Pros: Wonderful and varied alcohol-free cocktail recipes!
Cons: Be prepared to search for some ingredients
Rating: 5 out of 5
Review copy courtesy of Ten Speed Press.
There are times when I’m glad I’m not so fond of the taste of alcohol; things have been so crazy lately that it’s probably best that I’ve never even been tempted by the idea of using drinks to relax. (Hence the unfortunate break between reviews.) I love the other tastes prevalent in many cocktails, however, and the idea of mixed drinks that have their own lovely blend of flavors, so I was thrilled by the chance to review Liz Scott’s Zero-Proof Cocktails. My husband likes the taste of alcohol even less than I do, so we were the ideal audience to test this one out. Luckily for us, this unassuming little book is even better than I hoped!
This pretty little recipe book is meant for two main audiences: those who don’t like the taste of alcohol (some of us are quite sensitive to it), and those who can’t drink it (for example, those whose religions forbid it). This way, those who find themselves longing for the intricate and interesting taste experiences that alcohol drinkers can enjoy can get in on the fun. Some of the recipes are meant to duplicate the flavors of existing drinks or alcohols for people who can’t drink alcohol but enjoy it, while other recipes are simply meant to be delicious drinks in their own right rather than knock-offs of existing cocktails. Some drinks come with suggestions for substituting in alcohol for those who want to make two drink versions for their drinking and non-drinking guests. For those people who can’t touch a drop of alcohol, there are great tips to help you watch out for “hidden” alcohol content in some ingredients you might otherwise think to use.
When I think of “cocktails” I tend to think of things like margaritas and martinis, but Liz Scott has taken a much wider view on the term! She has divided her book into five types of drinks: elixirs and aperitifs, martinis and party cocktails, mealtime libations, dessert drinks, and nightcaps. She includes a foreword on ingredients and equipment that’s quite thorough, even addressing things like the fact that “alcohol-free” wine and beer can legally contain up to 0.5% of alcohol—an important detail for those for whom alcohol is a matter of prohibition, not taste. Many of the recipes come with gorgeous photographs that will certainly whet your appetite!
Elixirs and aperitifs are meant as before-dinner drinks, and were originally created as medicinal beverages. Many of them include herbal ingredients, and the recipes in this chapter are surprising and diverse. I have to admit to some trepidation regarding the idea of barley water or a cucumber-based drink, but sign me up for some “blueberry cobbler”! Some drinks use a little vinegar to mimic the bite of alcohol, while others simply provide an interesting taste experience all their own. White grape juice and sparkling white grape juice also show up in quite a few recipes throughout the book (preferably of the no-sugar-added variety). Even though I don’t like the taste of alcohol and thus knew the serious mock-alcohols wouldn’t be my favorite drinks, I could tell by the taste of the one we made (a mock sherry) that it was good, just not my thing.
The “mocktails” in the martini & party cocktails chapter are imaginative and fun! Whether you prefer mojitos, margaritas, or coladas, in orange, mango, lime, or pineapple, you’ll find something in here to whet your appetite. You’ll even find non-alcoholic versions of a hurricane, cosmopolitan and mai tai! Some drinks use flavors as varied as elderflower and hibiscus. There’s a variation on a champagne cocktail in here that’s just divine.
Mealtime libations are designed, much the way wine is chosen, to complement certain foods or meals. Want some non-alcoholic mimosas to go with brunch? You’ve got ’em! Or you could go with an alternative banana-based drink. You won’t have to worry about the advisability of having a drink with breakfast if you’re having this book’s peach-flavored “breakfast bellini.” There’s a drink that makes use of tarragon to pair with fish, and a ginger beer shandy for quaffing with snacks. A white tea infusion makes an alternative to white wine, and a dry grape grigio is designed to pair with poultry. The strawberry white sangria is so good I could make that recipe alone over and over. If you’d normally serve a Zinfandel, try the pomegranate-based “pom zinfandel.”
Of course plenty of the drinks in the preceding chapters would make fine desserts, but Zero-Proof Cocktails goes one better with an entire chapter of specific dessert drinks. How about hopscotch eggnog (it uses butterscotch syrup in place of schnapps), or a toasted almond cordial? Of course a selection of dessert drinks wouldn’t be complete without something chocolate—how about a bittersweet chocolatini?—but there are also some great fruit possibilities, such as a blood orange cordial, a banana split martini, or “papaya passion.” Honestly, the real problem is simply picking a recipe to try, since choosing between peppermint white hot chocolate and chocolate coco latte is positively painful!
Since nightcaps are meant to help one sleep or aid in post-dinner digestion, you’ll find both mock versions of traditional nightcaps (such as spiced apple brandywine, which of course doesn’t have any real wine in it) and a few originals. The almond roca buona notte is simple and heavenly, much like a cup of warm milk. There’s a sweet ginger tummy tea, and even a catnip tisane!
I’ve gone on for much longer than I meant to, but I can’t help waxing poetic about such delicious, sweet, and intense flavors. I hoped for some good juice drinks and a handful of virgin versions of fruity cocktails, and got so much more than I bargained for!
The only difficulty is that the recipes do call for many unusual ingredients. There is, however, a listing of resource websites in the back of the book that will definitely help. I found blood orange bitters at Williams-Sonoma, and sparkling grape juice in the Kosher aisle at the grocery store. Our local Whole Foods Market had the no-sugar-added white grape juice. Other recipes call for exotic fresh fruits or juices, flavor syrups, or teas, but as long as you’re willing to order a few ingredients online you should be fine. Certainly if you’re the kind of person who wants to experiment with a book of cocktails in the first place, I have a feeling you won’t mind hunting down some ingredients as well!
*Note: I realize I didn’t capitalize the drink names, even though some of the equivalent drink names are usually capitalized. That’s because none of the drink names are capitalized in the book.