3 Refreshing Mocktails to Make for Dry January

Eric Ginsburg

Start your year with a trio of smart, spiritless drinks that will impress any audience.

Welcome to Dry January — a month where close to 20% of Americans say they will abstain from alcohol.

For years, it’s been difficult to find much to drink at bars or other establishments sans alcohol, unless we’re talking about soda or maybe — at best — a Shirley Temple.

3 Refreshing Mocktails Photo

Fortunately that’s changed considerably, partly thanks to younger generations drinking less, more people being sober curious, and a growing number of people who don’t partake, for a wide range of reasons.

If you’re looking for spirit-free drinks but still want to enjoy a nuanced and compelling beverage, try making one of these nonalcoholic cocktails at home!

What is Dry January?

“Dry January” is basically exactly what it sounds like — ditching alcohol for the first month of the year.

Formally started as a campaign in the United Kingdom in 2013, the practice has roots that date back to World War II in Finland, according to TIME.

It’s taken off in popularity in recent years, particularly the United States.

Some people participate for the health benefits, which isn’t surprising given the whole “new year, new me” trend and spike in gym use in January.

Other folks may just be sober curious and see it as a chance to explore a different lifestyle.

With a stronger market for non-alcoholic drinks in January, it’s much easier to find bars and restaurants with options on the menu during the month.

But you can also pretty easily make something enjoyable and creative at home, including the three recipes we’ve sourced!

3 Refreshing Mocktails secret garden photo

The Benefits of a Mocktail

One of the best ways to be successful with cutting out alcohol — especially in social situations — is to have a go-to substitute, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

That’s where a mocktail comes in.

Sure, you could choose something simpler like seltzer. But the upshot of a mocktail is that it still preserves the experience of a crafted drink.

It looks, and often in many ways tastes, like the genuine article.

That can be helpful to ease the transition and to maintain some of the pleasure of social consumption.

It can also ease any awkwardness and cut down on unwanted questions by making it less obvious that there’s no alcohol in your drink.

I saw the benefits of this firsthand when my wife first learned she was pregnant and didn’t want to tell coworkers or everyone she interacted with, and also didn’t want to stay home from work and social events.

You may not be drinking for a whole host of reasons, and that’s your business.

A mocktail can help keep it that way.

What Makes a Good Non-Alcoholic Cocktail?

To help us enjoy Dry January and explore the world of spirit-free drinks, we tapped Brice Scouten, bar manager at the revered Durham Hotel in North Carolina.

Scouten’s worked at the iconic downtown spot for almost seven years, and loves making personalized non-alcoholic drinks for people because “it’s a way to make them feel special.”

Below, Scouten graciously shares three of his alcohol-free creations that you can replicate at home.

But what makes a good spiritless drink?

“A non-alcoholic cocktail should feel distinctly different than just drinking juice, soda, tea, or coffee,” Scouten explains.

“It should look and feel in your hand like a beverage that’s in a different category.”

That’s not always easy to achieve.

“With a non-alcoholic cocktail, the biggest challenge is creating a beverage that has a full-bodied mouthfeel,” he adds.

“Cocktails should have some sort of texture to them,” Scouten continues.

“Alcohol adds weigh to a beverage that’s hard to replicate. A vinegary shrub or carbonation are other ways to create that mouthfeel.”

A cocktail “shrub” sounds fancy but it’s actually a pretty simple mixture of fruit and sugar, with vinegar added to cut or balance the sweetness.

In a second, we’ll get into how to make Scouten’s banana maple shrub, and a few options for using carbonation such as club soda.

3 Refreshing Mocktails banana maple shrub picture

Alternatives to Alcohol

Fortunately we’ve come a long way from the day’s when O’Doul’s was the only option.

(No shade if that’s your drink of choice, but it just doesn’t do it for me. Regardless, variety is a good thing for everyone.)

Believe it or not, there’s an entire industry of non-alcoholic spirits.Not just beers!

Some cities have sober bars, and a few stores selling zero proof wines, beers, and liquors have popped up, too.

You can now find alcohol-free Tanqueray, non-alcoholic wine alternatives such as Non, and mixers like Seedlip Garden with peas, rosemary, thyme, and spearmint.

Non-alcoholic beers are everywhere, too.

Athletic Brewing is one of the most revered in the space.

Scouten, at the Durham Hotel, the company’s Golden Dawn in the style of a golden ale really nails it.

3 Refreshing Mocktails picture

Building Your Non-Alcoholic Home Bar

Besides adding some of the drinks we’ve mentioned above to your collection, there are several things you can do to build up your home “bar.”

If you want to avoid even trace amounts of alcohol, skip bitters.

But if that isn’t a concern, Scouten points out that “bitters can be the way to add depth to a drink if you are looking to enjoy low-ABV beverages.”

Another great option? Herbs, he says.

“They can act as an ingredient or a playful garnish,” Scouten adds.

I don’t know about you, but when I make a drink at home and put it in a nicer glass and add a garnish, it pretty immediately feels more refined.

Being Social Without Alcohol

Some people fear their social lives will end if they stop consuming alcohol.

Dry January certainly makes it more socially acceptable not to drink.

But there are also sober social clubs around the country working to build community without substances.

It can also be super useful to find someone in your life who will be supportive of your decision not to drink.

For many people, that comes in the form of an organization like AA, but you could also look to a friend, family member, or colleague.

If you do drink, however occasionally or often, remember that someone else’s decision to abstain has nothing to do with you. Nobody owes you an explanation.

3 Mocktail Recipes to Make Today

Scouten generously shared three different spiritless cocktail recipes with us that you can enjoy during Dry January or year-round. 

All of these recipes are for a single drink — the way you'd make them in his bar — so plan to double (or triple, etc.) these if needed.

You could easily make larger batches of the Secret Garden or the Banana Maple Shrub, Scouten said.

Juan Valdez Fizz Recipe Photo

Juan Valdez Fizz

For the syrups or cold brew coffee in this recipe, you can purchase any of these items or make your own!

Ingredients:

  • ¼ ounce coffee syrup
  • ½ ounce chocolate syrup
  • ½ ounce lemon juice
  • 1 ounce sour cherry syrup
  • 1 ½ ounces cold brew coffee
  • 2 ounces Fevertree Mediterranean Tonic
  • Shaved chocolate to garnish (optional)

Directions: 

  • Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker.
  • Add cubed ice.
  • Shake and strain.
  • Serve in a hurricane glass over crushed ice (if you have it).
  • Garnish with shaved chocolate (optional, but it will certainly impress friends and family!)
3 Refreshing Mocktails secret garden picture

Banana Maple Shrub

Note — this drink requires you to make the shrub itself several days in advance. We promise it's worth the wait!

Ingredients:

  • 1 dash Angostura bitters (optional - technically contains minute amounts of alcohol)
  • 1 ounce grapefruit juice
  • 3 ounces Banana Maple Shrub (see below)
  • 2 ounces club soda
  • Shaved nutmeg to garnish (optional)

Directions:

  • Build drink in a Collins glass (optional).
  • Add cubed ice.
  • Stir gently.
  • Garnish with shaved nutmeg. (optional, but next level!)

To make the Banana Maple Shrub:

You will need: bananas, apple cider vinegar, maple syrup

  • Macerate a bunch of ripe bananas in a large measuring cup or bowl.
  • Combine with equal volume of apple cider vinegar (if you have 2 cups of mashed bananas, use 2 cups vinegar).
  • Let bananas and vinegar infuse for five to seven days in the refrigerator.
  • Then puree the mixture and strain through a fine mesh strainer.
  • Combine with an equal volume of maple syrup feel free to sweeten to taste if more is needed to balance the vinegar.
3 Refreshing Mocktails banana maple shrub photo

Secret Garden

To make this mocktail, you can purchase or make your own syrups.

For example, the Liber & Co. Fiery Ginger Syrup is a popular choice.

We recommend using fresh lemon juice, since this recipe also calls for an optional lemon peel garnish.

Ingredients:

  • ¼ ounce ginger syrup
  • ¼ ounce honey syrup
  • 1 ounce blood orange syrup
  • ¾ ounce lemon juice
  • 1 lemon peel (optional)
  • 2 ounces chamomile sweet tea (see below)
  • 2 Tbsp. turbinado cane sugar (for the tea)

Directions:

  • Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker.
  • Add cubed ice.
  • Shake and strain into a Snifter glass (if you have it) filled with cubed ice.
  • Top with three dashes of orange bitters (optional)
  • Express, or twist, a lemon peel over your drink and add it as a garnish (optional). 

To make chamomile sweet tea:

  • Steep 1 bag of chamomile tea in 8 ounces of hot water.
  • Add 2 tablespoons turbinado cane sugar and stir.
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Juan Valdez Fizz Recipe with Cold Brew & Sour Cherry

  1 Servings

Ingredients

  • 1/4 fluid ounce Coffee Syrup
  • 1/2 fluid ounce Chocolate Syrup
  • 1/2 fluid ounce Lemon Juice
  • 1 fluid ounce Sour Cherry Syrup
  • 1 1/2 fluid ounces Cold Brew Coffee
  • 2 fluid ounces Tonic Water
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chocolate, shaved for optional garnish

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker.
  2. Add cubed ice.
  3. Shake and strain.
  4. Add ice to a hurricane glass (if you have it).
  5. Pour shaker over the ice.
  6. Garnish with shaved chocolate (optional)

Recipe via Brice Scouten at the Durham Hotel.

Tip: If you are making individualized drinks for a gathering and some people want to add liquor to theirs, here’s what Scouten recommends for each of the three cocktails.

Add 1.5 oz of the following:

Our thanks to Brice Scouten and the Durham Hotel for sharing these recipes, photos, and insights with us!

Eric Ginsburg is the Editor of Food Fanatic. He's served as an editor at three newspapers and written for a wide range of publications, including Bon Appétit, Serious Eats, Wine Enthusiast, Southern Living, and Eater Carolinas. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

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Eric Ginsburg

About Eric

Eric Ginsburg is the Editor of Food Fanatic. He's served as an editor at three newspapers and written for a wide range of publications, including Bon Appétit, Serious Eats, Wine Enthusiast, Southern Living, and Eater Carolinas. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.