Instinct may tell you that the best way to deal with a crisis is to down a large glass (or three) of wine, but the lack of sharpness and focus the morning after may have already suggested that this isn’t the best way forward.
Even if you’re normally a wine drinker, it does no harm to take a couple of days off and these days, that doesn’t have to mean falling back on overly sweet commercial drinks. Here are six simple alcohol-free drinks and cocktails you can rustle up from easy-to-find and store cupboard ingredients for the nights – and maybe days – when you’re taking a break from booze.
I often used to feel that it was a waste not to use the marvellous juice you get from poaching rhubarb, particularly the pretty pale pink forced rhubarb you get at the beginning of the season. Just add a little extra water and you have a delicious drink – and a healthy fruit compote for breakfast.
Makes about 450ml (16 fl oz) cordial plus 4 servings of poached rhubarb
- 450g (1lb) rhubarb, ideally the early season pink forced variety
- 100g (3 1/2 oz) caster sugar
- A slice of fresh ginger (or 1/4 tsp dried ginger if you can’t get fresh)
- A finely pared strip of lemon peel, preferably unwaxed
- Sugar syrup to sweeten (optional)
- Soda water or ginger ale to serve
- Trim the rhubarb stalks, cut into chunks then put in a medium to large saucepan. Tip over the sugar and add the fresh ginger and lemon peel.
- Pour over 250ml water and place over a low heat to come slowly up to simmering point. Cover and simmer for about 6-7 minutes until the fruit is almost soft but not broken up then set aside to infuse for about half an hour.
- Set a fine sieve over a bowl, tip the contents of the pan into the sieve and leave to strain for an hour or so. Taste the juice and add sugar syrup to sweeten if you like, but remember if you add a mixer that will sweeten the cordial slightly too.
- Transfer the poached rhubarb to a bowl with a couple of tablespoons of the juice, then pour the remaining juice through a funnel into a sterilised bottle or other airtight container and refrigerate for up to two weeks.
- To serve, pour the cordial halfway up a tumbler (with or without ice) and top up with a soda or (particularly good) ginger ale.
An alcohol-free version of one of my favourite cocktails, British steakhouse and cocktail bar Hawksmoor’s Marmalade Cocktail. You need more marmalade than you do with the gin-based version (not a bad thing). A couple of drops of orange oil or bitters really boosts the flavour too.
- 1 tbsp Seville orange (i.e. bitter) marmalade
- 50ml (2 fl oz) Seedlip Spice 94 (or other alcohol-free gin alternative)
- 50ml (2 fl oz) freshly squeezed orange juice
- 20ml (4 tsp) freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 15ml (1 tbsp) sugar syrup
- A couple of drops of orange oil or bitters (optional)
- Spoon the marmalade into a cocktail shaker, pour in the Seedlip Spice (or other alcohol-free gin alternative) and stir.
- Add the orange and lemon juices, the sugar syrup and a handful of ice, put the lid on the shaker and shake vigorously.
- Taste, adding a couple of drops of orange oil or bitters if you want to intensify the orange flavour.
- Strain into a martini glass and serve.
Variation: You can use the Breakfast Martini as a base for a great Bucks Fizz Champagne cocktail. Make as above divide between two champagne flutes and top up with chilled alcohol-free sparkling wine.
If you miss your Pimm’s in the summer months, I promise this is at least as good, if not better. Stick to strawberries – you won’t miss the other fruit. Note: you do need to brew the tea and macerate the strawberries in advance.
- 2 breakfast tea bags
- 250g (9 oz) strawberries
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 15ml (1 tbsp) balsamic vinegar
- 700ml (1 1/4 pints) clear lemonade (use one of the good quality brands made with real lemon)
- A couple of sprigs of mint to garnish
- Put the teabags into a jug and pour over 300ml (10 fl oz) cold water. Leave to infuse for a couple of hours.
- Meanwhile, hull the strawberries, removing any unripe white fruit around the stalk and slice thickly. Tip into a shallow dish and sprinkle with the sugar and balsamic vinegar. Turn over the fruit with a tablespoon and leave to macerate while the tea infuses.
- Fish the teabags out of the jug and add the strawberries with their juice and the lemonade, and stir. Add a good handful of ice cubes and garnish with sprigs of mint. Pour into tumblers.
A Virgin Mary is the most iconic of alcohol-free cocktails, though I prefer this slightly spicier version to the classic recipe. And if you’re short on veg at the moment, you’ll be pleased to learn that 150ml (5 fl oz) of tomato juice counts as one of your five a day!
- 150ml (5fl oz) tomato juice
- 5-10ml (1-2 tsp) lime juice
- 1/2-1 tsp chipotle hot sauce
- A couple of shakes of Worcestershire sauce (or a vegan equivalent if you’re vegetarian or vegan)
- A pinch of smoked salt or a shake of smoked water and a pinch of ordinary salt
- Pour the tomato juice and lime juice into a jug and season with the chipotle sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and smoked salt or smoked water.
- Give it a good stir, taste and adjust the seasoning then pour over a tumblerful of ice cubes.
Although I love a G&T, I’m convinced that many of the things that make it so appealing – the tonic, the ice, the garnish and the glass can be replicated in an alcohol-free drink. So much of a drink is about presentation.
My local tapas bar, Bar 44 (which is sadly closed, currently), has recognised that and serves a alcohol-free G&T which I often used to order when I was in there. It came in one of those huge goldfish-bowl sized glasses with loads of orange and lemon slices and a few juniper berries floating around in it, and made you feel like you were having a proper drink. Here’s my slightly tweaked version. (The N obviously stands for ‘not’.)
- 4-5 ice cubes
- A couple of slices each of orange and lemon
- 2-3 juniper berries
- 75ml juniper syrup (see below)
- Tonic to serve (I like Fevertree Naturally Light)
To make the NG&T:
- Fill a large glass with ice cubes, add the orange and lemon slices and juniper berries then pour in the juniper syrup.
- Top up with tonic water, stir and serve.
For the juniper syrup:
Makes 450ml/16 fl oz
- 400g (14 oz) granulated or caster sugar
- 15 juniper berries, lightly crushed
- Finely pared rind of one unwaxed lemon
- Finely pared rind of one unwaxed lime
- Put the sugar in a saucepan with 475ml water. Place over a low heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar has completely dissolved.
- Add the juniper berries and citrus peel, bring up to just below boiling point then simmer for 10 minutes.
- Set aside and leave to cool, then strain through a fine sieve and transfer to a sterilised bottle. Refrigerate any you’re not using for up to two weeks.
Tepache (pronounced teh-patchay) is a Mexican fermented pineapple drink that can be made from just the peel of the pineapple, but I think tastes better and more fruity with at least some of the flesh too. (You can obviously eat the rest!)
Makes about 750ml (1 1/3 pints)
- 125g (4 1/2 oz) demerara or other brown sugar, preferably organic
- 1 piece cinnamon stick or bark
- 3-4 cloves
- 1 small to medium ripe sweet pineapple, preferably organic
- Soda water to serve
- Slices of lime and mint to garnish
- A 1 1/2 litre preserving jar
- Put the sugar in a saucepan and pour over 500ml cold water. Heat very slowly until the sugar dissolves, then add the cinnamon and cloves and set aside to cool.
- Wash the pineapple, cut off the top and base. Quarter, cutting away the hard central core, cut into chunks and bruise lightly with a meat mallet or rolling pin.
- Pack the peel and as many of the chunks as you can into a sterilised 1 1/2 litre preserving jar. Pour over the sugar solution and enough water to ensure the pineapple is submerged.
- Give the contents of the jar a stir, then scrunch a piece of non-stick baking parchment into the top of the jar to keep the pineapple pieces submerged. Secure a piece of muslin or cheesecloth over top of the jar and leave for 2-3 days at room temperature checking it regularly.
- Once you see the liquid starting to froth up, the fermentation has got going. Taste it and see how you like it at that stage. If necessary, leave it to ferment a bit longer (though not too long as it may acquire some alcohol in the process).
- Strain the liquid into a jug, then pour through a funnel into a sterilised 75cl glass bottle, seal and store in the fridge for up to 5 days.
- Serve over ice with a splash of soda water, garnished with a slice of lime and/or sprig of mint.