Mocktails, or non-alcoholic cocktails, are beverages that look and often taste like regular cocktails, but without the alcohol. It’s easier to make mocktails than to, say, mimic the taste and mouthfeel of meat and dairy. Take the famous cocktail, the Moscow Mule, which consists of vodka, soda, lime, and ginger. Given that vodka is defined by U.S. 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 non-taster would even know it.
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 the mocktail adds 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 summertime when watermelons are in season. You can create mocktails specifically for brunches, for summer-themed or tiki parties, and for particular holidays. There are even hot mocktails that pair well with winter gatherings and parties.
Benefits of Mocktails
Mocktails have many benefits compared to 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 mocktail 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. They’re Healthier Without the Alcohol
Mocktails are generally much healthier than their alcoholic counterparts. We know that consumption of alcohol contributes to a number of chronic diseases, including neuropsychiatric disorders, gout, certain types of stroke, hypertension, cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, and several common cancers.
While the alcoholic beverage industry loves to point to 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 interpretation of the results of previous research. In a nutshell, 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 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.
There is some evidence that drinking a modest amount of alcohol in the form of red wine is good for heart health. Although, one of the side effects is an increased risk of certain forms of cancer. But it turns out that this tradeoff resolves in favor of drinking only in the least health-conscious of people. One study that followed 10,000 British social service workers for an average of 17 years found that drinking alcohol didn’t improve the health or longevity of the so-called “health freaks.” These were the people who didn’t smoke, exercised at least 30 minutes a day, and ate at least one serving of fruit or vegetable daily — a tragically low bar.
2. They Help with 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, 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’s zero calories. Why bother with mocktails? In many ways, it’s the same question that health-conscious vegans sometimes ask about plant-based meat and dairy substitutes.
The answer is, for some people, mocktails may also be better than not drinking at all, or just ordering a plain glass of water or seltzer. Humans are very social creatures, which means we notice how others in our “tribe” are behaving similarly or differently from ourselves. If all your friends are clinking their Cosmopolitans 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. A Cosmo mocktail, in which the bartender swaps the vodka for club soda, lets you feel included while allowing you to say no to alcohol.
3. They’re Safe for Children and Pregnant Women
Mocktails are generally safe for pregnant women, as long as they don’t replace water on a regular basis. They’re also kid-friendly, especially the sweet and festive ones. Although, you do want 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.
4. They 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’s probably best to steer clear of settings where alcohol is being celebrated.
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 creator, you get to impose your own standard of quality control over ingredients. You can keep the processed sugars down or out, and instead use fruits, fruit purees, and exciting flavors like fresh ginger and cinnamon.
In addition to plain old water, you can make mocktails from seltzer, club soda (you can 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 mocktails that typically include cream or other dairy products, like White Russians or Irish Coffee, you can substitute plant milks and creams.
A lot of the charm of the cocktail comes from the 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 through plant-based garnishes. These can include:
- Citrus wedges
- Cherries (not maraschino)
- Strawberries & other berries
- Edible flowers
For a real plant-based twist, you can serve mocktails inside hollowed-out pineapples, watermelons, or coconuts. And to be environmentally friendly, make sure your straws are all reusable!
7 Healthy Mocktail Recipes
Now that we know all the theory of mocktails, it’s time to check out actual recipes. Here’s a collection of eight plant-based mocktails from around the web. Enjoy!
Virgin Sangria Mocktail by A Sweet Pea Chef
Traditional Sangria starts with red wine, in which sliced fruits are steeped for a few hours to infuse the wine with the flavors of summer. Just make sure you wash the fruit before use to avoid pesticides and other contaminants. (See the way we recommend, here.) This virgin Sangria recipe also uses sparkling and still water and derives its luscious reddish hue from sliced orange, apple, and plum.
Sparkling Blood Orange Mocktail with Turmeric by Jessica Gavin
This mocktail is an original, and not a derivative of an existing alcoholic drink. The ruby-red energy of juiced blood oranges gets a taste, color, and nutritional boost from the superfood turmeric, and a zippiness from equally awesome fresh ginger root. Mint and rosemary leaves provide complementary green garnish.
Sparkling Watermelon Cucumber Refresher by The Clever Carrot
OK, this mocktail is practically a smoothie! Talk about healthy and guilt-free. The Watermelon Cucumber Refresher contains, obviously, watermelon and cucumber, but also ginger, lemons, and mint leaves. No alcohol needed. Seltzer or club soda provides the volume.
Virgin Pina Colada Mocktail by A Couple Cooks
Since a regular Piña Colada is essentially a “boozy smoothie,” it’s a simple matter to convert it back to a virginal state. Swapping out the rum and pineapple juice for frozen pineapple chunks and using full-fat coconut milk in place of coconut cream, you get the exact flavor profile and “slushiness” of the original drink. Walking in the rain and having fun on the dunes is completely optional. But you may want to add a paper umbrella for the full effect.
Spiced Kombucha Moscow Mules by Golubka Kitchen
Since the most salient characteristic of a Moscow Mule is the gorgeous copper mug it’s served in, you’ve already got a head start in creating an authentic non-alcoholic version if you can get your hands on some. If not, this kombucha-based version will still delight and impress your friends. While the original contains just three ingredients — vodka, ginger beer, and lime — this virgin version (try that five times fast!) ups the ante by adding mint, ground cloves, and nutmeg or cinnamon. Keep in mind that some kombuchas do contain small amounts of alcohol, though most are less than 1/10 of what you would find in a typical beer.
Vegan Eggnog by Detoxinista
OK, so this one seems unlikely at first glance. Sure, you can make Eggnog non-alcoholic, but vegan? I mean, the traditional recipe calls for milk, cream, whipped egg whites, and egg yolks. If you remove all the traditional ingredients, aren’t you left with sugar and air? Thankfully, in this era of plentiful plant-based milk options, this vegan Eggnog may be even more delicious (and certainly a lot healthier) than the original. The flavor profile is preserved with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and vanilla. While the creaminess usually imparted by the egg and dairy is created by adding hemp seeds and — wait for it — a steamed white sweet potato. Genius!
Clean Eating Bloody Mary by The Healthy Family and Home
This one makes sense at first glance since the famous brunch drink is basically V-8 plus vodka. And since, as we’ve already seen, vodka has to be tasteless by law, when you subtract vodka, you’ve just removed tastelessness that can give you a hangover. This Bloody Mary includes freshly juiced tomatoes, celery, garlic, and spices, and gives you the option to punch it up with a pinch (or more!) of ground cayenne pepper.
Enjoy the Fun and Festivity of Mocktails
If you’re looking for a festive non-alcoholic way to share a special occasion, a flavorful mocktail could be the perfect solution. And while most mocktails aren’t health superstars, when you make your own, you can create some pretty delicious — and fun — experiences.
Tell us in the comments:
- Have you ever made any mocktails?
- Do you have any favorite healthy mocktail recipes?
- What are your preferred non-alcoholic party drinks?
Feature image: iStock.com/GMVozd