Zero-Proof Summer Cocktails
Sophisticated mocktails are the perfect vehicle for cannabis
Peruse the cocktail lists at enlightened bars across the country today and you’ll likely find zero-proof drinks that are every bit as complex and delicious as their spirited cousins. That’s a welcome change for those who prefer to get their buzz from cannabis—or would rather not mix it with alcohol—because mocktails are perfect vehicles for tinctures, powders, syrups and seltzers.
Making a sophisticated booze-free cocktail is about getting the right balance, says Tara Heffernon, co-owner of Duke’s Spirited Cocktails in Healdsburg, California, “If you just remove the alcohol (from a recipe), that will make something entirely too concentrated and off balance,” she says. “You want to make sure the drink isn’t some syrupy sweet thing just because there are fewer ingredients.”
Lengthening—adding soda water or another mixer to the drink—is an important part of the process because it cuts sweetness and can make a cocktail more refreshing. “If you think about a drink that doesn’t have any liquor in it, it needs more lengthening than an alcoholic drink would,” Heffernon says.
Along with alcohol-fueled cocktails, the Duke’s menu includes a “Hold the Booze” section with options such as the Green Business, a savory mix of cucumber, lime, cardamom and tonic water.
As with any drink she creates, Heffernon strives for harmony between the aromas and flavors. For savory seasonal mocktails, she reaches for ingredients such as cucumbers, jalapenos and housemade shrubs that add a vinegar kick. If she uses citrus, she often looks for less common varieties, such as pomelo, to give drinks a distinctive note. “You can make something super light and tart using seltzer water, cucumber, citrus juice and only a tiny bit of syrup to curb the bitterness of the acid.”
Mike Di Tota, general manager and bar director at The Bonnie in Astoria, New York, began making mocktails two years ago, when a few close friends stopped drinking alcohol. Now he offers three zero-proof drinks year-round.
Di Tota looked to his horticultural background to make cocktails without liquor. “I wanted to find out how I could infuse this type of herb or fruit into a drink, or how I could make it into a syrup,” he says. “It came very naturally. You’re just making a great artisanal drink.”
Di Tota uses a variety of sodas and seltzers in his mocktails, from ginger beer to citrus soda, for the effervescence. “It also gives you the feeling that you’re having something different than just orange juice with cranberry,” he says.
Tea is one of his star ingredients because it adds a touch of bitterness and makes it easy to infuse different flavors into a cocktail. “One of my go-tos is a mixture of rooibos tea, watermelon, lemon juice and soda water,” Di Tota says. “For summer, there’s really no more quintessential fruit than watermelon—except for maybe strawberry. The drink is so clean, it’s hard not to just slug it down.
By Tina Caputo
Photography by Paul Lowe
Just Add Cannabis
The beauty of mocktails is that they let you customize the cannabis dosage to your own preference. Here are some options for spicing up alcohol-free drinks.
Water-soluble powders: Unlike oil-based tinctures, which don’t mix well with other liquids, CBD and THC powders dissolve smoothly into drinks. They’re also odorless and tasteless.
THC-infused seltzer: Swap club soda for cannabis-infused sparkling water for a bubbly cocktail kick.
Terpenes: Terpenes derived from cannabis or other plants can deliver mood effects and complex aromas without the THC.
Tinctures: Add a drop or a dropper, depending on your desired dosage.
Infused sweeteners: Sweeten drinks with commercially available infused honeys and simple syrups, or make your own at home.
Canna bitters: Substitute ready-made cannabis-infused bitters for the standard variety.