A Non-Alcoholic New Year - Or: (Alcohol-)Free Drinks!
In researching these recipes, I came across a little blurb about Holiday Inn coming out with a whole line of non-alcoholic drinks that's "an industry first." Which it really is, and I've never understood why. Alcohol is not the tasty part of a drink, y'all. Most of those ingredients in fancy mixed drinks are there to mask the flavor of the alcohol. That's why it's always strong flavors like ginger or citrus or chocolate.
I love all those flavors, but why throw in the alcohol? Granted, I have zero interest in getting drunk: it doesn't feel good during, it doesn't feel good after, and even back in college I was too concerned about always being "in control" to want to drink. There were still times that I way overused in college, but they just served to confirm that I didn't want to do that.
But that doesn't mean I don't want fun, interesting stuff to drink! I am always reading the descriptions of cocktails on menus and thinking "Wow, lemon and sugar and zest, that sounds great!... Oh right, except the gin and vodka." And what better day than New Year's Eve to explore and share some real drink recipes with you all?
This one was featured in last week's meal planning kits of recipes from the Gold Rush era. That's the California Gold Rush, 160 years ago! I remember drinks like switchel appearing in the Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder - whenever Pa and all the hired men were working out in the field, they'd drink something that sounded nasty made with vinegar and water. Maybe sugar was mentioned. I don't know if they had ginger to add, off in the middle of the country back then, but I think it really makes this drink delicious. Like an old-fashioned ginger ale.
½ cup light brown sugar
½ cup white wine vinegar
¼ cup light molasses
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups water
Mix together the first four ingredients, then stir in water. Serve chilled.
You know what else reminds me of those books, every time I hear of it? Yellow jackets. Remember when their cousin was acting out all over the place and got tangled up with a nest of yellow jackets? And they had to cover him in mud (which draws out the toxins) and wrap him up in a sheet (to keep the mud on)? Well, apparently someone named a cocktail after it!
4 parts pineapple juice
4 parts orange juice
3 parts lemon juice
Shake and strain out over ice.
I'm sure it wasn't really named after the scene in those books, but that's my only association with it. The drink is undoubtedly less painful than the sting! Or do yellow jackets bite? I think one bit me during a company picnic once... we had a great citrus-marinated chicken that they were all over, and I did okay maneuvering around them until I tried to brush off something I felt tickling my finger and it bit me. Fair enough, I suppose. But I wasn't very happy about it at the time.
My vote for "most hilarious name" has to go to the "Virgin Mary". Or maybe that should just be "most unintentionally gross name".
Equal parts tomato and cranberry juice
1 tsp. lime juice per serving
Hot sauce and pepper to taste
Wouldn't you think a Virgin Mary should be, I don't know... Jesus-ier? Maybe a traditional drink of Bethlehem? Or blue, or something? The mocktails that just virginize a standard cocktail are not my favorites. They're the -tinis of the mocktail set. You know, like an appletini, a mintini, a scotchtini - just a mindless variation on a theme, created more often because it's expected than because it tastes good. When I pick a mixed drink, I want it to be there because someone thought those ingredients really went well together.
I find that I can trust the New York Times to think hard about food, and they have some good insights into mocktailing. In one recent article, Melissa Davis suggests using tonic water:
"Made from botanicals and quinine, which gives it its distinctive bitterness, it can transform even the most mundane fruit juice into something sophisticated, especially if you use a less sugary brand like Q or Fever-Tree. At Franny’s, Nekisia Davis, a manager, makes tonic water with cinchona bark (quinine), lavender, chamomile and plenty of fresh herbs. Zipped up with lime juice, it’s one of my summer favorites, boozy or dry."
She also wisely observes that "A mocktail should be the grown-up in the crowd, a complex drink with just enough sharpness or bitterness to set itself apart from anything cloyingly twee."