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Shake Up These Mocktails

By Stacey Lastoe Jan 19 2021

Judging by ardent La Croix fans everywhere, a cold, carbonated beverage beats plain old water any day of the week. And for those of us pursuing a dry January (heretofore referred to by its rightful name Drynuary, after enjoying many years of popularity), seltzer is just the beginning. Drynuary isn’t about swapping cocktails for water (even though New York City has bragging rights when it comes to tap water) or any other naturally booze-free drink. One of my closest friends goes dry every January, and she says the key is to make the nonalcoholic libations feel as special as the alcoholic ones.

Rainbow Room’s executive chef Mathew Woolf would have to agree. Woolf says at the Rainbow Room, where mocktails have been on the menu for years and change with the seasons, the drinks are shown the “same love and respect” as those containing alcohol. Woolf says to “have a little fun with it” and to think in terms of depth and layering, especially in winter, when a goal may be to try to achieve the nuance and richness of an aged liquor. You can use seltzer, about which Woolf says he’s a purist, as a base and arm yourself with a few tricks of the trade—including collins and sturdy rocks glasses, regardless of what you’re drinking.

In the beginning of the pandemic, my husband and I marked the end of the workday with a cocktail hour. We were religious about it. Eventually, the novelty of that novel circumstance—home together at 5 or 6 pm every single day—well, it wore off, and before long, we abandoned the tradition. But during that period, I began making simple syrup and infusing the sweet liquid with fresh herbs such as rosemary or thyme. Woolf likes thyme for its savory quality, which helps add richness to a drink that might typically be made with a complex-tasting booze such as tequila or whiskey. His thyme simple syrup isn’t too sweet either, just sweet enough.

Pay attention to seasonality, too. The mojito you may crave in the middle of summer may not be as appealing in the dead of winter, but a drink made with ingredients relatable to the season will help power you through the long, cold days. In January, seeking out richer, warmer flavors makes sense and may help you get into the mocktail mindset. Woolf says by relying on the fruits of the season and familiar spices, you can “take it [mocktail making] to a different level.” He’s a big fan of purées of fruits, such as figs; when married in a purée with nonalcoholic red wine, cinnamon, and star anise, they add a layer of complexity to a booze-free beverage. The nice thing about something like a fig or apple purée is that it has a decent shelf life—about 10 days in the fridge or weeks in the freezer. The sugar helps it keep, though Woolf promises it’s not too sweet—remember, balance is key in spiritless drinks, too. It’s “like making a jam but not canning it,” Woolf explains. (See the recipe for Getting Figgy With It, below.)

Of course, January isn’t the only time having a few mocktail recipes in your repertoire will come in handy. Knowing how to create a delicious, nuanced nonalcoholic cocktail is wise no matter what time of year it is. Not everyone drinks alcohol, and why should those who don’t not be treated to a well-balanced drink?

Getting Figgy With It (Mocktail Mule)

You won’t find rum in the Rainbow Room’s Getting Figgy With It, a nonalcoholic version of a Moscow mule. Woolf recommends using a proper copper mug for the best drinking experience. This mocktail can also be made into a cocktail if you’re so inclined simply by adding a shot of your favorite brown spirit.

Fig Jam

  • 1 pound figs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 vanilla pod, split
  • 2 cinnamon sticks

Chop the figs and place in a bowl, add sugar, and mix well. Place in the fridge for four hours to macerate. Once macerated, blend figs with a hand blender to break them down. Place figs in a pan along with all other ingredients and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. Cook mixture until it is thick and coats the back of a spoon without falling (around 15–20 minutes), then remove from heat. Remove cinnamon sticks, star anise, and vanilla. Place mixture in a clean jar with a lid. Store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or freeze.

Thyme Syrup

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 14 thyme sprigs

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, or until sugar is completely dissolved, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and let infuse for 10 minutes. Strain out thyme and transfer liquid into a jar and let it cool completely. Syrup can keep for a month in the fridge. (If a smaller batch is desired, cut all ingredients in half.)

Cocktail

  • 2 tablespoons Fig Jam (recipe above)
  • 1 ounce Thyme Syrup (recipe above)
  • 1 ounce lemon juice
  • 1 ounce lime juice
  • 4 ounces ginger beer or ginger ale (Boylan preferred)
  • Thyme sprig, for garnish

Muddle Fig Jam with Thyme Syrup and lemon and lime juices. Shake with ice. Strain mixture into a copper Moscow mule mug. Fill the mug half full with crushed ice. Top off with ginger beer and garnish with thyme sprig.

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G&G Spritz (Grapefruit & Ginger)

Rainbow Room’s G&G spritz (grapefruit & ginger) will quench thirst and satisfy the craving for something a little spicy, thanks to the ginger syrup.

Ginger Syrup

  • ¾ cup ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water

Bring ginger, sugar, and water to a simmer in a small heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Gently simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Strain through a sieve, then cool to room temperature. Place in a jar. Syrup can keep in the fridge for up to one month.

Cherry-Maple Syrup

  • ¾ cup maple syrup
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup honey
  • ½ lemon, juice and zest
  • 1 orange, juice and zest
  • ½ cup frozen tart cherries (if you can’t find frozen, use dried)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Place all ingredients in a heavy-based pan and bring to boil. Turn to medium heat and cook for 15 minutes. Strain and place in a jar. Syrup can be refrigerated for up to one month. (The syrup can also be used over pancakes and waffles.)

Cocktail

  • 1.5 ounces grapefruit juice
  • 0.5 ounce lemon juice
  • 0.5 ounce Cherry-Maple Syrup (store-bought or recipe above)
  • 0.5 ounce Ginger Syrup (recipe above)
  • Club soda

Combine all ingredients except the club soda in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well. Pour into a collins glass over pebbled ice and top with club soda.

All recipes courtesy of the Rainbow Room, located at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

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