IN THE LIMELIGHT
Non-alcoholic cocktail components are every bit as important to high-quality cocktails as the spirits and liqueurs you use. Here’s a breakdown of our favorite home-bar essentials.
Citrus fruit is critical to cocktail making. The juice is one of the most common non-alcoholic mixers, and the peel is frequently used for garnishing. Our single most important piece of advice regarding citrus is to always use fresh fruit—never juice from a bottle or carton.
It’s easy enough to squeeze citrus for one or two cocktails, but what if you’re making big-batch cocktails? Do they suffer in quality if you squeeze ahead of time? The short answer is no. Lemon and lime juices can be squeezed a few hours ahead with no problem; in fact, some tasters felt they even improved in flavor.
We do recommend squeezing oranges right before you plan to use them since they contain a compound that turns bitter when exposed to air. Generally, one large lemon yields about 2½ ounces juice; one large lime yields about 1½ ounces juice; and one large orange yields about 3 ounces juice.
SIMPLE AND FLAVORED SYRUPS
Simple Syrup refers to a 1-to-1 mixture of sugar and water. It is an essential ingredient in cocktails. Any other type of sugar syrup can be referred to as a flavored syrup, and your options are many. We developed versatile recipes for flavored syrups using fresh herbs and citrus fruits, as well as a Spiced Syrup using cinnamon, cloves, and allspice. We also created a tongue-tingling Ginger Syrup that can be used in combination with seltzer for a customizable ginger beer.
Grenadine is a flavored syrup made using pomegranate juice, though many commercial brands use artificial flavor.
Orgeat is a syrup traditionally made from almonds and frequently flavored with orange blossom water. It is indispensable to tiki cocktails, including the Mai Tai and Scorpion Cup. Store-bought versions can be tooth-achingly sweet and taste overwhelmingly of artificial almond extract.
Shrub syrups are sweetened fruit-and-vinegar syrups that are frequently used in cocktails. They also make great non-alcoholic cocktails when mixed with seltzer.
Seltzer is simply carbonated water, with no added ingredients. It’s indispensable in cocktail making, particularly for highball-style cocktails that are built right in the glass, including our Favorite Gin and Tonic and the Americano. It also is frequently used in non-alcoholic cocktails.
Club soda is slightly different in that it has added minerals, which do affect its flavor. But it can be used as a substitute for seltzer. Likewise, sparkling mineral water may be used for cocktails, but it is often less carbonated than seltzer, and since it commands a higher price as well, it’s really not worth it.
Tonic water is essential for our Favorite Gin and Tonic. Commercial brands vary quite a bit in their levels of sweetness, bitterness, and quality.
THE BITTER END
One ingredient that makes a huge impact in tiny amounts is cocktail bitters. But what are bitters, exactly? Behind the modern cocktail bar, bitters can be found in two main forms: potable bitters and nonpotable bitters. Potable bitters are liqueurs intended for sipping, usually as a digestif. This broad category includes Campari, Italian Amari, and herb-based liqueurs like Jägermeister. What most people think of as cocktail bitters is the type called nonpotable bitters. These are not meant for sipping; rather, these intensely concentrated elixirs are designed to be added to cocktails in minuscule amounts, to add nuanced yet complex flavors and aromas.
There are hundreds of types of cocktail bitters. Some have a particular ingredient as their predominant flavor profile, like orange, mint, or maple bitters, and others are blends of many flavors, like Angostura bitters, certainly the most famous and well used of cocktail bitters. Stock a few different types and your seasoning options will increase exponentially.