With a handful of alcohol-free spirits now on the market we decided to find out what we could do with them during Dry January. What follows is a mini series of posts that cover our exploration of non-alcoholic classic cocktails, starting with a little background:
There have always been a multitude of soft drinks available to the drinking consumer, but the goal with these new products seems to be substitution—especially where a soft alternative had not previously existed. While this may sound like an idea that opens up a ton of new possibilities, upon embarking on this journey you quickly realize that although the sky is the limit for inventing new recipes, many dry-version mocktails are still out of reach. Unless your go-to is a spirit-only sipper or a concoction that adds just juice or soda, you cannot make many historical classics. This is because the modifiers you would use to make them still have alcohol.
DIY NA Ingredients
We have been pondering this problem for years, imagining alternatives to liqueurs—like macerated orange peels in simple syrup in to make something like triple-sec, or grabbing a bottle of elderflower syrup from Ikea to sub for St-Germain. You may not be able to make a dry version of Chartreuse, but a syrup-based sub for many liqueurs should be possible if the flavor components are available. The base spirits are tougher, and we quickly learned through experimentation that making a substitute for gin is, well, not trivial.
We once bought juniper berries in an attempt to make a gin-like tea. It would have been the start of our quest to make the NA-groni, a non-alcohol version of a Negroni. We figured that if we could land a gin alternative, we could use Sanbitter in place of Campari and be two-thirds of the way there. When it came to the vermouth, we thought maybe chinotto—another bitter Italian soda—might put us over the finish line.
Our plan had several problems. First, a baggie filled with juniper berries is one thing, but making a gin substitute is something else entirely. Steeping them in water did not yield anything gin-like and we started considering things like Douglas fir tree tips. Our plan for Campari was a better match, but this became a logistical problem. Sanbitter, the deep red and deliciously bittter soda made by San Pelligrino is not exactly popular in the US making it difficult to find locally and expensive to buy online and ship. Finally, chinotto, another San Pelligrino product (among several brands), while a little easier to locate, is actually citrus-flavored—not a perfect sub for vermouth, but possibly okay for a NA-groni.
Because of our gin failure we tabled the idea, but over the years kept an eye out for juniper syrups and poked around in specialty grocery stores looking for Sanbitter and chinotto. As luck would have it, a local Italian market, Providore Fine Foods that carries our favorite pizza flour happens to stock Sanbitter. They don’t have San Pelligrino Chinotto, but they do carry a lighter, less-vermouth-like brand. Nevertheless, we grabbed both and squirreled them away for a few weeks.
About the same time, we started seeing pre-holiday references to Ritual Zero Proof, a pair of non-alcoholic gin and whiskey alternative products. We did not get a response from the company after reaching out, so we decided to buy both products and try to give them an honest review. We are aware of another popular brand of non-alcohol spirits called Seedlip. These products seem to be gin-like botanical bases, and while they might be fantastic, looking at their flavor profiles we decided that they perhaps bring too much flavor variation to use them as subs in classic recipes. Making something new in the soft category is certainly worthwhile, but we want to reproduce cocktails we already know and love. We also stumbled across a 0% Italian Amaro called The Bitter Note that gets good reviews and added it to our buy list for future experiments.
Armed with Ritual Zero Proof Gin Alternative and Whiskey Alternative, we set about making a list of cocktails to try. Our NA-groni idea topped the list, but we needed vermouth. We also wanted to make a NAnhattan which also relies on it. Then, an idea struck and we decided to make our own alcohol-free vermouth! It is a technique we plan to recycle for other modifiers as well. Unlocking possibilities, we are breaking down our results into a short series of posts. First, we will share our method for making a sweet vermouth alternative. Then, we will use that important ingredient in the posts that follow, sharing our reviews of Ritual Zero Proof Gin Alternative, Whiskey Alternative and some of the recipes we tried for each. Read on!
This is PART ONE of the NA series
PART TWO: How to Make Non-alcoholic Vermouth
PART THREE: Non-alcoholic Gin Cocktails Using Ritual Zero Proof
PART FOUR: Non-alcoholic Whiskey Cocktails Using Ritual Zero Proof