A drink doesn’t have to be booze-forward, or make you tipsy after just one, to be cocktail-hour appropriate.
At even the smallest gatherings, it’s common for one or more guests to be abstaining, or to simply want to drink less that night, month or year. And, in those cases, what’s important is not the reason for guests’ abstention but their comfort and inclusion. With that in mind, a versatile drinking option that works at different alcohol contents (low, none or full) can be unifying, as it lets everyone confidently raise a glass.
“A good host is prepared,” said Julia Bainbridge, the author of “Good Drinks,” a book of alcohol-free drink recipes, and a newsletter of the same name. “Even if you do know that all your friends coming over drink, it’s still nice to have a nonalcoholic option. They might have a drink and then switch to the nonalcoholic one.”
Jessica Baesler, an owner of Someday, a bar in Portland, Ore., says including nonalcoholic options on the menu, “the same way you would offer the two reds on the list, makes people feel taken care of and thought of.”
Just as some abstain from alcohol entirely, others may just want a less-potent drink. For them, low-proof spirits and liqueurs take center stage, providing enough spirited kick to usher the drink into cocktail territory, while keeping it light in impact.
A bay-peppercorn shrub adds deep flavor and lift to these three cocktails.Credit…Jenny Huang for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Susie Theodorou; Prop Stylist: Paige Hicks.
While you could make something totally unique for each person, serving drinks with similar flavor profiles plays to the home bartender’s advantage. A simple way of doing this is to make a nonalcoholic base and build similar-enough drinks across a range of alcohol contents. Start, for example, with a shrub.
Shrubs are often called drinking vinegars for their vinegar base, but, in the early 18th century, shrubs were lemon-based, the juice mixed with sugar, then combined with brandy or rum. Because fresh citrus was expensive to import and difficult to attain, vinegar became a ready replacement, eventually surpassing the citrus-based antecedent to fashion the tangy, sweetly concentrated fruit (and, nowadays, vegetable) syrups we know today. While the vinegar base is the more commonly known shrub, the citrus-based iteration provides a brightly tart, deeply flavorful base layer that is tops for drinks across the spectrum of A.B.V., or alcohol by volume.
Prepare the shrub the morning of or night before, then consider your options. A no-A.B.V. French 75 can be sweetly sour and decidedly adult when made with sweet bay-peppercorn shrub, lemon, soda water and dry tonic. An acidic, bubbly low-A.B.V. French 75 combines blanc vermouth, shrub, lemon and Champagne. A classic French 75, full-proof and fizzy, can be made with Cognac or gin. Each has a distinctive vibe, but many ingredients overlap, including that richly flavored citrus shrub (which can be served, too, on its own with a splash of soda water or tonic).
Choose two or all three, and offer them as equal-opportunity, equal-attention options — a veritable choose-your-own-adventure for the happy hour set.
Recipes: Sweet Bay-Peppercorn Shrub | No-A.B.V. French 75 | Low-A.B.V. French 75 | Classic French 75
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