Drinks From Around the World

Alcohol is a big part of entertaining -- not just in the US, but around the world, too. And where there are drinkers, there are non-drinkers looking for interesting twists on traditional soft drinks. There are ways to spice up sophisticated mocktails to give them worldly flair -- it’s just about finding the right flavors, texture and weight that mimics that of the alcohol each cocktail calls for. I picked out a few drinks from around the world beyond the margarita and mojito that can be just as exciting when they’re transformed into alcohol-free libations with the right substitutions.

Spain: Sangria

Spain’s known for Sangria. Sangria is a red wine punch with big chunks of fruit soaked in brandy with a bit of sugar to create a sweet and heavy, yet refreshing libation. It’s believed that sangria is rooted from Greeks and Romans who combined as a way to consume bacteria-free fluids -- the alcohol from the wine kills bacteria and the sugar and spice made it pleasant to drink. But it’s cocktail that has survived centuries for its flavors rather than its practical benefits.

There are actually non-alcoholic wines on the market that can be used in place of regular wine. For sangria -- while there is such thing as white sangria, traditional sangria is made with red wine, so you might want to try something like Ariel Cabernet Sauvignon Non-alcoholic Red Wine, but a sparkling concord grape juice can work, too, to give it that sweet, fruity flavor. The trick to making this taste authentic is adding the weight of the brandy and giving it a slightly tannic bitterness of the wine. Both can be achieved with a heavy berry herbal tea like black cherry, blackberry or blueberry teas. Brewed, cooled and iced, the tea mixed with the grape juice and cut up fruit can give you the same flavors and mouthfeel reminiscent of punches used to cool down hot Spanish nights.

Mexico: Paloma

When we think of Mexican cocktails, we typically think of margaritas -- but there are so many more out there! Take the paloma for example. The paloma is a tequila-based cocktail made with lime or lemon juice, grapefruit juice and club soda with a lime garnish. Its origins are hard to trace, but “paloma” is spanish for “dove” but there isn’t a lot of information out there that connects cocktails to doves. Some believe it was named for a Spanish folk song of the same name, but it’s not clear why. What is clear is that there is heavy grapefruit production around the Rio Grande, which may be why it was created. It also gets hot along the border and grapefruit can certainly cool you down under the Mexican sun.

Re-creating a non-alcoholic paloma is simple. Rather than tequila and soda water, you can use tonic. The quinine in the tonic adds a slightly bitter taste to give the virgin paloma a bite to imitate the tequila, only it’s less fierce. The grapefruit and lime brightens the tonic to make it a rival to the classic margarita.

Great Britain: Pimm’s Cup

Pimm’s cup is a refreshing summer cocktail that is associated with Wimbledon the way the mint julep is used to celebrate the Kentucky Derby. Pimm’s cup was created at a London oyster bar in the mid-1850s as a digestive but it later became the go-to summer cocktail for garden parties as well as polo matches. Pimm’s cup is made up of Pimm’s No. 1 poured over fresh cucumbers, a strawberry, fresh mint leaves, and an orange slice, and topped with ginger ale or club soda.

Because it was developed to be served alongside oysters, a non-alcoholic Pimm’s cup has to be fairly light and slightly sweet to complement the earthy flavor of oysters. The base for Pimm’s cup is Pimm’s No. 1 which is a spiced gin-based liqueur, so that’s what you want to focus on when you’re creating a virgin Pimm’s cup.  To emulate Pimm’s No. 1, you can add bitter orange peels to non-alcoholic gin like GinSin or combine the GinSin with San Pellegrino’s Red Sanbitter which has the bitter flavor of Campari and a little fizz to add to the ginger ale bubbles.

France: Kir Royale

Nothing says fancy and French quite like the Kir Royale. The Kir Royale is made with champagne and creme de cassis which is a black currant liqueur. It was created by Felix Kir, a World War II French Resistance hero who was also a parish priest in the town of Dijon. He entertained with the drink made from local white wine and the blackcurrant cordial which was named the Kir -- the big brother to the bubbly Kir Royale. Both are easily replicated, but replicating the bubbly component of the champagne makes virgin cocktails more lively.

The bubbles from the champagne is easy to match -- you can use ginger ale, or club soda if you want a less sweet cocktail. The more difficult component is the creme de cassis -- but it’s not that hard. You can substitute the liqueur with blackcurrant syrup or jam, but if blackcurrants are not available, blueberry syrup or a blueberry reduction (strained to remove the fruit for a translucent mocktail) are a close match. This gives the virgin Kir Royale a reddish-purple tint making it an elegant sparkling mocktail.

Italy: Negroni

The classic negroni is an Italian cocktail made up of all alcohol-based components -- gin, sweet vermouth and Campari. The negroni is derived from the classic Americano cocktail made famous by James Bond which was developed as an aperitif using just the bitter Campari which is tempered by the sweet vermouth and made less intense by club soda. Legend has it that Count Camillo Negroni liked the Americano but wanted a stronger version -- being a fan of gin, he asked a bartender-friend to make a fusion by replacing the soda with gin.

The non-alcoholic gins are good for cocktails like the negroni, but the piney flavor can be duplicated by making a shrub or simple syrup with juniper berries. For a less labor-intensive ingredient, DRY Sparkling Soda makes a juniper berry soda that is less sweet than syrup which you can let go flat to match a still gin.  The sweet vermouth can be replaced by non-alcoholic cider, apple or white grape juice which matches the weight that vermouth adds to the cocktail. As a substitute for Campari, the red Sanbitter can be used, but since it’s a still mocktail, you have to let it go flat as you would with the DRY Sparkling Soda. But if we’re being honest here, the extra bubbles add effervescence that may liven up the cocktail.

Japan: Umeshu Tonic

Umeshu is a Japanese “plum wine”. While it is called “plum wine” the fruit used in this drink closer resembles apricot but is either called Chinese plum or Japanese apricot. It originated in China, but it’s been cultivated in Japan for at least 2,000 years where apricot nectar is a traditional drink. Umeshu, however is not quite wine-like or juice-like, rather it is more of an alcoholic syrup, making the Umeshu tonic a sweet, fizzy libation.

Making the umeshu tonic is fairly simple. Choya, a brand that produces umeshu also makes a non-alcoholic umeshu that can be poured over ice and topped with tonic. The challenging part may be finding it, but apricot simple syrup is a good substitute.

While alcohol gives drinks a kick, people with allergies and intolerances don’t have to miss out on flavorful fun with a cultural flare. You just have to put in a little extra effort to mix and match ingredients to build flavor profiles that sparkle without booze.

Marnie ClarkComment