Non-Caffeinated Beverages (aka Cocktails)

To follow up the two coffee drink posts, it seems only right to pay a little attention to the non-caffeinated options among us. For someone who has never run a restaurant that possessed a liquor license, I sure do have a lot of cocktail recipes. Or, forgive me, “Soda Recipes” that taste just a wee bit better if you add vodka. Or gin. Or Campari. I’m a big fan of grown up sodas + Campari to make them even more grown up.

So, show of hands, how many people know it’s really easy to make your own soda varieties at home? And how many act on that knowledge? Yeah. 

Granted, it can be really complicated (I’ve got soda brewing manuals that suggest to me you might as well brew beer) but for a quick and creative soda all you need is seltzer water and 3-4 Tb of flavored syrups. Those flavored syrups can also grace martinis (holy basil + lemongrass was a favorite with vodka on my porch the other night) and go into tonics, punches, and other mixtures.

If you have an ingredient you want to make into a flavored syrup (holy basil, for example) and don’t know where to begin (if Google is broken, for example) a rule of thumb is 1/2 cup sugar + 1/2 cup water + 1/4 cup of the thing you want it to taste like (or the equivalent of one small lime’s surface area if you’re using citrus zest, and something much smaller if it’s very potent – half a vanilla bean, 1-2 hot chilis). Simmer 10 minutes, let steep 30 minutes, strain. 

If you want to get more complicated, here are a few of my favorite syrups.

Bay Syrup

My newest favorite simple syrup is Bay. Yes, like the leaves you put in soup. You take 10 of those leaves, combine them with half a cup of sugar and half a cup of water, simmer that for 10 minutes in a small saucepan, then let it sit covered for thirty minutes. Strain. Bay syrup. 

It’s good on a spoon. Alternatively, it’s good mixed into vodka on the rocks. Or in a Campari and soda. Or with gin + bitters + large splash of tonic + lemon twist. That last combination I actually made using a potent hop-infused gin, but I recognize such a thing is only for people who really really like bitter. (It’s probably more accurate to say people who don’t taste bitter very strongly . . .). 

For a non-alcoholic, thoroughly refreshing beverage you can use it as the simple syrup in this delightful cucumber agua fresca recipe from Saveur (or just make the recipe without the fancified bay syrup – hands down the best drink of my summer)

Sangria Syrup

Why would you want to make sangrias into a syrup? Because you’re a restaurant that is running a Spanish menu and lacks a  liquor license, that’s why. This combo lets you add a touch of “sangria” to lemonade – for a non-alcoholic option – and also tastes good in any beverage that uses Campari (so, Campari + soda, Negronis, Campari + grapefruit juice, probably also the Eeyore’s Requiem that I just now discovered online and need to try out as soon as someone gives me a bottle of Cynar). I’ve also used this syrup to make various Champagne cocktails, the simplest being a dry Champagne + Sangria Syrup. Sometimes I add a shot of gin. (Gin + Champagne is not a travesty, for the record, it’s the basis of the French 75 cocktail). In my recipe notebook I have mysteriously marked in the margins of this recipe 1 Tb syrup + 2 Tb Campari + 2 Tb vodka + Lime Seltzer yet I have no recollection of that beverage, presumably I liked it.

In a  medium-small saucepan simmer for 20 minutes:

  • Zest of 2 oranges + their juice
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 3 whole allspice
  • 1/2 a star anise
  • 2 Tb cacao nibs
  • 1.5 cups red wine
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • a pinch of salt

Strain and cool down. This makes a lot because it’s a pain to make – but it keeps for months in the fridge. 

Cilantro & Wine Syrup

No idea why this tastes good, it simply does. 

Simmer 1.5 cups of white wine for 15 minutes.

Add 3/4 cup of sugar, half a bunch of cilantro (stems and all – I apologize for not having a weight), and simmer for another 15 minutes. You want to taste it here – the sweetness of the starting wine will affect whether 3/4 cups was the appropriate amount of sugar, adjust if you need to while the syrup is still hot and the sugar can dissolve. You can also pause here and reflect on how much cilantro flavor you want – if you’ve got plenty of flavor, strain it now, otherwise let sit 15 minutes more. Taste again to be sure it’s cilantro’d to your preference, if not let it sit another 15 minutes (not having the cilantro weight to give you, and since cilantro can have different potencies regardless, it’s best to calibrate by taste). Strain and add a small pinch of salt. 

Burnt Orange Syrup

I can’t get over the flavor of burnt orange. I love it. LOVE IT. Sometimes I burn the orange peels oh, a little too much. But then you can put them in vodka and have a really interesting bitters that tastes great in Manhattans. I’ll be honest, I use this syrup to make an alcoholic ice cream drink, combining it with vanilla vodka and sweet cream ice cream. It also tastes good just in cold vodka. Probably if I liked rum I would mix that with this syrup too (but I don’t). 

With an oven at 450-degrees, toast the zest of two oranges until brown at the edges – about 5 minutes.

Combine orange zest, 10 whole peppercorns, 1 cup of water, 1.5 cups of sugar, simmer for 10 minutes, let sit for 20. Strain.

Cola Syrup

This one is not mine, but it’s a lot of fun. Good in a whiskey and soda.

Cola Syrup from the New York Times

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