San Antonio culinary pros offer tips for putting some zip into non-alcoholic home cocktails

click to enlarge Pharm Table’s Garden Street Collins is one of the new cocktails appearing on its non-alcoholic menu. - JESSICA GIESEY

  • Jessica Giesey
  • Pharm Table’s Garden Street Collins is one of the new cocktails appearing on its non-alcoholic menu.

The point of Dry January may be to abstain from booze for the month, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have fun with what you drink. Just ask the pros behind the bar.

Searches for low- and zero-proof drink recipes spike each January, as more folks let wellness and moderation drive their drink choices — whether a resolution or just a new-year reset.

Since bartenders, chefs and other industry pros have been adapting to this growing trend, we asked three for insight into how to elevate your spirit-free at-home consumption.

Stay Seasonal

At the dawn of each new year, Vianney Rodriguez — founder of award-winning blog Sweet Life and author of multiple South Texas-focused cookbooks — relies heavily on citrus flavors to create balanced zero-proof drinks.

The key here is the seasonality of Texas citrus. Since Texas ruby red grapefruit is juiciest and sweetest around the Christmas holiday, she considers it a first-string player in winter drink menus.

“I think everyone is trying to rest, reenergize and refocus right now,” she said. “I always go into the new year with extra doses of fresh citrus, since colder temps bring on flu season and wintertime blues. I not only want to refocus my energy, I want to boost my immune system too.”

Any ingredients home bartenders can use to punch up the citrus flavor in wintertime drinks — alcoholic or otherwise — are likely to bring resounding success, Rodriguez added. Mint, basil, pomegranate, beet and allspice all complement a splash of citrus.

Discover distilled products

Alex Lewis, bar manager for Evolution Restaurant, says the inspiration behind her zero-proof menu — that’s right, there’s a whole booze-free menu at the eatery’s sexy hidden speakeasy — is to offer thoughtful options to folks who know their way around classic cocktails.

“For people that are well versed in the classics, a run-of-the-mill mocktail may not satisfy that craving, that burn a good bourbon or gin will bring to the table,” she said. “With a lot of the new zero-proof liquors on the market, someone can still get the taste and sensation of a [gin-forward] Collins cocktail without actually consuming any alcohol.”

Yes, distilled, non-alcoholic spirits are a thing. (See the accompanying story for more on that.) And they’re readily available at area grocery stores — if you know where to look. Specialty stores carry a variety of non-alcoholic brands including Dhōs, Lyre’s and Seedlip that produce tasty alternatives to gin, tequila and bourbon.

Finding the right ones for your personal palate can give mixed drinks the aroma and botanical properties expected from booze, but without the alcoholic intake.

Think wellness

Pharm Table, a local eatery with a foundation in anti-inflammatory ingredients and Ayurvedic properties, will bring that touch to a craft cocktail program when its new Southtown location opens in coming months. Chef Elizabeth Johnson’s approach to the Ayurvedic diet emphasizes nourishment and eating for one’s particular body type — ideals the bar program has embraced.

“I think people are really looking to gain knowledge of non-alcoholic ingredients that are interesting and compelling,” said Houston Eaves, who consulted on Pharm Table’s new bar program.

Eaves, known for the innovative beverage work at the Esquire Tavern and Downstairs, is focusing on high-quality spirits and fresh, herbaceous ingredients — something amateur bartenders can experiment with at home. Also figuring in are Johnson’s own tea blends and wellness shots, which Eaves says offer depth of flavor and complexity that can be refreshing alternatives to an alcoholic cocktail on their own.

Leave Shirley Temples to the kids

All three pros agree that zero-proof cocktails should steer clear of the boring, cloyingly sweet territory of old standby mocktails such as the Shirley Temple. It’s possible — and getting easier by the day — to imbibe in well-balanced and complex zero-proof drinks at home.

If you amp up the complexity of your homemade tipple, but it’s still not hitting the spot, Sweet Life blogger Rodriguez suggests remembering that we experience drinks with our eyes first.

“Put that sucker in a flute, add an intricate garnish,” she said. “Put as much care into your alcohol-free drinks as you would if they had booze in them, because they — and you — deserve it.”

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