Virgin cocktails like the Shirley Temple have been around for decades. But recently, there has been increasing interest in zero-proof cocktails, or what are popularly known as mocktails. In the US and Europe especially, nonalcoholic bottle shops and bars have been popping up in lots of places. Online mocktail subscriptions are even a thing. But what is a mocktail, really? And why might you want to try one — or even better, make your own at home?
What Are Mocktails?
Mocktails, or nonalcoholic cocktails, are beverages that look and often taste like regular cocktails, but without the alcohol. In many situations, you can just leave out the alcohol; or sometimes, you might want to replace it with a healthier liquid. Take the classic cocktail, the Moscow mule, which consists of vodka, soda, lime, and ginger. Given that vodka is defined by US law as a distilled liquid “without distinctive character, aroma, taste, or color” (in case you don’t have the entire legal code memorized, you can find the relevant passage in Title 27, Section 5.22), you could pretty much replace the vodka with filtered tap water, and no one looking at the drink would be the wiser.
If you know the recipe for a cocktail and can get the garnishes right, you can create a drink that will fool, if not the drinker, then everyone around them. But instead of drinking a beverage that increases your odds of getting high blood pressure, cancer, depression, anxiety, and liver disease, you can enjoy a beverage that’s actually good for you.
Often, the look and the pageantry of cocktails add to the fun of an occasion. Think of the little umbrellas that often accompany tropical drinks like piña coladas and margaritas. The inclusion of certain fruits and garnishes can locate the drink in a particular place and season, for example, where pineapples grow or in the summertime, when watermelons are in season. But you can get the same festive impact with a mocktail, too. You can create cold mocktails specifically for brunches, summer-themed or tiki get-togethers, and birthday parties. There are even hot winter mocktails that pair particularly well with holiday gatherings and dinners.
Mocktail Benefits (Compared to Cocktails)
Mocktails have many benefits compared to alcoholic cocktails. You can enjoy them without getting intoxicated, for one thing. No need for a designated driver after downing half a pitcher of virgin sangria. And even if you don’t need to drive or operate heavy machinery right afterward, a nonalcoholic drink will enable you to avoid the cognitive impairment that could, say, have you create really long run-on sentences in your blog posts that lots of readers wouldn’t appreciate, and might even complain about in the comments (if you know what I mean).
1. Healthy Mocktails Are Better for You.
Mocktails are generally much healthier than their alcoholic counterparts (although it depends on what you put in them), mainly because they don’t include alcohol! Evidence shows that the consumption of alcohol contributes to a number of chronic diseases, including depression and anxiety, gout, certain types of stroke, hypertension, cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, and several common cancers.
While the alcoholic beverage industry loves to share research that light drinking (defined as one or two servings of alcohol per day) may extend life expectancy, these findings are collapsing under the weight of better-designed studies and better interpretations of the results of previous research.
In a nutshell, previous studies showed that people who abstained from alcohol entirely were less healthy on average than light drinkers. But it turns out that people who had quit drinking because of severe health problems (including a history of alcoholism) were classified as abstainers, meaning that the causal relationship went the other way: Poor health caused people to stop drinking; stopping drinking didn’t cause worse health!
2. Mocktails Support Socializing.
When you swap out cocktails for mocktails, you lose the alcohol, which is a good thing from a health perspective. But you may gain a lot of sugar and natural or artificial flavorings, especially if you order your drink from a bar or restaurant, where hyper-palatability means repeat business.
Which raises the question: why have a mocktail at all? After all, we know that plain water is one of the healthiest beverages. It’s hydrating. It makes up 60% of our bodies, and it has zero calories. Why bother with mocktails?
Humans are very social creatures, which means we notice how others in our “tribe” are behaving similarly or differently from us. If all your friends are clinking their cosmopolitan cocktails to toast the newest Bachelor episode, and you’ve got a glass of water, both you and they might feel a bit odd about it. (Some cultures and military branches are even superstitious about toasting with plain water.) However, ordering a cosmo mocktail, in which the bartender swaps the vodka for club soda, lets you feel included while allowing you to still say no to alcohol.
And mocktails that include garnishes, fun glasses, and drink accessories also let you enjoy a “special” drink that can add to your enjoyment of the festivities at hand.
3. They’re Safe for Children, and You Can Drink Mocktails While Pregnant.
Alcoholic mixed drinks are not safe for children or pregnant women. But without the inclusion of alcohol, mocktails generally are — as long as they don’t replace plain water on a regular basis. There are also plenty of kid-friendly mocktails, especially the sweet and festive ones. Given their potential for high-sugar content, especially if you order one at a restaurant, we suggest that these be reserved for only very special occasions or that you stick with homemade, where you can control the ingredients. It’s also important to be careful about introducing children to drinking culture through colorful drinks topped with toys (the way candy cigarettes were a nicotine-free way to get kids to relate positively to smoking), so parental discretion is advised.
4. Zero Proof Drinks May be Beneficial for Recovering Alcoholics.
There are arguments, both pro and con, on the usefulness of mocktails for those in recovery from alcohol dependence and addiction. On the one hand, the drinks don’t contain alcohol. On the other hand, they may be gateways to environments where a lot of drinking is going on, and where getting buzzed or totally drunk is normalized or even celebrated. What’s more, alcoholics can respond to virgin drinks with a placebo effect, essentially getting drunk on the perception of alcohol.
The bottom line is that if you’re in recovery from alcohol addiction, it may be best to steer clear of settings where alcohol is celebrated in order to protect your sobriety.
Healthy Mocktail Ingredients
As with practically any food or drink, the healthiest and best ones are those you make at home. If you’re the mixologist for the evening, you get to impose your own standard of quality control over ingredients. You can eliminate processed sugars and instead use fruits, fruit purees, and exciting (and heath-promoting) flavors like fresh ginger and cinnamon.
Mocktail bases can start with seltzer, club soda (make your own with the SodaStream!), unsweetened tonic water, freshly squeezed juices, kombucha (which technically does have a small amount of alcohol), and iced fruit teas. In cocktails that typically include cream or other dairy products, like White Russians or Irish coffee, substitute plant milk and vegan cream.
A lot of the charm of the zero-proof cocktail comes from its presentation: In addition to the umbrella, the fancy straw, the large ice cube, the salt rim, or the distinctive glass or mug, you can make your mocktails special with plant-based garnishes.
Healthy mocktail garnishes can include:
- Citrus wedges or rinds
- Cherries (not maraschino)
- Strawberries & other berries
- Edible flowers
For a real plant-based twist, serve summer mocktails inside hollowed-out pineapples, watermelons, or coconuts. And to be more environmentally friendly, make sure your straws are all reusable!
7 Healthy Mocktail Recipes
Now that we know about their potential benefits, it’s time to create some easy (and tasty!) mocktails! Here’s a collection of seven plant-based mocktails straight from the FRN test kitchen. Enjoy these refreshing, nourishing, and naturally sweet festive drinks at your next gathering, or relish in them during some much-needed solo time!
This Pomegranate Sangria captures all the rich, bold, and fruity flavors of a traditional sangria, but without any of the alcohol. Filled with lots of fresh fruit and sweet and smoky spices, this mocktail makes the perfect addition to any festive celebration or a deliciously soothing beverage any night of the week!
Our nonalcoholic eggnog is rich, creamy, smooth, and wonderfully nourishing. Plus, it doesn’t actually contain any eggs, yet tastes just as delicious as the traditional version! Thanks to the wholesome magic of plants, you can delight in this luscious mocktail and savor every sip with zero guilt. Serve it at a holiday gathering, share it with a friend on a wintry afternoon, or make your next cozy PJ party for one extra special. No matter how you enjoy it, it will add warmth, cheer, and nourishing self-care to any occasion.
Lift your spirits with this delightful Slow Cooker Cranberry Apple Cider. Made with 100% cranberry and apple juices that are infused with ginger and cinnamon spice, this cider will warm you from the inside out. If you’re sharing with friends and family it’s guaranteed to invite a sense of good cheer — no alcohol necessary! The best part is the aroma that will permeate your home as it slowly mulls!
Grab your favorite fruit juice and get ready to have some bubbly fun with this refreshing Juice Spritzer! All you need for this easy mocktail are three simple ingredients and a bit of creativity to unlock your inner mocktail mixologist! Throw in a few sprigs of your favorite fresh herb to make this effervescent delight even more festive!
Quench your thirst with refreshing cucumber, sweet pineapple, zingy lemon, and gently energizing matcha. Matcha Mint Lemonade is bright, lively, and brimming with a wealth of antioxidants and phytonutrient-rich goodness that balances tart and sweet just beautifully. This is another easy and invigorating mocktail that is fresh, fabulous, and fit for healthy sipping and socializing.
If tart and sweet is your jam, this easy-to-prepare mocktail is the perfect fizzy, fruity, and festive nonalcoholic drink for you! Pairing freshly squeezed orange and lime juice with a few splashes of cranberry is a flavor combination that is one of a kind. Sparkling water adds just the right amount of effervescence to make this a charmingly light and refreshing beverage.
This simple mocktail recipe is the most refreshing drink to savor when the sun is shining and a breeze fills the air. It’s made with juicy blackberries, fresh mint, refreshing lime, sparkling water, and just a touch of naturally sweet date paste. This gorgeous Blackberry Mojito takes just a few minutes to prepare and is perfect for toasting the sweet side of life!
Enjoy the Fun and Festivity of Mocktails
If you’re looking for an alcohol-free way to share a special occasion, a virgin drink like a fun, flavorful mocktail could be the perfect solution. And while bar-created mocktails aren’t usually health superstars, when you make your own nonalcoholic drinks, you can create some pretty healthy, delicious — and fun — memories.
Tell us in the comments:
- Have you ever made mocktails?
- Do you have any favorite healthy mocktail recipes?
- What are your preferred nonalcoholic mixed drinks?
Feature image: iStock.com/GMVozd
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