicha Fizz (top), the most strikingly exotic of the bunch. The secret ingredient here is, well, chicha - a traditional, unfermented Peruvian concoction made from blue corn, slow-simmered with fruit and spices. It was unlike anything we’d ever tasted. A subtle mix of savory and sweet, spiked with lime and mellowed with agave nectar, it was just what the doctor ordered.
After that we moved on to more familiar fare, a gourmet spin on iced tea: La Bohème Noir (above). The secret here lies in the top-shelf ingredients: lavender-infused honey, elderflower cordial, and black tea. A far cry from Nestea… And finally, “one more for the road” in this alcohol-free bender, came The Elixir (below), a very grown-up take on lemonade, served over crushed ice, mint-julep style. Pleasantly tart, this cool refresher is sweetly balanced with ginger-lime and mint syrups. Bonus points for presentation.
The take-home lesson? Soft cocktails can be every bit as delicious/sophisticated/complex as their boozy cousins. And if you really want to take things home… Eleven Madison Park’s soft-mixologist extraordinaire, Sam Lipp, was kind enough to share his recipes for each of these original creations: The Elixir 1.5 oz ginger-lime syrup (a simple syrup made with 2 parts sugar to 1 part water, with lime zest and ginger added and allowed to macerate 2-3 days before straining) 1.5 oz water 0.75 oz fresh lemon juice (strained) 0.5 oz mint syrup Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously with ice. Strain into a julep cup full of crushed ice. Garnish with a sprig of mint and a lemon twist. La Bohème Noir 4 oz black tea (We brew China Keemun Hao Ya "A" from T Salon. We suggest not placing the brewed tea in the fridge to cool as it can cloud. Instead, allow to stand unrefrigerated overnight.) 1.5 oz lavender-infused honey (a simple syrup made with 2 parts honey to 1 part water, steeped with lavender for 1/2 an hour) 0.5 oz elderflower cordial (non-alcoholic, of course!) Same instructions as above. You may garnish with fresh fruit of your choice or a sprig of lavender. Chicha Fizz *3 oz chicha (recipe below) 0.5 oz fresh lime juice (strained) 0.5 oz agave nectar soda water Combine first three ingredients in a cocktail shaker and shake vigorously with ice. Strain into a highball glass with no ice. Top with soda water according to taste (we used about 3.0 oz) and garnish with fresh berries and summer fruit. *Chicha (a special thanks to Sous Chef, Erik Ramirez, for sharing this recipe!) 1 qt each raspberries, strawberries, blueberries 1.5 kg peaches 3 kg dried purple corn 3 cinnamon sticks 10 cloves 2 gallons water A note to begin: all fruit must be extremely ripe, almost to the point it is overripe, but not quite. Muddle all the berries and peaches in a large sauce pan, being sure to fully break each piece. Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer on the stove. Keep the mixture at a simmer for 2 hours or until it reduces in quantity by half. Remove from heat and allow to chill. Strain through a chinois and you are ready to go. Keep the mixture refrigerated and do not pre-season with agave and lime. (Both ingredients hasten the fruit's deterioration.) (Thanks, Sam!) What are some of your favorite “soft” cocktails? Related: Summer Cocktails: The Full Roundup (Images: Nora Maynard) -Nora