Booze-Free Beverages That Are Anything But Boring

Torri Donley

I spent the summer of 2018 criss-crossing the country in my (somewhat) dependable 2006 Subaru Impreza. After a decade of writing about food and drinks in New York City and two years doing the same in Atlanta, I got a book deal, and I decided that the best way to […]

I spent the summer of 2018 criss-crossing the country in my (somewhat) dependable 2006 Subaru Impreza. After a decade of writing about food and drinks in New York City and two years doing the same in Atlanta, I got a book deal, and I decided that the best way to do research was to put my foot on the gas and go.



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I was in search of alcohol-free mixed drinks at a time when, serendipitously, they were starting to be taken more seriously. Bartenders were (and still are) pushing against the boundaries that had previously limited “mocktails” to syrup-laden juices or glorified Shirley Temples, and consumers — sober, or not — were getting curious. I knew I wouldn’t be writing the first book on non-alcoholic drinks, but I also knew that my work could capitalize on this newfound acceptance and energy. And because I was finding the things I really wanted to drink in bars, restaurants, and cafés as opposed to other books, I could tap the people whose job it is to make good, balanced drinks— no matter the alcohol content.

You could say I did a lot of drinking and driving that summer. 

In addition to recipes, I gathered some of my favorite writers’ and bartenders’ go-to drink ideas, and I’ve shared some of those with you below. There’s never been a better time to be a non-drinker; there are so many delicious options out there. So, cheers! 

The following is an excerpt reprinted with permission from Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for Whatever Reason by Julia Bainbridge, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.

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I’ve Been Drinking: Verjus 



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Verjus is the juice of grapes that aren’t yet ripe enough for wine production. (Between three and five weeks before grapes are ready for harvesting, winemakers thin the vines so that the remaining grapes have a better chance of concentrating their sugars. The trim, in some cases, becomes verjus.) Red verjus is rich and stone fruit-like; white verjus is crisp and tart. Overall, verjus has a more mature vibe than plain-old grape juice. My favorite for drinking with some tonic or soda water is a pinkish one produced by Noble Handcrafted, which can be purchased at mikuniwildharvest.com. Others worth tasting: both Montinore and Wolffer Estates’ white verjus, and Canadian brand Minus 8’s red verjus. All of them belong in a stemmed glass, for sure. 

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I’ve Been Drinking: Sanbitter

Josh Harris, co-owner of Trick Dog and Bon Voyage in San Francisco, California, doesn’t think of San Pellegrino’s Sanbitter as a soda. (He wouldn’t hide soda from his friends.)



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“It drinks more like Campari than anything else — it’s aperitif-like in viscosity and it hits all the parts of your tongue that I’m chasing when I put together a cocktail — which means that I either drink it on the rocks or I add something effervescent to it.

Fever-Tree’s bitter lemon tonic is dry, so it plays nicely with the sweetness in Sanbitter. You could put San Pellegrino’s Limonata with it, but then it’s going to drink more like a soda. With tonic, it drinks more like a cocktail. Sometimes I just mix it with sparkling mineral water, but it has to have a big bubble, like Topo Chico.

Because Sanbitter isn’t readily available in the United States, I savor it. I’ll drink one after I’ve had a hard day of work or when my wife is having a glass of wine and, to be honest, I put them away when I have friends over. It’s like when you have a really nice bottle of whiskey: When company calls, you put the Pappy Van Winkle in the cabinet and offer Wild Turkey!”

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I’ve Been Drinking: Espresso and Tonic with Lime

Food editor Rick Martinez on the drink that makes him feel like he’s on vacation—even when he’s at work in Bon Appétit’s offices.



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“It seemed very suspicious to me — I couldn’t imagine drinking tonic in the morning — but a friend of mine who owns a café in Harlem called Shuteye fixed me one, and the only polite thing to do was to drink it. My mind was blown. It’s transformative! The tonic turns a shot of espresso into something completely different, almost unrecognizable.

Normally, you see this drink with lemon, but because that’s sharper, you have to be more judicious with it. Lime has tropical notes and a sweetness that I like. So I pull a long shot or, if I’m buying it, I order a double shot. I throw that into a pint glass filled with ice, top it with about 8 ounces of good-quality tonic, and squeeze a lime wedge into it. It’s so balanced: The warm espresso melts the ice, which waters the coffee down a bit, and the tonic’s sweetness with that bitter edge pulls out the tannins and the herbaceousness of the coffee, depending on what you’re drinking. A dark roast will clash with the tonic, so you want something lighter, with berry or stone fruit notes.

As much as I love a morning mug full of coffee, there’s also a bit of monotony and drudgery associated with it for me, because it’s usually the beginning of the workday. This feels like something that I should be enjoying on the beach.”

Recipe: Midnight Magic

Rick may like his espresso and tonic in the morning, but at Mission and Market, Eduardo Guzman pairs his version with dessert — preferably something rich and chocolaty. The Buckhead restaurant opened after my time in Atlanta — I was the food editor of Atlanta magazine for two very fun (and busy!) years — but I love the addition of bitters, which, with just one dash, usher this drink into the night.

SERVES 1

7 ounces tonic water

1 ounce espresso

1 dash walnut bitters

1 lemon twist for garnish

Fill a collins glass with ice and pour in the tonic water. Top with the espresso and bitters. Garnish with the lemon twist.

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