5 Expert Tips for Mixing More Impressive Non-Alcoholic Cocktails

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Just because you’re forgoing alcohol doesn’t mean you’re forever stuck with sparkling water or soda (or worse yet, an overly sweet attempt at a non-boozy drink). Let’s be honest — none of those things are satisfying, let alone exciting.

To make an impressive cocktail without the booze, you need to approach it just like a mixologist would. Boozy drink or not, the method is the same. Emily Han, craft drink expert and author of the forthcoming book, Wild Drinks & Cocktails, is sharing her five best tips for mixing up impressive non-alcoholic cocktails like a pro.

If there’s one thing I learned from Emily, it’s that mixing up impressive non-alcoholic cocktails at home is actually quite easy. As you approach making your next batch of drinks, here’s what she suggests keeping in mind. On their own, these tips are small, but they have a huge payoff!

1. Play up fresh, seasonal ingredients.

We value seasonal ingredients in cooking, so why should they be any less important when crafting a cocktail? Emily points out that “fresh, seasonal ingredients lend vibrant colors and flavors that can make non-alcohol cocktails look, taste, and feel special.” She also suggests muddling fresh herbs and fruit, like pear and rosemary in autumn, or peach and basil in summer.

2. Balancing sweet, sour, and bitter flavors is key.

One of the biggest problems with so many non-alcoholic cocktails is that they end up being way too sweet. To make a better cocktail, it’s important to create balance of flavor by experimenting with sweet, sour, and bitter ingredients. “Try sour fruits, such as citrus, cranberries, rhubarb, and tamarind. Drinking vinegars, like shrubs and switchels, are fantastic for alcohol-free drinks. In fact, tangy, sweet shrubs were popular during the temperance movement when people were abstaining from alcohol but still wanted something fun to drink. You can combine a shrub with fizzy water for a basic soda, or muddle in additional fruits and herbs to make it more complex.”

3. Bring on the heat.

Spice can be another fun element in non-alcoholic drinks, especially as we move into cooler months. Emily suggests using a simple syrup or shrub infused with peppercorns, cinnamon, or star anise. A dash of fire cider or fresh ginger juice can also be a fun way to spice things up.

4. Get out the nice glasses!

Yes, you’re making a non-alcoholic drink, but that certainly doesn’t mean you should keep those pretty coupes, collins, or rocks glasses tucked away. Get them out and use a nice glass for your cocktail. Just as with food, presentation is an important component of everything you serve.

5. Don’t forget the garnish.

Something like a simple citrus curl or cucumber slice can go a long way. Garnishes add a nice touch and make drinks feel a little more special.

Try These Non-Alcoholic Cocktail Recipes!

This post was requested by Daigan for Reader Request Week 2015.