As the weather shifts from spring to summer, so do people’s happy hour habits. “Spiritous, booze-forward drinks — think Manhattans and old-fashioneds — get dialed back, and citrusy, produce-driven drinks take center stage,” says Ashley Rose Conway, aka @craftandcocktails, the author of “Celebrate Rosé: Cocktails and Parties for Life’s Rosiest Moments.” Many of us will be seeking lighter, healthier options in our cocktail choices this summer, and that includes options with lower alcohol by volume or no alcohol at all.
While self-isolating this spring during the pandemic may not have been one of life’s rosiest moments, for some it has been a time to go deeper on hobbies like building your own bar cart. Well, that mixology geek-out doesn’t need to be pushed aside when you take the booze factor down a notch or two. The trend of “sessionable” drinks — low enough in alcohol that you can consume several in one “session” without ill effects — began in the world of craft beers, but can certainly apply to cocktails, too.
Julia Momose, creative director at Chicago’s formal bar Kumiko, also endorses the motto of “sipping in moderation and extending the enjoyment through sessionable, aperitif-style cocktails,” specifically in warmer months. “Highballs are some of my favorite drinks to mix and sip. Peaches, blueberries and raspberries will be coming into season and work well fresh or cooked down into jams and syrups for spirit-free and low-proof mixing,” she says.
In addition to bringing produce center stage for summer drinks, you can expand your low- or no-ABV spirits bases. Zero-proof spirits like Ritual Zero Proof are gaining popularity as substitutes for the hard stuff. White wines and rosés also “make delicious base spirits,” says Conway. “Having sherry, dry and sweet vermouth and sparkling wine on hand will ensure you can create numerous session drinks, like spritzes, a Bamboo and Sherry Cobblers.”
Here are recipes, ingredients and barware needed for prepping and serving delicious low- and no-alcohol summer cocktails.
Low- and no-alcohol summer drink recipes
The sherry cobbler — a classic 19th century drink, elevated in the literature of Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving — is essentially sherry, sugar and citrus, shaken and poured over crushed ice, then sipped through a straw. It can be adapted to any season, Conway says, “but really shines during the summer when berries and stone fruit from the market can be muddled into the drink.” Conway likes to amp hers up by adding her own favorite sipper, rosé, resulting in a “low-ABV fruity, nutty drink perfect for warm weather sipping.”
Rosé Cobbler (from ‘Celebrate Rosé’)
- 3 oz Amontillado sherry
- 2 oz rosé
- 3/4 oz lemon juice
- 1/4 oz simple syrup (1:1 sugar and water)
- 5 raspberries
- 2 strawberries
- Orange peel, optional
- Garnish: mint, berries, lemon slice
In a shaker, combine the sherry, rosé, lemon juice, simple syrup, and berries. Muddle. Add orange peel. Shake quickly with ice. Double strain into a Collins glass filled with crushed ice. Smack mint –— to release the oils — on the glass and garnish along with berries and a lemon slice.
Freshly cut herbs and tart fresh or bottled juices serve as a fine foundation for delicious, semi-savory cocktails. For this one, “fresh tarragon and snappy green apple juice add a lot of flavor, particularly topped with celery salt,” Conway says.
Here Today, Tarragon Tomorrow
- 4 teaspoons celery salt and 2 tablespoons coarse salt
- 2 oz green apple juice
- 1 oz fresh lime juice
- 1/2 oz tarragon syrup*
- 1/4 oz agave syrup (equal parts agave nectar & water)
- 1 oz club soda
- Tarragon sprig and 3 green apple slices
Add 4 teaspoons celery salt to 2 tablespoons coarse salt on a plate. Using a lime wedge, wet the rim of a Collins glass. Dip the rim of the glass into the salt mixture to coat. Add ice to the glass. Shake the apple juice, lime juice, agave and tarragon syrup in a shaker with ice. Strain into the glass. Top with club soda and stir. Garnish with a tarragon sprig and apple slices.
* Tarragon Syrup
Dissolve 1 cup of sugar in an equal part water in a small sauce pan. Then, add a few sprigs of fresh tarragon and simmer for two minutes. Remove the tarragon sprigs and store the liquid in a jar in the refrigerator.
For lots of folks, summertime is margarita season. Conway mixed up this nonalcoholic take on a Coconut Jalapeño Margarita she had recently made with a couple of unexpected additions. “Green tea syrup adds tannins and earthiness that spirits often lend to cocktails,” she says. “Spicy jalapeño and orange bitters punch up the flavor, while coconut cools it off and bridges all the flavors.”
Coconut Jalapeño Cooler
- 2 oz coconut milk
- 1 oz green tea syrup*
- 3/4 oz lime juice
- 5 slices jalapeño
- 2 dashes orange bitters**
- Coarse or black salt rim, lime, jalapeño, or edible flower
Using a lime wedge, wet the rim of a rocks glass. Dip the rim of the glass into the salt to coat half the rim. Add all of the ingredients to a shaker and muddle. Shake quickly with ice. Double strain into a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a slice of lime.
* Green Tea Syrup
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon loose green tea
- 1/2 cup hot water
Add the sugar and green tea to a jar. Top with hot, almost boiling water. Stir to incorporate the sugar. Let the tea infuse for two hours. Strain out the solids and store sealed in the fridge for two weeks.
** Bitters add a minimal amount of alcohol so omit if you don’t want to consume alcohol at all.
For super-simple nonalcoholic cocktails that you don’t even need a recipe for, Conway keeps on hand a range of packaged non-alcoholic spirits, like Lyre’s Aperitif Rosso, “that can be used to mix up non-alcoholic spritzes beautifully,” by just adding a bit, to taste, to your sparkling water of choice. She adds Seedlip products to non-alcoholic cocktails to “create a great spice backbone that hints at barrel-aged spirits,” and she keeps ginger beer, tonic, mineral waters and homemade simple syrups at the ready for quick mixing.
Bar Kumiko’s Momose also regularly employs non-alcoholic spirits brands in her zero-ABV cocktails, along with less expected ingredients with interesting flavor profiles, like natural pomegranate molasses and yuzu juice. This cocktail takes full advantage of these unusual mixers.
Bright One (by Julia Momose, Kumiko)
Combine all of the ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until chilled and then strain the drink into a coupe glass. Garnish with an herb bouquet of mint and bay leaf.
Combine two parts honey with one part hot water, by weight. Stir until fully combined and store chilled.
Drawing from her Japanese heritage, Momose also integrates freshly steeped teas — green and other varieties — into low-ABV drinks, like her stunningly layered Matcha Tonic. “Either cold brewing or brewing it ahead of time and chilling gives you some wonderful flavors to mix with.”
The Matcha Tonic
In the bottom of a glass, combine the matcha with the simple syrup. Pour a splash of soda over it and mix it well until the matcha becomes like a syrup. Fill the glass with crushed ice and then slowly pour the tonic over the ice, taking care to keep the glass full of ice so that it doesn’t float up and cause you to lose the layers. Finish it with a few generous dashes of Peychaud’s bitters as a float. For a little extra kick, try mixing in a small splash of dry vermouth, fino sherry or gin.
New to bartending? Here are a few pieces that are essential for preparing and serving the drinks above like a pro.
Mofado Crystal Whiskey Glasses, Classic 12oz Set of 2 ($27, originally $34.95; amazon.com)
This set is perfect for any recipe calling for a double old-fashioned, lowball or rocks glass — like the Coconut Jalapeño Cooler above.
Luigi Bormioli Classico Tall Tumbler ($25.60, originally $30; nordstrom.com)
Stunning and supremely high quality, for icy highballs in summer and beyond. They also work double duty as daily-use water or iced tea glasses.
Bar Special 10 oz. Crystal Coupe (Set of 6) ($79.99; wayfair.com)
Anything in a coupe feels more special — use these to dress up your non-alcoholic cocktails and then pop the glasses right into the dishwasher.
JoyJolt 4-Piece Afina Cocktail Glasses Set, Martini Glasses ($17.95, originally $24.95; amazon.com)
Although these glasses don’t fit neatly into any particular category, that is their charm. They work well for any shaken cocktail, including martinis, margaritas and old-fashioneds.
Collins Slim Beverage Glasses, Set of 6 ($22.95; amazon.com)
Although a highball glass will work in a pinch, a classic Collins glass is more slim and holds slightly less liquid — 10 ounces versus 16 ounces — for a more elegant presentation.
Snowfox Double Wall Insulated Stainless Steel, Shaker ($39.99; amazon.com)
This shaker is designed to make drinks icy cold without sweating on the outside, thanks to its double wall insulation. It also looks handsome on any summer bar cart.
Viski Mini Measuring Cup ($12; surlatable.com)
A jigger with precise measurement markers is a key cocktailing tool, our experts say. This stainless steel one has a handy little window so you can see just how much you’re pouring.
Reusable Multi-Colored Stainless Steel Straws, Set of 8 ($6.95, originally $10.99; amazon.com)
“Reusable metal straws for sipping these refreshing beverages will carry you through summer cocktail making nicely,” says Conway.
You’ll need a blender for quickly whipped-up frozen drinks, Conway advises. This one makes quick work of fruit and ice, is a tidy size and comes at an affordable price.
Wooden Cocktail Muddler and Ice Crusher with Canvas Ice Bag ($11.99; amazon.com)
Summertime … and the muddling, of all those limes and herbs, is easy — with this muddler that doubles as an ice crusher for its accompanying ice bag.
Cocktail Strainer Set ($35.99; amazon.com)
This set has three different strainers for all your fresh-citrus-herbs-and-more straining needs.
Cork & Mill Acacia Wood Glass Rimmer ($19.98; amazon.com)
Salt-rimming a glass using just a plate feels so ordinary — and it can get frustrating when all the salt keeps going to the middle. This solid acacia wood rimmer is made for the job.
Samuelworld Large Silicone 8 Cavity Ice Maker ($13.99; amazon.com)
Quality ice is paramount to any cocktail, nonalcoholic or otherwise. This will ensure that anything you drink this summer feels next-level.
’Celebrate Rosé: Cocktails & Parties for Life’s Rosiest Moments’ by Ashley Rose Conway ($19.99; amazon.com)
Conway’s personal collection of her favorite cocktail recipes, featuring none other than her favorite mixer, rosé wine.
’All Day Cocktails: Low (And No) Alcohol Magic’ by Shaun Byrne and Nick Tesar ($24.99; amazon.com)
This pretty book is full of more than 50 recipes for low- or no-alcohol cocktails to try.
’Dry: Delicious Handcrafted Cocktails and Other Clever Concoctions ― Seasonal, Refreshing, Alcohol-Free’ by Clare Liardet ($9.69; amazon.com)
With drink names like “Blood Orange Sunrise” and “Espresso Mint Martini,” this book is full of completely alcohol-free cocktails, and you’ll want to taste every recipe.
’Session Cocktails: Low-Alcohol Drinks for Any Occasion’ by Drew Lazor and the Editors of Punch ($15.71; amazon.com)
Fifty cocktail recipes — focused on natural ingredients and also low in sugar and alcohol — are just the beginning of this handy tome. It also includes tips for building a low-ABV bar as well as a history lesson in the practice.
Low- and no-alcohol cocktail ingredients
Stock up on these ingredients in order to whip up the cocktails featured here, and many more.
Fever-Tree Ginger Beer, 4 pack ($4.99; target.com)
Every serious bartender seems to turn to this ginger beer for adding a spicy kick without extra sugar.
Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water - 4pk/200ml Bottles ($4.99; target.com)
Momose says this is her favorite tonic water for mixing into cocktails.
Tres Agaves Organic Agave Nectar ($7.99; target.com)
Agave syrup is a delicious and lower-sugar sweetener for low-ABV cocktails. To make it, start with agave nectar, then mix in an equal part of water. Voila!
Viva Doria Hawaiian Black Lava Sea Salt ($6.99; amazon.com)
Rimming cocktails is a fun way to add another flavor profile. This black salt from Hawaii adds a quirky color, too.
Just Pomegranate Syrup - Organic Pomegranate Molasses ($13.99; amazon.com)
Momose keeps pomegranate molasses ready to pack a flavorful punch in her low-ABV cocktails.
Yakami Orchard Yuzu Juice ($13.99; instacart.com)
This fruit juice will keep your cocktail guests — virtual and otherwise — intrigued.
Jade Leaf Matcha Green Tea Powder ($9.95; amazon.com)
Matcha is an essential ingredient in the Matcha Tonic above, but it’s also delicious iced with your milk of choice for a cool summer wake-up drink.
Japanese Organic Sencha Green Tea Leaves ($14; amazon.com)
Mixers need to be of great quality in low- or no-alcohol cocktails, because they provide all the flavor. This organic green tea from Japan is a wise choice.
Zero-proof spirits for a no-ABV bar
Conway loves Seedlip and Lyre products worked into complex summertime concoctions or simply stirred with soda water for an easy non-alcoholic spritzer.
Seedlip Garden 108 Non-Alcoholic Spirit ($37.50; amazon.com)
This herbal blend adds a barrel-y taste to fizzes and other mocktails, perfect for all-day sipping.
Lyre’s Tarocco Non-Alcoholic Set ($71.88; amazon.com)
This pack of two of Lyre’s nonalcoholic spirits will open up the possibilities for your alcohol-free mixology. It includes Aperitif Rosso (sweet vermouth style) and Italian Orange (Campari style).
Ritual Zero Proof Tequila Alternative ($25; amazon.com)
This doesn’t taste like a straight spirit, but as a bottled alternative, it makes for a suitable non-alcoholic mixer.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers’ listed prices at the time of publication.