The New "Soft" Drink

The waves of #DryJanuary posts that crop up at this time of year highlight something those of us in the wine community probably should have noticed already: that while we are sluiced in a sybaritic splendor of wine options, we’ve been limiting non-drinking customers—or those of us who’ve out-aged our ability to process a third drink—to the mere choice of soda and diet soda. Therein lies an opportunity. Fresh juices, teas, herbs, spices, and vinegars, along with all of the appurtenances of cocktail culture that modern bars are stocked with, give us a chance to be creative, excite customers, and make a buck (or 12). New non-alcoholic products are coming to market, too, and while some are overpriced, neutered replacements for existing spirits, others are tasty and, in the right hands, can expand upon the range of what a good beverage manager can offer. With this in mind, we have asked some friends to contribute a few recipes for a new style of “soft" drink, to lend inspiration to, and expand upon, our booze-driven beverage programs.

– The GuildSomm Team


Courtesy of Eleven Madison Park in New York City, NY

"I think [non-alcoholic options are] important in two directions: both hospitality and business. On the one hand, you want everyone who walks in the door to have the opportunity to drink something special, and having specialty non-alcoholic options makes them feel like their preferences are being given weight. On the business side of things, if Coke is $2 and soft cocktails are $8, that drives revenue—and ideally also makes people want to return."

– , MS, Sommelier, Eleven Madison Park

2 ounces Pear-Lemon Tea (recipe follows)
1 ounce verjus
1/2 ounce chamomile honey (look for honey from chamomile flowers, or create an infusion)

Combine all ingredients in a glass and stir gently to combine.

For the Pear-Lemon Tea

100 grams dried pears, diced
35 grams lemon zest, zested carefully to avoid white pith
1 quart water

In a heat-proof container, combine the dried pears and lemon zest. Heat the water until almost boiling, then pour over the pears and zest. Cover and let stand overnight to steep. Strain. Store in the fridge.


Courtesy of Oriole in Chicago, IL

"[This was] created to pair with the rich and savory notes of the Wagyu course."

– Julia Momose, Creative Director & Partner, Kumiko

2 liters filtered water
4 whole dried shiitake mushrooms
10 grams hibiscus
15 grams loose Thai Oolong tea
10 grams loose Earl Grey tea
120 grams pomegranate molasses

Fill a large pot with room-temperature water. Add the shiitake mushrooms and bring to a boil. Once boiling, skim particles from the surface. Turn down the heat and add the tea. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Strain thoroughly, then mix in the pomegranate molasses. Store in the fridge.

Serve the drink in 8-ounce pours. Pour tableside into a cherry wood-smoked red wine glass.

Hyssop Palmer

Courtesy of Vicia in St. Louis, MO

"We love to utilize ingredients from our garden [in our non-alcoholic drinks]. Our hope is that these botanical drinks pair with our seasonally driven menu and prove to our guests that we care about their experience just as much whether they’re imbibing alcohol or not."

– , Sommelier, Vicia

3/4 ounce Hyssop Simple Syrup (recipe follows)
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
3 ounces brewed green tea

Combine all drink ingredients in an ice-filled glass and stir gently.

For the Hyssop Simple Syrup

1 1/2 cups of hyssop leaves and flowers
2 cups of water
2 cups of sugar
Peel from 1 lemon

In a saucepan, combine all syrup ingredients. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and allow the mixture to simmer for a few minutes. The flavors will become concentrated. Strain and cool. Store in the fridge.

Sparkling Grape Juice

Courtesy of Elske in Chicago, IL

"The first wine pairing at Elske goes along with the first three courses, which are more like snacks. One [is] our duck liver tart: liver paté on buckwheat crust and ramp gelée. The other snacks are usually fried or acidic. These beg for a dry sparkling wine. Having a sparkling non-alcoholic drink lets everyone join in on the celebration."

– , Wine Director, Elske

"I liked the idea of using the flavors of Champagne in the non-alcoholic pairing—literally adding yeast to white grape juice to get that bread, brioche thing you get from Champagne, plus the subtle spice complexity from the anise pods mimics notes we’ve tasted in sparkling wines. You get yeasty, rich, [and] a good hit of acid from the grape juice."

– David Posey, Chef & Co-owner, Elske

700 grams white grape juice
5 grams yeast
3 star anise pods

Add all ingredients to an iSi charger and charge twice. Serve in a wine glass.

Cold-Smoked Granny Smith Apple Juice

Courtesy of Attica in Melbourne, Australia

"Part of our success is the ability to incorporate the whole team into the creation. If the program falls squarely on the shoulders of the wine team, the bar team, or the kitchen, it can be a bit of a burden to keep the creativity and quality up. Different people take ownership of juicing, ordering for, and creating all our non-alcoholic options, and as such, we can really create an excellent program."

– , Wine Director, Attica

5 kilograms Granny Smith apples
4 heaped barspoons of sodium ascorbate (or another form of vitamin C)

Special Equipment

Cold smoker
Wood chips
Blow torch
High-lipped plastic tray

Fill half of a large container with water and 2 barspoons of sodium ascorbate. Quarter apples, placing the slices in the water to prevent browning. Juice apples, then add 2 barspoons of sodium ascorbate to the juice. Skim foam off the top, then strain through muslin. 

Take the juice to the cold smoker and pour it into the tray. Cover the tray with plastic wrap. Poke a hole in the plastic wrap and insert the smoker hose. Light smoker with the blowtorch and cold smoke for approximately 20 minutes, depending on the strength of the smoker and wood chips. The smoker doesn't need to be on the whole time; it can be turned on and off as long as the plastic stays filled with smoke.

Bottle the juice and store in the fridge. Recipe yields about 1,500 milliliters.

To serve, settled juice can be strained off for a clarified version or shaken up for a more vibrant but cloudy color with solids.

Back to the Fuchsia

Courtesy of Artusi in Seattle, WA

"I love this drink because it's juicy and bitter and reminds me of Campari and grapefruit—without the buzz!"

– , MS, GuildSomm

1/2 ounce black currant vinegar
2 ounces fresh grapefruit juice
Lime twist

Combine the vinegar and grapefruit juice in a cocktail shaker and lightly stir. Pour into an ice-filled glass. Top with Sanbitter and finish with a lime twist.

Coco Tonic

Courtesy of Olympia Coffee in Seattle, WA

"Coffee is a non-alcoholic option, yes, but even the best cup of coffee won't actually impress someone choosing not to imbibe. Add some flair, however, and guests will take note."

– , GuildSomm

20 milliliters Coconut Simple Syrup (recipe follows)
100 milliliters Fever-Tree Premium Indian Tonic Water
100 milliliters iced Olympia Coffee, brewed Japanese-style
1 dried sweetened lemon slice

For a 12-ounce drink, combine syrup and tonic in a glass, then top with a scoop of ice. Slowly pour in the iced coffee. Add the lemon slice on a skewer and serve.

For the Coconut Simple Syrup

5 liters water
5 liters organic raw sugar
50 grams coconut extract (not coconut flavor)

In a pan, combine the water and sugar and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 5 minutes. Pull from the heat and add coconut extract. Stir vigorously to combine. Store in the fridge.

Cold Fashioned

Courtesy of Pearl in Petaluma, CA

"Pearl is a daytime-only restaurant. We have a beer/wine license, so we’re not permitted to serve any hard alcohol. We offer plenty of interesting wines, but I took it as a personal challenge to offer delicious, diverse, and unique drinks without alcohol that you’d want to drink at 9 o’clock in the morning! Several are non-alcoholic takes on my favorite classic cocktails."

– Annette Yang, Co-owner, Pearl

2 brandied cherries, such as Amarena
3 dashes blood orange bitters
1/2 ounce Clove Simple Syrup (recipe follows)
1/2 cup cold brew coffee

Muddle one brandied cherry in a short Collins glass. Add the bitters, simple syrup, and coffee; add ice to top. Stir with a mixing spoon. Don’t strain, as the muddled cherry bits add to the drink. Garnish with another brandied cherry on a skewer.

For the Clove Simple Syrup

10 whole cloves
1 cup sugar
1 cup hot water

Wrap the cloves in cheesecloth. In a small container, combine the sugar, water, and clove sachet. Stir until sugar is fully dissolved and leave the clove sachet in to steep. Allow to cool. Store in the fridge.

Basil Julep

Courtesy of El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma, CA

"I came across this energizing, spicy drink on a hot summer day. Fresh ginger syrup really elevates the recipe, and the addition of basil makes it a refreshing and distinctly adult non-alcoholic option."

– , GuildSomm

1 1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 ounce Ginger Simple Syrup (recipe follows, or use a commercially available option)
8 to 10 basil leaves
Soda water

Muddle juice with syrup and basil leaves in a cocktail strainer. Fill a glass with ice and pour in the drink, straining out the basil. Top with soda water.

For the Ginger Simple Syrup (Recipe by Stacy Ladenburger)

1 cup (about 5 ounces) roughly chopped fresh ginger
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

In a small saucepan, combine all syrup ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and allow the mixture to steep for 20 minutes. Strain and cool. Store in the fridge.

Fruit & Lemon Spritz

It's always good to have a simple recipe that you can make without a trip to the store. This can also be a jumping off point for endless variations. If you use some common sense with the purée and added ingredients, it's a very forgiving basis for your own taste and the fruit on hand. Mint, lemon verbena, or even rosemary make good garnishes.

1 tablespoon Fruit Purée (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 dashes bitters
Juice from 1/2 lemon, or to taste
Soda water

Combine the Fruit Purée, sugar, bitters, and lemon juice in an ice-filled glass. Stir gently to combine. Top with soda water.

For the Fruit Purée

1 cup fresh fruit, such as raspberries, blackberries, or strawberries
Fresh lemon juice, optional
Water, optional

In a food processor or blender, combine the fruit and a couple of spoonfuls of sugar. Blend to a purée, then taste and adjust as needed with lemon juice, water, or more sugar. If bits of fruit remain or you want a smoother purée, strain. Store in the fridge.

Recipes have been edited lightly for clarity and consistency.

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