- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Drinking has become as much a part of the American holiday tradition as Santa Claus and shopping. But the year-end drink-till-you-drop model is definitely not for everyone.

Many people are abstaining from alcohol, either completely or occasionally. They can be recovering alcoholics, pregnant women, nursing mothers, people on medications, designated drivers, dieters and people who simply don’t like the feeling of being tipsy.

Given the numbers of teetotaling folks, nonalcoholic drinks are an absolute must if you’re hosting a holiday party. No big deal, you might think. Just throw a few bottles of mineral water and Diet Coke on the bar, right?

Well, here’s the point: Having water and soft drinks as the only nonalcoholic alternatives at an event lets everyone participate in an evening of holiday cheer except your friends who happen not to drink. While all the other guests are looking terribly glamorous with their cosmopolitans in hand, nondrinkers are making due with the kind of drinks they’d grab straight from the vending machine at work.

Nothing about the glass they’re holding feels festive or special, and the stuff inside is certainly nothing to cheer about. It’s just another day, and that’s just not fair.

That’s where mocktails come in. Mocktails aren’t simply cocktails without alcohol (although yes, that would be the textbook definition). Mocktails are sipping drinks, pretty drinks, drinks with garnishes, the kind of drinks you want to savor slowly, enjoying every oh-so-interesting mouthful. And they’re crossing the threshold into a full-blown trend.

During New York’s recent fashion week, a special mocktail created by mixologist Dale de Groff was served in the exclusive Evian Oasis. Bartender Tony Abou-Ganim was recently asked to come up with a special mocktail for Paris Hilton’s birthday party.

What differentiates mocktails from soft drinks is that they have the push and pull of any well-made cocktail: that bitterness, sourness or tartness, then a little something sweet. They’re full-bodied and bold, with layers of well-balanced flavor.

They can make you feel giddy without a drop of the hard stuff. And best of all, they’re side-effect-free. No one has ever awakened after an evening of mocktails with a pounding headache and vague memory. Mocktails let you go to work Monday morning with your head held high.

The key to a great mocktail is the sour, bitter, tart, tannic or simply full-tasting element. It makes mocktails slightly off-putting in a way that’s all the more enticing.

Some flavors that work particularly well are ginger; tonic; lemon; bitters; cranberry juice; and my new favorite, pomegranate juice. As Fiona Posell, spokeswoman for Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice, says: “If you taste it in a mocktail, you know there’s something different in there. You’re not going to confuse it with something else. It has a full taste I wouldn’t describe as tart. Sweetness with an edge.”

Once you have your flavor picked out, look for inspiration in the traditional cocktail world: mai tais, margaritas, mint juleps, Bellinis, and gin and tonics all work wonderfully in nonalcoholic versions. Play around with a variety of ingredients until you get the combination you want, just as you would in concocting your own version of a traditional cocktail.

A simple syrup made by dissolving sugar or honey in warm water is often a useful addition. So are fruit juice or nectar; sparkling water; and, in most cases, a good handful of ice cubes.

Pay close attention to presentation. Choosing a festive, fun, interesting glass and garnish can be the key to making mocktails as exciting as their alcoholic counterparts.

One warning, though: Mocktails, especially when they’re created to look and taste like cocktails, can be controversial. Liz Scott, author of “The Sober Kitchen: Recipes and Advice for a Lifetime of Sobriety” (Harvard Common Press), warns against serving mocktails to people in the earliest stages of alcoholism recovery. During the first three months to a year, “anything that’s associated is a problem,” she says. “Someone who is in early recovery at the holiday time might find it a little precarious to be served a mocktail cosmopolitan.”

Miss Scott also says that for a recovering alcoholic, even trace amounts of alcohol can be a trigger, so it’s best to steer away from drinks that include ingredients such as bitters if you know one of your guests is struggling with addiction. Read the label if you’re unsure.

Go ahead and make the wildest mocktails you can imagine. To your nondrinking friends and maybe even some converts, it’ll be one of the most thoughtful holiday gifts you can give.

Ginger and tonic

2 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger

½ cup pineapple juice

Ice cubes

Tonic water

Crystallized ginger chunks for garnish

Combine ginger and pineapple juice; stir well. Let sit for a few minutes. Divide this mixture among four highball glasses, spooning some of the ginger pieces into each glass. Add ice, and fill glass with tonic. Stir well, and serve garnished with crystallized ginger chunks. Serves 4

Mock Bellini

Sugar for rim of glass

2 tablespoons chilled cranberry juice

2 tablespoons chilled peach nectar

½ teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Club soda

Wet rim of champagne flute; dip it into sugar. Let sit for a few minutes to dry. Pour chilled cranberry juice, peach nectar and lemon juice into champagne flute. Add club soda to fill. Serves 1.

Tropical breeze

This recipe is adapted from an original by Tony Abou-Ganim, created for Paris Hilton’s birthday.

Ice cubes

1/4 cup guava nectar

1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

3 tablespoons simple syrup (mix two parts sugar with one part hot water, then stir to dissolve and cool)

2 dashes Angostura bitters

Soda water

Wheels of fresh orange and lemon for garnish

Mint sprig for garnish

Into an ice-filled mixing glass, pour guava nectar, orange juice, lemon juice, simple syrup and Angostura bitters; shake until well-blended. Strain into an ice-filled 14-ounce goblet, spritz with soda water, and garnish with wheels of orange and lemon and a sprig of mint. Serves 1.

Pom julep

4 mint leaves plus a mint sprig for garnish

1 tablespoon honey syrup (mix two parts honey with one part hot water, then stir to dissolve and cool)

2 tablespoons 100 percent pomegranate juice

3 tablespoons grapefruit juice

Ice cubes

Grapefruit zest for garnish

Bruise 4 mint leaves with honey syrup in bar mixing glass. Add pomegranate juice, grapefruit juice and ice; shake. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass or over more ice. Garnish with grapefruit zest and fresh mint sprig. Serves 1.

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