Raise the home bar on zero-proof cocktails

Bartender Jose Buitrago created Painappuru Juzu for one of Umi's nondrinking owners, and the beverage team will offer it to anyone looking for a zero-proof option. 
Contributed by Chris Watkins

Credit: Chris Watkins

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Bartender Jose Buitrago created Painappuru Juzu for one of Umi's nondrinking owners, and the beverage team will offer it to anyone looking for a zero-proof option. Contributed by Chris Watkins

Credit: Chris Watkins

As the COVID-19 lockdown drags on, I’m always on the lookout for a new project to break the monotony within the claustrophobic confines of my condo. My stepdaughter is proving her prowess as a needlepoint artist. A member of my book club is learning to play the cello online. Facebook friends impress me daily with achievements in everything from bread-baking to furniture-making.

For now, I’ve turned to mixology to satisfy my creative itch — with and without the spirits. At this early stage of my education (I purchased my first cocktail shaker a month ago), I’ve learned that it’s less messy and time-consuming than other kitchen projects, yet no less challenging when it comes to balancing flavors. There’s a knack to the shaking and stirring to get the chill and the mouthfeel just right, and even the age and shape of the ice cube can distinguish a good drink from a mediocre one. I treated myself to a buying spree at the liquor store to hone my technique with some classic cocktails. But I’m fully aware of the negative consequences — to my health and my bank account — that could occur should I get carried away.

Explore8 mocktails to order at metro Atlanta bars
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"Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You're Not Drinking for Whatever Reason" (Ten Speed, $22.99)

Credit: Contributed

"Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You're Not Drinking for Whatever Reason" (Ten Speed, $22.99)

Credit: Contributed

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"Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You're Not Drinking for Whatever Reason" (Ten Speed, $22.99)

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Julia Bainbridge’s “Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for Whatever Reason” (Ten Speed, $22.99), which hits shelves in October, may keep me from going too far down that road. Bainbridge, Atlanta magazine’s former food editor, abstains from alcohol due to a substance use disorder, but says the book is also for the “sober curious” — that is, those who choose to take a break from alcohol for health-minded reasons other than addiction.

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Midnight Magic was created at Mission + Market. The drink blends espresso with tonic and walnut chocolate bitters. Contributed by 360 Media Inc./Cora Pursley

Midnight Magic was created at Mission + Market. The drink blends espresso with tonic and walnut chocolate bitters. 
Contributed by 360 Media Inc./Cora Pursley

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Midnight Magic was created at Mission + Market. The drink blends espresso with tonic and walnut chocolate bitters. Contributed by 360 Media Inc./Cora Pursley

After leaving Atlanta for New York in 2018, Bainbridge spent a summer scouting the country for sophisticated zero-proof alternatives to the cloying, one-note “mocktails” of yesteryear. She gathered recipes from their creators and shared their tips for infusing syrups with herbs and spices, boosting umami with bitters or soy sauce, adding body with egg whites and cream, and rimming the glasses with savory salt blends. Eduardo Guzman of Atlanta’s Mission + Market impressed her with a simple concoction he called Midnight Magic: a shot of espresso poured over ice, topped off with tonic water, spiked with a dash of walnut bitters, and garnished with a lemon twist.

Top-quality ingredients are a must, and though not as expensive as a cabinet-full of well-aged spirits, some are unapologetically pricey and may require special sourcing (fresh white pine needles or dried butterfly pea flowers, for instance). That’s part of the adventure and fun.

“Especially during the pandemic, when I’ve been at home in sweats for months, playing with my fancy toys gives me access to a more chic kind of evening,” she said in an email interview. “I like all the tinkering involved, and at a time when there’s so little to celebrate, building these drinks gives me a sense of control over my world.”

ExploreCocktail news
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Former Atlanta magazine food editor Julia Bainbridge wrote "Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You're Not Drinking for Whatever Reason" (Ten Speed, $22.99).

Credit: THEODORE SAMUELS STUDIO

Former Atlanta magazine food editor Julia Bainbridge wrote "Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You're Not Drinking for Whatever Reason" (Ten Speed, $22.99).

Credit: THEODORE SAMUELS STUDIO

Combined ShapeCaption
Former Atlanta magazine food editor Julia Bainbridge wrote "Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You're Not Drinking for Whatever Reason" (Ten Speed, $22.99).

Credit: THEODORE SAMUELS STUDIO

Credit: THEODORE SAMUELS STUDIO

Inspired by Bainbridge, I reached out to mixologists around the city to help us sharpen our zero-proof drink-making skills, and share those thirst-quenching offerings today along with one from John deBary’s terrific new cocktail book, “Drink What You Want” (Potter, $25).

RECIPES

There’s a knack to the shaking and stirring to get the chill and the mouthfeel just right, and even the age and shape of the ice cube can distinguish a good drink from a mediocre one.

Combined ShapeCaption
Bartender Jose Buitrago created Painappuru Juzu for one of Umi's nondrinking owners, and the beverage team will offer it to anyone looking for a zero-proof option. Contributed by Chris Watkins

Credit: Chris Watkins

Bartender Jose Buitrago created Painappuru Juzu for one of Umi's nondrinking owners, and the beverage team will offer it to anyone looking for a zero-proof option. 
Contributed by Chris Watkins

Credit: Chris Watkins

Combined ShapeCaption
Bartender Jose Buitrago created Painappuru Juzu for one of Umi's nondrinking owners, and the beverage team will offer it to anyone looking for a zero-proof option. Contributed by Chris Watkins

Credit: Chris Watkins

Credit: Chris Watkins

Painappuru Juzu (Umi)

New York Times food writer Kim Severson gave up alcohol years ago, but still likes to treat her palate to a well-made drink. One of her favorite discoveries was this creation from Umi, the upscale Japanese restaurant in Buckhead. The drink is tropical, citrusy, floral and not too sweet, with a little heat and some complexity. Yuzu juice, an aromatic Japanese citrus fruit with a flavor reminiscent of grapefruit, tangerine and Meyer lemon, is a key component. I ordered it online from Yakimi Orchard. If you don’t want to go to that effort and expense, any citrus will be delicious in its place.

Painappuru Juzu (Umi)
  • 3 ounces pineapple juice
  • 3/4 ounce simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, heated in a saucepan to dissolve)
  • 3/4 ounce yuzu juice
  • 1/4 ounce lemon juice
  • Dash of ginger syrup (available in specialty markets, or easily made according to instructions widely available online)
  • Club soda
  • Jalapeño slices and pineapple leaves for garnish
  • Combine the pineapple juice, simple syrup, yuzu juice, lemon juice and ginger syrup in a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously; strain into a Collins glass filled to the brim with fresh ice. Top off with club soda, stir, and garnish with a few jalapeño slices and pineapple leaves. Makes 1 drink.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per drink: 118 calories (percent of calories from fat, 1), trace protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 26 milligrams sodium.
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Botiwalla's Pineapple-Turmeric Soda is inspired by classic street drinks from India. Contributed by Botiwalla

Credit: Contributed

Botiwalla's Pineapple-Turmeric Soda is inspired by classic street drinks from India. 
Contributed by Botiwalla

Credit: Contributed

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Botiwalla's Pineapple-Turmeric Soda is inspired by classic street drinks from India. Contributed by Botiwalla

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Pineapple-Turmeric Soda (Botiwalla)

“India has always had a vibrant mocktail scene, with interesting nonalcoholic drinks being served by humble street vendors as well as in five-star hotels,” says Matthew Schneeberger, culture training and onboarding manager for Chai Pani and Botiwalla restaurants, where both menus feature assorted lassis and house-made sodas. “It’s a big part of the culture.” This vibrant offering at Botiwalla blends pineapple with lime juice and peppery, health-giving turmeric root readily available in most produce sections.

Pineapple Turmeric Soda (Botiwalla)
  • 2 ounces Pineapple-Turmeric Syrup (recipe follows)
  • 1/2 ounce lime juice
  • Soda water
  • Mint and lime slice for garnish
  • Combine syrup and lime juice in a pint glass filled with ice, top with soda water, and stir. Garnish with mint and lime slice. Makes 1 drink.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per drink: 94 calories (percent of calories from fat, 1), trace protein, 23 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 25 milligrams sodium.
Pineapple Turmeric Syrup
  • 1 cup fresh turmeric root, chopped (unpeeled)
  • 1 1/2 cups water, divided
  • 2 cups pineapple juice
  • 1 1/4 cups demerara sugar (or turbinado or pure cane sugar)
  • In a blender or food processor, puree the chopped turmeric root and 1/2 cup water. Wearing gloves to avoid yellow-stained hands, squeeze blended mixture through a cheesecloth into a bowl (you should have about 3/4 cup of liquid). Meanwhile, combine the pineapple juice, sugar, and 1 cup water in a pan and stir frequently over low heat until sugar is completely dissolved. Add the strained turmeric juice to the syrup and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. Makes 3 3/4 cups, enough for 15 drinks.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per 2-ounce serving: 85 calories (percent of calories from fat, 0), trace protein, 22 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 1 milligram sodium.
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Southern Belle's Figgin' Delicious cocktail uses a syrup made by simmering fresh figs with brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, and other flavorings. Contributed by Southern Belle

Credit: Contributed

Southern Belle's Figgin' Delicious cocktail uses a syrup made by simmering fresh figs with brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, and other flavorings. 
Contributed by Southern Belle

Credit: Contributed

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Southern Belle's Figgin' Delicious cocktail uses a syrup made by simmering fresh figs with brown sugar, balsamic vinegar, and other flavorings. Contributed by Southern Belle

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Figgin’ Delicious (Southern Belle)

At Southern Belle, chef Joey Ward and his staff try to cross-utilize ingredients between the kitchen and the bar, and this full-flavored drink is a prime example, says assistant general manager Kevin Bragg.

The Fig-Balsamic Syrup, he notes, is the liquid used to cook the local figs they serve on grilled focaccia with chevre, hazelnut tahini, and arugula, and the figs and syrup are also good with grilled pork, charcuterie, pancakes and ice cream. For an alcoholic drink, Bragg pairs the syrup with an aged Rhum Agricole or Richland Rum from Brunswick.

Figgin’ Delicious (Southern Belle)
  • 2 ounces Fig-Balsamic Syrup (recipe follows)
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 6 to 8 ounces club soda
  • Orange peel
  • Basil leaf
  • Pour Fig-Balsamic Syrup and lime juice over ice in a tall glass. Top with club soda and stir. Garnish with a large orange peel and a fresh basil leaf. Makes 1 drink.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per drink: 211 calories (percent of calories from fat, 0), 1 gram protein, 51 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 79 milligrams sodium.
Fig Balsamic Syrup
  • 1 pound fresh figs
  • 2 cups balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 2-3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla paste (or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
  • 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
  • Zest from 1 orange
  • Pinch salt
  • Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and cook gently over low heat until the figs are tender and syrup is slightly thickened. Cool all ingredients together. Strain out enough of the syrup to make drinks, and reserve the figs in the remaining syrup for other uses. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes about 2 cups of syrup, enough for about 8 drinks.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per 2-ounce serving: 202 calories (percent of calories from fat, 0), 1 gram protein, 49 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 43 milligrams sodium.
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A little salt adds a savory element to the Ticonderoga Club's Saline Sibling. Contributed by Bart Sasso (Sasso & Co.)

Credit: Bart Sasso

A little salt adds a savory element to the Ticonderoga Club's Saline Sibling.  
Contributed by Bart Sasso (Sasso & Co.)

Credit: Bart Sasso

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A little salt adds a savory element to the Ticonderoga Club's Saline Sibling. Contributed by Bart Sasso (Sasso & Co.)

Credit: Bart Sasso

Credit: Bart Sasso

Saline Sibling (Ticonderoga Club)

Greg Best, a co-founder of Ticonderoga Club, the craft cocktail-driven tavern within Krog Street Market, finds the process of creating quality zero-proof cocktails as “fun and cerebrally challenging” as devising the high-octane stuff. The Saline Sibling is a house favorite, blending hibiscus tea with house-made ginger and lime sodas and a little salt “to make it more savory and dynamic.” They offer it at the restaurant while guests wait for takeout orders, or bottled to go.

Saline Sibling (Ticonderoga Club)
  • 1 ounce fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce ginger syrup or cordial (available in specialty markets, or made according to instructions widely available online)
  • 1/4 ounce extra-strong, brewed hibiscus tea (1 tablespoon of dry tea steeped in 1 cup of hot water for 10 minutes and strained)
  • 1 small pinch sea salt
  • 1 1/2 to 2 ounces tonic water (preferably Fever-Tree Refreshingly Light or Schweppes)
  • Lemon peel for garnish, optional
  • Place the lime juice, ginger syrup or cordial, brewed tea, and salt in a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Strain over fresh ice in a tall glass. Top with tonic and stir. Garnish with a swath of lemon peel if desired. Makes 1 drink.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per serving: 70 calories (percent of calories from fat, 0), trace protein, 17 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 159 milligrams sodium.
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The Oak Steakhouse's A Good Look blends coconut water with agave, citrus, and cucumbers. Contributed by Oak Steakhouse

Credit: Contributed

The Oak Steakhouse's A Good Look blends coconut water with agave, citrus, and cucumbers. 
Contributed by Oak Steakhouse

Credit: Contributed

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The Oak Steakhouse's A Good Look blends coconut water with agave, citrus, and cucumbers. Contributed by Oak Steakhouse

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

A Good Look (Oak Steakhouse)

Jeff Gates, the general manager of Oak Steakhouse in Alpharetta, is also in charge of the bar offerings and keeps several zero-proof options in the rotation, such as this rejuvenating elixir. For an alcoholic alternative to a margarita, he suggests substituting 1 1/2 ounces each of coconut and Goza tequila for the 4 ounces of coconut water here. “It’s easy to batch by changing the ounces to cups,” he adds.

A Good Look (Oak Steakhouse)
  • 4 ounces coconut water
  • 3/4 ounce agave syrup
  • 3 slices cucumber
  • 1 squeeze of lime
  • Lime wedge for garnish
  • Combine the coconut water, agave, cucumber, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker filled with ice and shake hard to thoroughly mix the agave and cucumber. Strain over fresh ice. Garnish with lime wedge. Makes 1 drink.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per drink: 93 calories (percent of calories from fat, 3), 1 gram protein, 22 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, trace total fat (trace saturated fat), no cholesterol, 120 milligrams sodium.
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Watermelon Fennel Collins is from John deBary's "Drink What You Want" (Potter, $25). Illustration by Sarah Tanat-Jones

Credit: Sarah Tanat-Jones

Watermelon Fennel Collins is from John deBary's "Drink What You Want" (Potter, $25). Illustration by Sarah Tanat-Jones

Credit: Sarah Tanat-Jones

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Watermelon Fennel Collins is from John deBary's "Drink What You Want" (Potter, $25). Illustration by Sarah Tanat-Jones

Credit: Sarah Tanat-Jones

Credit: Sarah Tanat-Jones

Watermelon Fennel Collins

In “Drink What You Want: The Subjective Guide to Making Objectively Delicious Cocktails” (Potter, $25), John deBary cleverly re-creates the heat and spice of gin and absinthe with white pepper, fresh fennel, and fennel seed in this bubbly watermelon refresher. This drink can be easily spiked with vodka, gin, or blanco tequila, he writes, and scaled up as a pitcher drink with or without spirits.

Watermelon Fennel Collins
  • 4 ounces (1/2 cup) sparkling water, divided
  • 3 ounces fresh watermelon juice
  • 1 ounce White Pepper Fennel Syrup (recipe follows)
  • Lime wedge for garnish
  • Fill a water glass with ice and pour in 2 ounces of the sparkling water. Add the watermelon juice and White Pepper Fennel Syrup, then add the remaining 2 ounces sparkling water. Give a stir to combine. Garnish with a lime wedge, and serve with a straw. Makes 1 drink.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per drink: 74 calories (percent of calories from fat, 2), trace protein, 18 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 8 milligrams sodium.
White Pepper Fennel Syrup (John deBary)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 8 ounces (1 cup) filtered water
  • 2 cups chopped fresh fennel bulb
  • 2 tablespoons whole white peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • In a blender, combine all the ingredients and blend on high speed for 2 minutes, until the sugar has dissolved. Strain the syrup through a gold coffee filter into an airtight container, discarding the solids. (If you do not have a gold coffee filter, use a disposable paper coffee filter.) Store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 6 months. Makes about 2 cups.

Nutritional information

Per serving: Per 1-ounce serving: 52 calories (percent of calories from fat, 1), trace protein, 13 grams carbohydrates, trace fiber, trace total fat (no saturated fat), no cholesterol, 3 milligrams sodium.

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