It’s the new year, and that means time for resolutions. Many of us will pursue food-and-drink-related goals: eating healthier, eating out less, or trying a “Dry January” — giving up alcohol for the first month of 2023.
Non-drinkers have more interesting options these days than the black coffee of the AA meeting or the Diet Coke of a certain teetotaling former president. Commercially bottled kombuchas are a plausible substitute for something stronger. Non-alcoholic (NA) beers, wines and cocktails are also multiplying, judging from the crush of Instagram ads I receive. I once asked a local bartender if he had ever tried an NA beer. “No,” he replied, “But I’ve been to an NA meeting!” Different NA, I think. Nonetheless, the popular alcohol-free beer brand Athletic Brewing is stocked in his establishment.
As someone in a semi-permanent state of trying to drink just a bit less, I’m always interested in tactics to facilitate sobriety. This year, I tried out mocktail recipes that might help a Dry January feel livelier.
The internet’s recommended mocktails tend to follow a basic pattern: make a simple syrup infused with seasonal herbs and spices and combine with citrus and seltzer. A particularly pleasant example: The Kitchen’s Winter Spice Lemonade, made from a syrup of cinnamon, ginger and star anise, mixed with the juice of a lemon and topped with fizzy water. Bon Appetit’s Chai Blossom eliminates the need to infuse a syrup by starting with hot chai — I used decaf — and dissolving an outrageous amount of sugar into it. The addition of lime juice plus club soda makes a festive, spicy drink.
These concoctions are tasty, but they’re very sweet. If you drink dry wine or bitter IPAs, they may not hit the spot. The savory alternatives typically involve ginger and/or turmeric, and are more bracing. Take Alison Roman’s Turmeric Tonic, a ginger-turmeric-lemon juice concentrate that combines with sparkling water for an altogether earthier effect. Variations on a Ginger Switchel also abound. If you don’t have a juicer, purée fresh ginger root with apple cider vinegar and strain through cheesecloth; you won’t confuse the resulting drink with punch from the kid’s table.
One benefit of the homemade mocktail, I’ve found, is the Ikea Effect: you’re more likely to appreciate a drink when you’ve had to work on it, beyond uncorking the bottle. Besides, the better part of quitting drinking is killing time. Spend half an hour waiting for a cinnamon-infused simple syrup to cool, and you may find your desire for a glass of wine has dissipated in the meantime.
For my part, I’m off enjoying my wedding and honeymoon, and decidedly not abstaining from alcohol. But if I embark on a Dry February, I’ll turn to my spicy syrups and seltzers for zero-proof refreshment.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s January 2023 World edition.