Hi, Friends of Cocktail and welcome to 2023. A new year is always a chance to try and to learn new things and Dry January has been a growing trend for the last couple of years - so has the popularity of non-alcoholic spirits and cocktails, but they can be hard to find and quite expensive. So I thought it would be fun to have a look at how you can make homemade ingredients to create the best mocktails for anyone that wants to or has to avoid alcohol, starting with Alcohol Free Aromatic and Orange Bitters.
Whatever the reason might be for you, or somebody in your life to opt for non-alcoholic drinks, there’s still a rich world of mixology to explore and there’s no better way to dive into that with the book “Zero: A New Approach to Non-Alcoholic Drinks”. Written by the culinary team of Chicago’s Alinea, a three-Michelin-star restaurant, the book offers countless insights into beverage design, with a unique perspective on creating non-alcoholic substitutes for your cocktails.
Just like the other famous book from the same authors, the Aviary Cocktail Book, it’s not the easiest book to find - and it’s certainly not the cheapest cocktail book either - but if you enjoy exploring new flavors, creating ingredients yourself and are looking into the world of zero-proof mixology, this is your Bible. You’ll get over 250 pages and nearly 100 unique recipes, but how do we make Non-alcoholic Bitters if alcohol is what extracts the most potent botanical flavors from fruits, nuts, vegetables and roots?
As anyone who enjoys tea knows, water can do a pretty good job also, but there’s something better: glycerine, also known as glycerol. It’s a clear, colorless and odorless liquid with a sweet taste and a consistency of thick syrup and it has a ton of uses in the food and other industries. We’ll use it because it’s a great solvent for extractions without the use of alcohol, which we’ll do by two methods today: sous vide and stovetop.
We’ve of course used sous vide before for the Allspice Bitters, and we’ve also made Orange Bitters the old fashioned way by leaving a mason jar on the countertop for a few weeks , but this journey will be a learning experience for me as well since I’m not as proficient in the zero-proof world as I’d like to be. So let’s start the journey together. It’s… mocktail time?
Non-alcoholic Aromatic Bitters
● 15g cloves
● 20g ceylon cinnamon
● 5,5g star anise
● 7g dried orange peel
● 3g nutmeg
● 6g green cardamom pods
● 4g ground ginger
● 4g allspice berries
● 1,5g black pepper
● 1,2 g vanilla bean
● 4g tonka bean
● 10g cinchona bark
● 10g gentian root
● 500mL water
● 50g glycerol (or 20g of caramelized sugar)
● 7 drops caramel food coloring per 100mL of bitters
Start by crushing the cinnamon, star anise, nutmeg, green cardamom pods, allspice berries, black pepper and tonka bean in a mortar and pestle, then transfer them to a sous vide bag. Follow that with the rest of the ingredients. Carefully vacuum seal the bag - as always go for the double seal - then place it in the sous vide bath set to 90 °C, or 195°F, for 1 hour. You’ll find most of the ingredients in a well-stocked supermarket, but you’ll probably have to turn to amazon for some, but this process will give us flavorful bitters, although the lack of alcohol also means a shorter shelf life.
If you can’t find glycerol easily you can use sugar instead, you just need to caramelize it like I did when making homemade Coca-Cola. Also remember to toast all the botanicals for 10 seconds before adding the water and simmering for 1 hour, but you’ll get better results with the sous vide and glycerol. After 1 hour on the sous vide, take the bag out and let it chill to room temperature before opening and straining the contents with a cloth filter - you can speed this up by placing it in an ice bath.
Once it's mostly filtered, I like to put the filter and everything on it into a potato ricer, to squeeze out all of the flavors from the solids and then straining again through a coffee filter to catch the smaller sediments, but the bitters still won’t turn out completely clear. At this point I’ll add some caramel coloring to make the bitters closer to what Angostura Aromatic Bitters look like - 7 drops per 100 ml of bitters. This doesn’t add any taste, it’s purely for presentation.
Bottle and store in the fridge for up to a week or two, then it will lose the intensity of the flavors. Glycerine is a natural preservative, but we didn’t add enough for it to work that way. A great hack is to split the bitters in small batches and place them in the freezer, that way they’ll be good for several months. We can now move onto the second method for making bitters today: using a saucepan.
Non-alcoholic Orange Bitters
● 15g coriander
● 40g sweet orange peels
● 4g star anise
● 2g cloves
● 5g cardamom
● 1.5g caraway
● 4 g cinchona bark
● 25g gentian root
● 500mL water
● 50g glycerol (or 30g honey)
Start with the mortar and pestle and crush the star anise and cardamom pods before adding them to the saucepan. Follow with everything else and in place of glycerine you can use 30g of honey. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring to mix everything nicely, then cover the pot and reduce the heat to maintain a slow simmer for 1 hour. So the same time frame as with the sous vide, but much harder to control the right temperature throughout the process.
If you’ll use a sous vide follow the same procedure as with Aromatic bitters, but for this case remove the pot from the heat and leave to cool completely. Then it’s the same process as before - strain, press, and strain again. For clearer looking bitters you can try adding Pectinex, but it won’t completely clarify them. As you’ll often hear with these homemade ingredients, store in the fridge and use as soon as possible or split up and place in the freezer.
So, now we need a zero-proof Bourbon and we can make an Old Fashioned mocktail, right? That’s actually what we’ll do for the next time we’re doing a non-alcoholic episode. Today we’ll use these bitters to make two easy-to-build drinks: soda & orange bitters in one glass and a tonic & bitters in the other, basically making an aromatic tonic. Just like typical bitters these are too potent to enjoy on their own, so mixing them into a light, subtle zero proof cocktail is the perfect way to see how well we pulled this off.
Non-alcoholic Soda & Bitters
● 200mL (∼7oz) soda water
● 7,5mL (0.25oz) honey syrup
● 6 dashes Non-alcoholic Orange Bitters
● 2 drops saline solution
Add the ingredients to a chilled tall glass with an ice spear, lift everything with a barspoon to gently mix the ingredients and garnish with a lemon wedge - that way you can add more acidity later, if you want. Soda and bitters is one of my favorite ways to make a simple and refreshing drink by adding a little complexity. Here you get fresh citrus notes of lemon and orange transition nicely into the balanced mix of the bitters and sugar. If you want it with more acidity just squeeze the lemon wedge and give it a little stir. All in all, a subtle sipper, but you still get wonderful botanicals from the bitters.
As for our own aromatic tonic, you could make it completely homemade by making your own tonic syrup, but I’ll go with a bottle of Fever Tree tonic.
Non-alcoholic Soda & Bitters
● 200mL (∼7oz) Fever Tree Tonic
● 6 dashes Non-alcoholic Aromatic Bitters
● 2 drops saline solution
Prepare in the same way as the Non-alcoholic Soda & Bitters, but for this one I’m adding a lime wedge. Beautiful. On this cocktail you get aromatic spices with lime freshness on the nose. Interestingly our homemade Zero ABV Aromatic Bitters give the tonic a subtle cola undertone, pairing it nicely with the bitterness of the tonic. It definitely enriches the experience, and you go further by adding a splash of fresh lime juice from the garnish. Both bitters are standing up to the task, and both try to overcome the lack of heat that comes from the alcohol with a sharper bitterness that stays on the aftertaste. For a 0% ABV alternative these work great.
Dry January, sober October, being on the wagon, pregnancy, religion, health reasons, being underage or just a personal decision - whatever your reason may be for looking into mocktails - here’s to you. Also stay tuned as this month we'll make zero-proof spirits, liqueurs, amari and of course mocktails to kick off 2023 with a bang. Cheers!
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