A drink doesn’t have to be boozy or make you drunk after just one drink to be happy hour appropriate.
Even at the smallest gatherings, it’s common for one or more guests to abstain or simply want to drink less that night, month, or year. And, in these cases, what is important is not the reason for the abstention of the customers but their comfort and their inclusion. With that in mind, a versatile drinking option that works at different alcohol strengths (low, zero, or full) can be unifying, as it allows everyone to raise a glass with confidence.
“A good host is prepared,” said Julia Bainbridge, author of “Good Drinks,” a soft drink cookbook and newsletter of the same name. “Even if you know all your friends are coming over to drink, it’s always nice to have a non-alcoholic option. They could have a drink and then switch to non-alcoholic.
Jessica Baesler, owner of Someday, a bar in Portland, Oregon, explains that including non-alcoholic options on the menu, “in the same way that you would offer the two reds on the list, makes people feel taken in charge and thought”.
Just as some abstain completely from alcohol, others may simply want a less potent drink. For them, spirits and low-alcohol liqueurs take center stage, providing enough oomph to push the drink into cocktail territory, while still keeping a light impact.
While you can create something totally unique for each person, serving drinks with similar flavor profiles works to the home bartender’s advantage. An easy way to do this is to create a non-alcoholic base and create sufficiently similar drinks in a range of alcohol strengths. Start, for example, with a shrub.
In the early 18th century, shrubs were made with lemon, the juice mixed with sugar, then combined with brandy or rum. Because fresh citrus fruits were expensive to import and difficult to obtain, vinegar became a ready substitute, eventually overtaking the citrus-based antecedent to shape tangy fruit (and, nowadays, vegetable) syrups and sweet concentrates that we know today. While the vinegar base, or drinking vinegar, is the best-known shrub, the citrus-based iteration provides a brightly tart and deeply flavorful base coat that’s ideal for drinks across the ABV spectrum.
Prepare the shrub the morning or evening before, then consider your options. A French 75 without ABV can be bittersweet and decidedly adult when prepared with a sweet berry-pepper shrub, lemon, soda water and dry tonic. A sour and sparkling low ABV French 75 combining white vermouth, shrub, lemon and champagne. A classic French 75, full-proof and sparkling, can be made with cognac or gin. Each has a distinct vibe, but many ingredients overlap, including this richly flavored citrus shrub (which can also be served on its own with a splash of sparkling water or tonic).