Get juiced

Let flavor, color and texture shine in fresh vegetable- and fruit-based mocktails

Chicago TribuneAugust 21, 2011 

  • Here are five pointers to remember:

    Buy the best ingredients you can afford, including juices, sodas, coffees, teas and various garnitures.

    When looking for fruit or vegetables to mix into drinks, go for produce that's "a little past prime," said mixologist Bridget Albert, author of "Market-Fresh Mixology." It will be easier to mash up and will have more natural sugars. Many sellers at farmers markets will slash prices drastically to get rid of over-ripe items.

    Balanced flavors, color and texture are all super-important in making booze-free drinks because in removing the alcohol you are, in Albert's words, "taking out the fire completely." Consider what you can do to put some spark back in.

    Keep it simple, if you want to. A nondrinking friend sips a 50-50 blend of ginger ale and club soda. A snap to make and it doesn't taste as sugary as straight ginger ale, she says. Look for unusual flavors at your local supermarket or the nearest ethnic market.

    Looks count. Create clever garnishes. One of Albert's simple tricks: Put a freshly shelled pea in each compartment of an ice cube tray, fill with water and freeze to make pretty cubes.

Eating fruits and vegetables is good-for-you nutritious. But did you know drinking them can be fun and delicious? To judge by restaurant menus, more and more people are imbibing fruit- or veggie-based nonalcoholic drinks, whether they're dining out or eating in.

Welcome to the expanding age of mocktails, where what's in the glass will set your head spinning with intricate layerings of flavor, pretty colors and inventive presentations. It's about freshness, quality, seasonality and creativity. But not alcohol.

"More people, either out of conviction or whatever, are choosing not to drink," said Tona Palomino, former bar manager for Wylie Dufresne's WD-50 restaurant in New York. "Bars are receptive to accommodating the requests. Chances are you're not going to get a cranberry and soda."

It's a spillover from the ongoing cocktail revolution across the country. And bartenders are dipping into their house-made syrups, bitters and other flavorings to answer the call.

"The idea has always been there's a magic elixir to make you feel better, whether it was made from sassafras or bathtub gin. That there's something that can make you feel better and do it without a hangover, all the better," said Clark Wolf, a food and drink trend spotter. "More people are saying: The alcohol is not working for me anymore. But they want great meals and great experiences at the table, and they see no reason to be denied."

Choice is key too.

Go into any supermarket, and the drinks aisle is stocked with bottles containing various blends of juices and tea, said Deborah Blum, co-owner of Starbelly, a San Francisco restaurant with a roster of nonalcoholic drinks.

"Restaurants are realizing people want alternatives and that they can be creative," she said.

Expect to see more seasonal nonalcoholic choices as well, Blum predicts. Right now, most are fruit-based, but she hopes to see more vegetable-based options.

Wolf also looks for more vegetable drinks, noting most of our popular soft drinks historically derived from roots, leaves or twigs - albeit with some amount of sugar involved. He also thinks the increasing patronage of farmers markets and a growing awareness of what fresh really tastes like will play a role.

"Americans like to play with their food," he says. "And if it comes in a tall, frosty glass that's OK."

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