Raise a Glass to Summer Mocktails
Who says you need alcohol to enjoy a summer evening? We’ve got 5 tips and 16 mocktail recipes to help you celebrate without the buzz.
Photo by Brittany Conerly
I had my first mocktail in the summer of 2006, when I met a friend for drinks at a trendy bar. I was pregnant so I couldn’t drink alcohol, but I hadn’t gone public yet. My plan: Order a cranberry-and-club-soda, hold the vodka. With a twist of lime, it would look just like the real thing. Imagine how relieved I felt when the bartender handed me an entire menu of sophisticated, non-alcoholic drinks. That menu made it not only acceptable to skip the hard stuff, it also signaled encouragement. It gave not-drinking a sheen of cool.
In the fourteen years since, the “mocktails” trend has gone mainstream — so much so that food-world superstars The Alinea Group has just published a fancy-pants cookbook they call Zero.
These days people drink mocktails for a host of reasons. They may be pregnant, like I was, or looking to save the calories that come with booze. Some abstain for religious reasons, and some have embraced elective sobriety. Others just don’t like the way alcohol makes them feel.
Luckily, you don’t need to buy an expensive cookbook to enjoy a refreshing summer mocktail recipe. You don’t even have to go out (who wants to, anyway, with Covid numbers surging). As long as you embrace a few simple concepts, you can make alcohol-free cocktails every bit as inviting as their boozy brethren.
Go for big flavors. Cranberry and soda makes a perfectly respectable beverage, but it’s not really a mocktail. You’re aiming for a certain amount of WOW here, enough to make people forget the lack of alcohol. Picture yourself poolside in an upscale resort, and mix up something you’d want to drink there.
Shop the farmer’s market. To get those big flavors you want perfectly ripe produce — fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Hit your nearest farmer’s market and look for the juiciest, most appealing examples you can find.
Make it pretty. Remember that old saying, we eat first with our eyes? Use real-deal cocktail glasses, and add special flourishes like citrus garnishes and sugared rims.
Get playful. Infuse a simple sugar syrup with herbs. Grill fruit for a hint of smoky char. Use unexpected ingredients, like beets or jalapeños.
Add fizz. Mix juices and syrups with something carbonated, like club soda, ginger ale, or lemon-lime soda. It feels festive and also gives your mocktail a sparkly boost.
Now that you understand how it’s done, try out some recipes.
Jump ahead to:
Easy starter mocktails
If you’re dipping your toe into the alcohol-free pool, these simple yet tasty drinks are just the thing. Each one calls for only a few ingredients and uses very basic techniques.
Ginger and lime hint at tropical getaways, bright sunshine, and relaxation. Just four ingredients — lime juice, fresh ginger, stevia, and fizzy water — make a perfectly refreshing (and perfectly Paleo) drink for an early summer evening.
Adding vanilla to an otherwise, well, vanilla drink makes this something special. The tart muddled (aka mashed) blackberries and lemon juice meet sweet honey and an unexpected splash of vanilla extract, with bubbly sparkling water poured on top. Just look at the gorgeous color!
Starting with flavored sparkling water gives this one a handy shortcut — muddled berries plus fresh orange juice do the rest. The recipe calls for pineapple-flavored water, but I’d love this made with passionfruit, grapefruit, or mango sparkling water, too. Be sure to check out the instructions for fruity ice cubes, which can add a pretty touch to any mocktail you make.
Alcohol-free versions of classic cocktails
You might think alcohol is a requirement for your favorite mixed drinks, but think again. With some smart adaptations, you can make virgin versions that only taste boozy.
My in-laws are big Manhattan fans. It’s a simple enough cocktail, just whiskey, sweet vermouth, and a few dashes of bitters — but it’s basically all alcohol. This version combines cranberry, orange, cherry, and lemon juices in precise proportions to approximate the flavor, with bitters bringing the whole thing home. (Yes, bitters are alcohol-based, but this recipe calls for just two dashes. No more than you’d get using vanilla extract in a recipe.)
To many, G&Ts are the quintessential summer drink. I see sailboats and deck shoes. But a gin and tonic is literally just gin and tonic water with a lime garnish, so I was shocked to see a virgin option is even a possibility. This clever recipe infuses nonalcoholic wine with juniper berries, coriander seeds, anise seeds, and lemon peel to recreate gin’s distinctive herbal notes, then mixes it with tonic water as usual.
In my single days I spent many a summer afternoon on somebody’s patio, drinking margaritas. These days just one tequila-based cocktail would likely make me woozy, so I’m glad there’s a zero-proof version. Instead of tequila and orange liqueur, it uses tart citrus juices and tonic water, with a splash of briny pickle juice for a what-is-that surprise.
Try something new
Ready to branch out? These clever mocktails all get their punch from an ingredient or technique that leans towards the unexpected.
This tangy-sweet drink acquires its rosy hue from a homemade honey hibiscus syrup (which only takes 20 minutes). Ginger kombucha’s fermented funk adds a nearly alcoholic element to the mixture — yes, that’s a good thing. You won’t risk getting drunk, but you’ll still feel a hint of a buzz.
Another intriguing syrup, this time infused with tart rhubarb, combines with fresh-squeezed grapefruit and orange juices, mint, and sparkling water. The result is decidedly sophisticated, especially with edible flowers as a garnish.
I’m not sure you can call them “surprises” since the grilled pineapple and the jalapeño are right there in the name. But the mocktail they create is downright startling in its sweet, smoky, and spicy way. This would be the perfect thing to serve with tacos, or even chips and salsa.
Why not: vegetable mocktails
Yes, yes, tomato juice and Bloody Marys are already a thing. But these mocktails will send you digging deeper into your vegetable crisper, with beguiling results.
Celery makes an appearance as a garnish in a Bloody Mary, but it doesn’t add any flavor. Here, celery, melon, apple, and ginger go through a juicer to create a gorgeous pale green elixir. Sparkling water and a pinch of salt take it into summer mocktail territory. This one’s inspired by a fancy spa resort, which pretty much guarantees it’s chic and invigorating.
Is that glass not stunningly beautiful? The coiled cucumber slice and sprig of dill make this look urbane enough for the most elegant crowd, but don’t think that’s the only way the cuke gets used. Fresh cucumber juice figures into the drink itself, as well as citrus juices, a hint of sweetness from agave, and bubbly club soda.
I love beets. Seriously, I eat roasted beets as a snack. So I’m all over this clever mocktail, which features a simple syrup infused with sliced raw beets for an earthy sweetness, as well as mint and ginger. A little lemon juice and some sparkling water complete the glass. I can absolutely see myself sipping this as the sun goes down, with my feet propped up on a chaise longue.
Fresh herb mocktails
If you think vegetables add an intriguing element to a mocktail, wait until you try drinks that use fresh herbs for flavor.
The only way watermelon could be more thirst-quenching on a hot day? When you combine its sweet flavor with fresh mint leaves and zingy lime in this Yummly original recipe. (Think of a mojito, but without the rum headache.) Though the recipe makes 2 drinks, you’ll have enough leftover watermelon juice, watermelon simple syrup, and fresh watermelon to make 4 more drinks — and once you have those components, it takes 10 minutes tops to create a batch.
To give this beverage its fragrant basil infusion, you simply muddle some leaves at the bottom of the glass before adding lime and black cherry juice plus sparkling water. The whole recipe takes just minutes, making it the perfect way to kick back after a long, hot day.
I don’t know about you, but I feel cool and refreshed just looking at this glass. I love how easy it is to make, too: Add a few sprigs of rosemary to your simple syrup mixture and let that subtle piney flavor steep in. All that’s left to do is stir some syrup into fresh pink grapefruit juice and top it off with sparkling water.
Mint and blackberries, perfect together. The first step here is to make blackberry syrup, which is nothing more than blackberries cooked down with sugar and lemon juice, then strained to remove all those seeds. To make the mocktail, you muddle a few leaves of fresh mint in the bottom of the glass, then add blackberry syrup and club soda. (Note that the recipe gives you options for both a sparkling wine cocktail and a club soda mocktail.)