*This* Is the Key to Making a Killer Mocktail, According to a Master Bartender

Photo: Stocksy/Tatjana Zlatkovic

Having scaled back my alcohol consumption over the past few years—not just during Dry January—I’m always on the lookout for substitutes that still give me the feeling of a really good drink, just without the hangover. Who has time to deal with the next-day boozy brain fog?

Lately, I’ve gotten into mocktails, after discovering a new-found appreciation for the alcohol-free libations on a recent trip to Dubai. Because the vast majority of the principality doesn’t imbibe due to religious reasons, its bars and restaurants pretty much all create mocktail menus filled with next-level concoctions that are as interesting and mindfully designed as any of their alcoholic counterparts. That is to say, this isn’t just juice served with a fancy straw.

Curious to learn more about the art of making these booze-free beverages, I met up with Tim Q, head bartender at Koubba Bar, a low-key watering hole that overlooks the Persian Gulf. Originally from China, Q’s tended bars in the United Arab Emirates since 2008. “The mocktail culture at that time wasn’t that much in Dubai,” he says. “Now, it’s a lot different. People are avoiding sugar and they’re looking for healthier options.”

This isn’t just juice served with a fancy straw.

Wanting the same, I asked him for his pro tips and a few go-to mocktail recipes that are healthy and easy to make at home since I’m more into staying in than going out these days. His first piece of advice? “Play according to the season—some popular ingredients right now are berries, apple, cinnamon, rhubarb, celery, and cucumber,” he says.

From there, it’s all about creating couplings that work as well together as, say, Tom and Gisele.

“Usually I combine two flavors: celery and cucumber, cucumber and apple, apple and basil,” Q shares. “Those will make you something interesting.”

Finally, like so much of life, it’s about finding balance. “For me, it’s very simple,” Q says. “Classic flavor theory: sweet and sour. I usually mix two ratios of sour with one ratio of sweet. That means two parts citrus and one part sugar (which is any sweetness).”

And as someone whose bartending skills begin and end with being able to pour a beer into a glass, I can attest that you don’t have to be a mixologist to make a killer mocktail. All you need are a few fresh ingredients and a shaker set. Best of all, creating your own totally qualifies as an arm workout.

Scroll down for three satisfying mocktail recipes that are super-easy to make at home.

Elderflower martini
Photo: Stocksy/Helen Rushbrook

Memory by Cooper

Makes one serving

Fun fact: This mocktail's a non-alcoholic twist on a basil and elderflower martini. Its name is a nod to Robert Cooper, creator of the St. Germain Elderflower liqueur that inspired this drink. (He passed away in 2016.) For this mocktail, as well as the other two below, you can make your own syrups and shrubs using natural sweeteners—he suggests agave nectar or maple syrup—as alternatives to sugar. Here's how if you're going the DIY route.

1/2 oz vanilla syrup
2/3 oz elderflower syrup
2 oz pineapple juice
5–6 basil leaves

1. Slap basil leaves between palms and add to shaker with ice. Then, add syrups and juice.

2. Shake to combine.

3. Pour into martini glass.

Berry cocktail
Photo: Stocksy/Tatjana Zlatkovic

Red splash

Makes one serving

1 blackberry
2 raspberries
1/2 strawberry
1/2 oz of strawberry shrub (AKA drinking vinegar)
2 oz apple juice
1/2 oz cranberry juice
Splash of fresh-squeezed lemon juice
Crushed ice

1. Muddle berries in the bottom of your shaker.

2. Pour shrub, apple, and cranberry juice into shaker with handful of crushed ice.

3. Shake to combine.

4. Strain into tall glass over ice and top with lemon juice.

Cucumber mocktail
Photo: Darren Muir


Makes one serving

3 tsp (10 g) green apple
3 tsp (10 g) cucumber
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz cucumber syrup
2 oz apple juice
Crushed ice

1. Muddle cucumber and apple in shaker.

2. Add ice, juice and syrup to shaker and combine.

3. Strain into short glass and serve over ice.

If you want to give teetotaling a try (even in the short term), read this story about the health benefits of skipping alcohol. Plus, what happened when this runner extended her Dry January.

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