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The Modern Mocktail

by Lia Picard

Nonalcoholic cocktails, flavored with "shrubs," are making a delicious comeback

Just in time for spring, non-alcoholic cocktails are here to offer a refreshing way to lighten up. Typically treated as syrupy concoctions — think Shirley Temples and virgin daiquiris — the “mocktail” is finally getting the respect it deserves.Nic Vaughn works with 18.21 Bitters, an Atlanta-based company that creates small-batch cocktail additives, and he is a cocktail aficionado. According to Vaughn, the growth of the mocktail movement is a response to the high-proof, cask-strength cocktail trend, coupled with a renewed interest in people caring about what they put in their bodies. “We know America is a very processed-food type of country, and we’re starting to look at other cultures and see that you can take natural things, combine them together and make something cool that doesn’t have an alcohol base,” he says.

The best way to create a killer nonalcoholic beverage is with zesty drinking vinegars known as shrubs. With a history dating back over 400 years, shrubs were a result of smugglers leaving fruit and vinegar in casks as they crossed the ocean, causing the fruit to breakdown and create the drinking vinegar mixture. Eventually shrubs worked their way into European drinking culture as an ingredient in punch, before they fell out of fashion.

But what’s old is new again, and shrubs are cropping up on bar menus around the country. The beauty of shrubs, besides their tangy flavor profiles, is their simplicity. “Our shrubs are a split base between real cane sugar (we don’t use anything artificial), real vinegar and real fruit,” says Vaughn. The 18.21 shrubs (1821bitters.com) come in unusual varieties like blackberry peppercorn and white jasmine grapefruit, encouraging home mixologists to have fun with their drinks, nonalcoholic or otherwise. These shrubs are also potent, so a little goes a long way, which is perfect for portion control.

Ready to make zero proof cocktails for your springtime soirees? Vaughn shares three recipes for tipples that are so fresh and palate-pleasing, you won’t even miss the spirits.

Watermelon Mint "Mojito"

“The watermelon mint is our ‘gateway shrub,’ which is what I tell people who are unsure of how to incorporate it. It’s our most subtle and probably most versatile,” Vaughn says.

1 ounce watermelon mint shrub
1 ounce organic passion fruit puree
½ ounce lime juice
2 ounces coconut
watermint sprig and dehydrated lime wheel

Combine shrub, puree and lime juice in a highball with ice. Top with coconut water and garnish with mint sprig and dehydrated lime wheel.

Blood Orange & Ginger "Negroni"

“With this drink I wanted to bring a sparkling aspect,” says Vaughn. “I love red fruits with this shrub because they play off the tanginess of the ginger spice notes. I also wanted to make it like a Negroni minus the alcohol, so I served it over a big ice cube.” The dehydrated orange slice is snackable and adds a vibrant pop to the mocktail.

1 ½ ounces pomegranate juice
¾ ounce blood orange and ginger shrub
½ ounce lemon juice
2 ounces sparkling water
dehydrated orange slice

Shake pomegranate juice, shrub and lemon juice. Strain over a large ice cube in a rocks glass and top with sparkling water. Garnish with dehydrated orange slice.

Apple Cardamom "Daiquiri"

“I love how apple plays with ginger,” he says. The apple cardamom shrub is made with gala apple which is a little autumnal, but Vaughn brightens up the drink with kiwi, adding a tropical twist. “You can take our shrubs and blend them into smoothies, which is how this drink is,” he says.

1 ounce apple cardamom shrub
1 whole organic kiwi peeled and diced
½ ounce lime juice
2 ounces 18.21 ginger beer (or other nonalcoholic ginger beer of choice)
crystallized ginger and kiwi slice

Combine shrub, kiwi and lime juice in blender until smooth. Pour over crushed ice in a tall glass and top with ginger beer. Garnish with crystallized ginger and kiwi slice.

Mocktail photos by Lia Picard

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