Explorations in Mixology Cocktails Drinking

Non-Alcoholic Margarita

Early last year we explored some options for making non-alcoholic cocktails using Ritual Zero Proof spirit substitutes. At the time, we tested their Gin and Whiskey Alternative products. We were able to execute some surprisingly delicious NA versions of some of our favorite classics like the NAgroni and a NAnhattan. They recently created a non-alcoholic Tequila Alternative, so we are going to make a NArgarita.

Alcohol-free New Years resolutions for a Dry January may not be quite as popular this year, but it is always good to try some mocktail techniques. It can be helpful to have some alternative options for guests that cannot or don’t want to consume alcohol. There are plenty of soft drink and fruit juice options, but having access to base spirit alternatives opens up some very interesting possibilities. However, most cocktails include modifiers that also need to be replaced. For example, an alcohol-free vermouth was needed for some of the ideas we explored last year, and we chose to make our own. For the Margarita, we need to find a replacement for triple sec.

Triple sec is a clear orange-flavored liqueur—originally a strong, sweet type of Curaçao made from the dried peels of bitter oranges. One of the most famous brands is Cointreau, known for its high quality orange flavor. “Sec” is the French word for dry, which contradicts what we know about the sugar in this product, and pairing this word with “triple” does not have a clear origin. It may describe an order of sweetness or refer to distillation. In any case, we set out to make a DIY version of this liqueur without the alcohol.

We are calling our project Zero Sec—a non-alcoholic orange liqueur. It basically translates to orange syrup, but not dark and thick. We wanted something similar to preserved lime cordial. We started by zesting two oranges with a micro planer, setting that aside and juicing one of the oranges. We then setup a sauce pan with five ounces of water and the same volume of sugar, heating to dissolve. As the sugar dissolved, we added two ounces of orange juice, brought the mixture a boil, then added the zest, covered the pot and removed from heat to let it cool. Once cool, we strained the mixture through paper towels and bottled roughly 8 ounces that we will keep in the refrigerator. We don’t need much, and it probably won’t last forever anyway.

We did a side-by-side tatste test with some regular triple sec. Ours has a slight tint and an incredibly fresh orange flavor. The sugar is not overpowering, even for a 1:1 sugar ratio and the orange citrus flavor is clear. The actual liqueur tastes artificial by comparison and has an odd hint of vanilla. However, the real test will be the cocktail we will make using it.

Our non-alcoholic Margarita, or NArgarita as we like to call it, is based on our favorite classic recipe from Jeffery Morgenthaler. It combines both lime and lemon with a little simple syrup. Careful measurements will result in good balance, but you can always adjust to your taste. As much as we like the tartness of fresh citrus, this cocktail works well with balance tipped in favor of our Zero Sec, so a heavier pour can help.

We feel that the Ritual Zero Proof Tequila Alternative worked well in this recipe, and our virgin triple sec might be useful in other drinks too. The challenge will be timing. We may not have any of the mock liqueur ready when we need it, so we wonder if we could get away with orange bitters, accepting the small amount of alcohol in a few dashes alongside more simple syrup instead. We cold also just use orange juice. Either way, we consider this project an overwhelming success and the NArgarita a very tasty mocktail. If you give this a try, let us know in the comments what you think.

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3 years ago

Since it’s Seville/bitter orange season right now you could probably up the complexity of your zero-sec with those. Maybe even substitute in some bitter orange juice for a portion of the lemon/lime mix since they’re pretty sour as well. In terms of having it on hand later, you might be able to do the vacuum bag oleo saccharum route and freeze it for later use. I’ve had pretty good luck freezing syrups and having them taste good months down the road.