The Joys of Mocktails
Who doesn’t love a nice refreshing drink in the summer? If you’re 21 or older, the first thing that pops into your mind might very well be a frozen margarita or Mai Tai. But not everyone who can legally drink does drink, and over the past couple years more and more bars have started serving mocktails.
For those unfamiliar with the portmanteau, mocktails are mixed drinks made without any alcohol. They’re also called virgin drinks. They’re refreshing and come without any of the less desirable side effects of alcohol. There are a lot of reasons why someone might choose not to drink; it’s great that these options are available, so they can comfortably join in on social events being held at alcohol-centric places like bars.
I do drink alcohol, but I am also someone who’s on medication that is contraindicated with alcohol consumption (thanks, Wellbutrin!). What this means in practical terms for me is that if I do drink, it can’t be a lot, and it can’t be often. (If you take medications, please check with your doctor before consuming alcohol. I have my physician’s approval to drink sparingly.) For people on similar medications or on higher doses than me, it often means that they can’t drink alcohol at all. Enter the mocktail: all the joys of delicious mixed drinks, none of the dangerous drug interactions (or hangovers)!
Medication is just one reason someone might choose a mocktail over a cocktail. Some other reasons someone who could drink might not: they are a recovering alcoholic; they are sober by choice; they have bad reactions to alcohol or are allergic to it; they hate having hangovers; they have a really low alcohol tolerance; or they simply don’t like the taste. All of these—and others—are valid reasons to avoid drinking alcohol.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of social pressures that push people who might not want to drink—as well as underage folks—towards drinking. Mocktails help relieve some of that social pressure: visually it looks like you’re having a drink similar to those your companions are enjoying. Oftentimes, mocktails even are named similarly. People might not even know you’re not drinking alcohol.
The art of making a mocktail is very similar to that of making a cocktail, simply with non-alcoholic ingredients. Some of these you probably already have stocked if you have a bar at home: various juices, non-alcoholic bitters, flavored syrups, and carbonated drinks like ginger beer or club soda. You might even have fresh herbs and fruit to muddle or extracts thereof to add.
You can approach mocktails by taking your favorite cocktails and removing the alcoholic elements and substituting non-alcoholic elements. In my experience, the best mocktails are ones made the way the best cocktails are—from scratch, through combining ingredients well-suited or complementary to each other.
Which brings me to the recipe for the Elderflower Lemon Basil mocktail, my favorite mocktail to make at home. It’s loosely inspired by the Hugo cocktail.
If you’re unfamiliar with elderflower cordial, it’s a herbal syrup made from the elderflower plant, and it has a floral, herbaceous, and slightly citrus-y taste profile. You can find it online, at some liquor stores, and at some specialty food and drink stores. It goes really well with, unsurprisingly, herbal and citrus pairings.
I use lemon in this recipe but if you’re more of a lime or blood orange person, both of those would work with this mocktail. You could also swap the basil for mint or add lavender syrup to the mocktail to mix up the herbal elements. Experiment with the flavors you like, and, who knows, it might just become your new favorite drink! ▼
Elderflower Lemon Basil Mocktail
- A couple fresh basil leaves, muddled or bruised (use Thai basil for a punchier, anise-like flavor)
- 1-2 Tbl elderflower syrup/cordial
- Juice of half a lemon or 2 oz lemonade
- Top off with 4 oz sparkling water or lemon lime soda
- Garnish with lemon wedges or slices
Julian Harbaugh (they/them) is the Youth Peer Leader at CAMP Rehoboth. When they’re not writing, they can be found teaching their four rats new tricks, walking their dog, and roaming garage sales looking for antique philosophy books.