Does this scenario sound familiar? You're out at a party or bar with friends, music playing, laughter in the background. The patrons around you sip sexy cocktails out of sugar-rimmed martini glasses, festively stirring their trendy mixed drinks while others gracefully grip slim glass champagne flutes, reveling in the nose-tickling bubbly. And there you are, the designated driver, sucking down your umpteenth watered down iced tea through a straw or transferring expertly applied lip-gloss onto a decidedly un-sexy soda can.
What is a thirsty non-alcoholic girl to do? Reach for a mocktail, of course.
Why mocktails can (and do) rock
Let's face it: The old standards – soda, root beer, and water with a twist of lime – are boring and better suited for the under-20 crowd. On the other hand, mocktails, also known as mixed non-alcoholic beverages, offer a more exciting alternative to the old virgin reliables, and can provide savvy imbibers plenty of yummy advantages:
1. Fewer calories
Alcoholic beverages, particularly sugary mixed drinks or fruity, frozen concoctions, can affix copious calories to your daily tally (and, if you're really intoxicated, lead to binge eating caused by poor judgment), adding up to excess pounds in the long run.
The average mixed drink made with one ounce of rum, vodka or whiskey and juice or cola clocks in at over 200 calories. Times that by two or three over the course of the evening and you'll have to run an extra hour on the treadmill just to burn it off!
Mocktails, especially those flavored with just a splash of juice and a club soda base (including our Virgin Cosmo, recipe below), can cut the calorie count down to just 50 calories while still providing plenty of flavor.
However, keep in mind that not all mocktails are low in calories. Consider anything with more than two ounces of juice and any added sugar off-limits for strict dieters, particularly if you are following a low-carb plan.
2. Less expensive
Liquor, wine and spirits are expensive, with top-shelf drinks going for as much as $20 each in pricey bars and restaurants. Mocktails cut out the most expensive ingredient – the booze – whether you're making them from scratch or ordering out. This means you get to sip a satisfying drink and line your pockets with extra green while you're at it.
3. Higher in nutrients
Mocktails made with fresh and/or organic juices, such as pomegranate, orange, mangosteen, goji or acai boast plenty of antioxidants and vitamin C and none of the corn syrup found in colas or syrupy drink mixers.
Using stevia-leaf extract or agave nectar in place of table sugar or simple syrup can also sweeten drinks while providing the body with more stable, diet-friendly sweeteners. Toss in a handful of sliced fruit and you double your healthful pleasure.
4. Everyone can enjoy them
Pregnant women, people on specific medications or with chronic illnesses, designated drivers, children and even the most devout prohibitionists can all enjoy mocktails, making your next party or dinner gathering exceptionally enticing to drinkers and teetolers alike.
Just one or two non-traditional and non-alcoholic options for the revelers on your guest list will be sincerely appreciated – especially if they're delicious enough that your guests who drink abandon their beer for, say, another glass of alcohol-free sangria.
Making memorable mocktails
A successful and memorable mocktail has three components: crisp flavors, a splash of color (provided by juice, decorative straws or tinted glasses) and a festive garnish to elevate the beverage from average to special.
Club soda:Most mocktails are made with a combination of juice and club soda, which provide a solid flavor base and enough bubbly effervescence to make the drink feel festive (a glass of juice is just a glass of juice – bubbles kick things up a notch, and make hardcore soda fans reach for a second serving).
Juice:Fresh squeezed juices are ideal, but not always convenient – when using store-bought juice, go for premium or organic brands. Ceres or Looza brand juices, with their wide selection of exotic flavors and absence of excess sugars, are particularly good choices.
Garnishes:Garnishes can also make a difference between a mocktail's success or failure. Try rimming glasses with colored sugar or salt (available at liquor stores, in the baking aisle of some grocery stores, and online), decorating with spiral sections of orange, lemon or lime peels or freezing fruit like blueberries or pomegranate seeds in ice. And don't forget, even a single maraschino cherry or piece of fruit can add festive flair.
Go easy on the sweet:There's one trap many novice drink makers and imbibers make with mocktails – going too sweet. Too much sugar, found in juices, or added intentionally to the drink, can make the difference between a sophisticated, pre-dinner beverage and a syrupy mess like the super sweet, kid-friendly Shirley Temple (mix grenadine and ginger ale and add cherries). Always go easy on the sweet components of drinks when mixing – you can add more after the fact, if needed. A heavy-handed sugar mistake can be counteracted by thinning out the beverage with club soda or water, and/or by adding more acid (lemon or lime juice), which will counter all that unnecessary sweetness.
Mix to order:Unless serving communal items which taste better the longer they sit, like Virgin Sangria or tall pitchers of fruit-infused lemonade, mocktails taste better when mixed and prepared to order. Mixing individual drinks allows you to tailor the beverage to your own palate, and prevents flavors from becoming muddled or bubbles from going flat. Try your hand at the following mocktails and customize them to suit your tastes.
Sparkling Virgin Cosmo
2 ounces cranberry juice
1 ounce fresh lime juice
5 ounces club soda or seltzer
Lime wedges for garnish
Sugar for frosting (optional)
Pour ice into a shaker or tall glass. Add cranberry juice, fresh lime juice and club soda. Shake to combine. Run a lime wedge over the outside rim of a chilled martini glass. Pour sugar onto a small plate or flat surface. Dip the rim of the glass into sugar until covered with a thin border. Strain carefully into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with lime.
6 to 10 fresh mint leaves, rinsed and dried
2 ounces fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon powdered sugar
4 ounces club soda
Lime wedges for garnish
In a rocks glass, muddle mint leaves, lime juice and sugar until sugar is dissolved and mint is fragrant. Add ice. Pour in club soda. Garnish with lime.
No-Hangover Pomegranate-Apple Rossini
1 ounce chilled POMwonderful or other pomegranate juice
5 ounces chilled sparkling apple cider
Lemon twist for garnish
Pour apple cider into champagne flute. Gently pour pomegranate juice over the back of a spoon onto the surface of the cider. The juice should linger at the top, moving down to color the rest of the drink slowly. Garnish with lemon.
Virgin White Sangria
Serves 3 to 4
3 cups Ceres "Secrets of the Valley" juice, or white grape juice
1 bottle sparkling apple cider
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 apple, cubed
1 cup fresh or canned pineapple chunks, juices drained
1 orange, sliced thin
2 drops vanilla extract
Extra fruit for garnish
In a large pitcher or punch bowl, combine juice, cut fruit and vanilla extract. Cover and let chill for at least 2 hours. Remove from refrigerator. Add in sparkling cider.
Serve in wine glasses or champagne flutes with plenty of ice and fruit for garnish.
Serves 3 to 4
4 cups Ceres or other brand passion fruit juice
4 cups store-bought or homemade lemonade
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 cups fresh or canned pineapple chunks
1 pint fresh strawberries, rinsed, hulled and frozen overnight
Lemon slices for garnish
In a large pitcher or bowl, combine pineapple and passion fruit juice. Cover and let chill for at least 2 hours. Remove from refrigerator. Add in strawberries and lemonade. Serve over ice with lemon slices.
More delish drink recipes
Tips for making signature cocktails
Jiggelo: Inventive gelatin shots for creative imbibers
Video: Caffeine cocktails