Refreshing Cocktail Alternatives


Shaking off the winter gray, spring blooms with gatherings of friends and family, celebrations of fine weather and outdoor activities. As we put together our picnic feasts of deviled eggs, fruit salads, fresh-baked pies and barbeque, we often pay less attention to the beverage offerings. Creativity in the drink department can be difficult, and so it is no wonder that we fall back on the usual suspects: beer, soda and wine.

I am by no means an abstainer, but care must be taken when serving alcohol at family affairs. First of all, many people do not partake for a variety of reasons – medical, religious, safety or personal health. It is important to respect this decision and provide interesting nonalcoholic alternatives. In addition, there are usually children at family affairs, so the host must make provisions not just for them, but also for the adults charged with their care.

I have had the great fortune of working with families for 20 years in various capacities. I’ve been employed as a child advocate in the legal realm for more than 15 years and been confronted with the realities of substance abuse in countless cases. I have also had the extreme pleasure of helping parents finalize the adoption of long-awaited children, and I have directed a local nonprofit agency that specialized in helping divorcing couples transition their children through that difficult process. In these many years of family work, I have developed sensitivity to adults drinking in the presence of children. Although I do not subscribe to the notion that adults should never drink in front of children – and there are numerous cultures in which this is a healthy practice – I know firsthand that the matter must be dealt with judiciously. I began talking to my friends with children, and we all agreed that there was indeed cause to put more thought and planning into our drink choices at multigenerational events. Being the drink craftsman among us, I was not surprised when this “homework” was assigned to me!

One of the most important challenges with any party, and especially those where children are in attendance, is to moderate the flow of alcohol – lest your family gathering degenerate into an all-out bacchanalia. This concern intensifies during warm-weather, outdoor events, when people consume more beverages to quench their thirst. If the beverage offering is highly alcoholic, this can present some serious problems. Not only can intoxication be more immediate (and even unintentional), it in turn dehydrates the body, thus leading to more drinking.

A few ideas bubbled to the surface. First of all, an obvious way to slow the flow is to offer drinks that feature spirits, but not in the concentration found in typical cocktails. At a bar this might be called a “weak drink”, but at a family picnic it is “a smart move.” instead of a normal ratio of one part alcohol to three or four parts mixer, try a ratio of 1:8 as in my Carthusian Iced Tea. Starting with one of the classic southern thirst quenchers, I spiked it with yellow chartreuse, the herbal liqueur from France – and the lower proof sibling to the more common Green Chartreuse. It is mildly alcoholic but preserves the flavor profile of the black tea.

Carthusian Iced Tea

> 8 oz. chilled Ceylon black tea

> 1 oz. Yellow Chartreuse

Mix ingredients in a Collins glass, give a quick stir, and fill with ice. Garnish with a fresh basil leaf. This recipe is for an individual serving, but it can be easily multiplied.


Pimm’s Red Cup

Another way to serve great-tasting drinks that won’t have your guests stumbling is to use low-proof spirits. I love the Pimm’s cup, the classic drink from England that is made with Pimm’s (a very low alcohol by volume spirit) and ginger ale, garnished with fresh fruits and herbs of the season. In keeping with my tea-totaling theme, I refashioned the classic drink using red tea.

> 1.5 oz. Pimm’s No. 1

> 3 oz. chilled red tea
> 2 oz. ginger beer, ginger ale or lemon/lime soda (Each substitution will change the drink’s profile slightly, but all are delicious.)

> Fresh strawberries

> Orange slice

> Mint sprig

Dice strawberries and orange, leaving the peel on, and put a large spoonful of the mixed fruit in the bottom of a Collins glass. After filling the glass with ice, add the Pimm’s and the chilled red tea. Top with the soda of your choice and give it quick stir. Garnish with mint sprig or orange slice.

Cordials offer another great way to add a moderate amount of alcohol to your drinks. Although cordials may have a reputation for being bottom-shelf spirits with too much sugar – and there are certainly cordials that fit that description – there is something of a cordials renaissance underway in the liquor industry. Modern, innovative, artisanal cordials are coming to market with such sophisticated flavors as ginger and elderflower (see the St-Germain cocktail recipe in the G-side imbibe). In this Ginger Green tea, Domaine De Canton infuses green tea with the delicate flavor of young Vietnamese ginger.

Ginger Green Tea

> 64 oz. chilled green tea

> 12 oz. Domaine de Canton (French ginger liqueur)

Mix the ingredients and allow to chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Serve in an iced Collins glass. Garnish with a candied mango slice.

The final evolution of my tea experiment is a refreshing nonalcoholic summer sipper. Some of my colleagues were skeptical that a sophisticated drink could be made without any spirits, and the industry still hasn’t come up with a satisfying term for these drinks. “Mock- tails” doesn’t quite do the job, and one Austin writer has termed them “lie-bations.” this White rose iced tea recipe proves that you can have a delicate flavor profile that is easily as enjoyable as a spirited cocktail.

White Rose Iced Tea

> 64 oz. fresh brewed white tea
(I prefer White Rose Organic available at Central Market.)

> 12 oz. Elite Natural Organic Rose Sherbet (This is a juice drink made from apple juice and roses and is available at Central Market.)

This drink is lovely and delicate so you must give it time to chill in the refrigerator. Icing this drink will destroy the balance of flavors, so plan ahead and allow four hours minimum for the drink to chill and mellow.

The sun is shining and the skies are blue again. You won’t need an excuse to throw a party so much as you will need an excuse not to. On these endless warm days, it is not uncommon for guests to linger for hours. These low-proof and no-proof drinks allow you to be the life of the party instead of that person passed out on the hammock.