The good news:
Alcohol-free spirits have arrived.
The bad news:
The average quality is still very questionable - and supply is not yet globally consistent.
Living in the Middle-East since 2005 made me pretty resourceful. It is not that alcohol is banned in the UAE - but it is limited. That means, you might not get your Ancho Reyes - or other stuff.
Things became much better - until the pandemic stroke. It isn't as bad as 2005 - but it is also not great with the alcohol supply here.
As distillate connoisseur this might be an issue. Except that you could do an ∞-whisky or (at least in a bar) could experiment with finished whiskies (have done all of it), you have got to keep your eyes open, when there are a bit more interesting spirits coming ashore for a rather short time (e.g. special imports etc.).
But for cocktails - you could do a lot. I would even say, that the limitations I have been exposed to made me a far better bartender* .
With alcohol-free spirits it is nothing different. I already did an alcohol free Negroni, which is more than respectable. However I will in future just use one of the alcohol-free "gins" to improve it (juniper is a really tough ingredient to use).
Anyway here are 10 points, which up your 0º Cocktail game:
- Get on board with the Sous Vide trend!
- While low-temperature "cooking" is a game changer in the "alcoholic" bar as it is shortening infusion times, it is close to mandatory in alcohol-free drinks.
- You cannot infuse something for weeks in water - it will become bad.
- To make good syrups, you need "Sous Vide".
- Water-baths are also perfect to pasteurize syrups and infusions.
- Learn and understand temperature/effect of produce.
- If you make a syrup from fruit, you might need different temperatures - a higher temp (>74ºC) to break down the pectin (so the "aromas can get moved" into the liquid) and a lower temp (60ºC) - which helps to infuse the liquid.
- Mind texture / the medium
- A solution of alcohol and water (...) has a different effect as water alone. You need a carrier, which brings some interest.
- Think milk (punch)
- Alcohol-free clarified milk-punches have a very unique textural and aroma carrier effect.
- Tea is not only for iced tea
- Especially low temp tea infusions, can have very interesting effects and the drink might not even taste like tea.
- Use a suitable tea - for a drink, which should not have any tea-aromas use e.g. white tea.
- Make it (slightly) spicy.
- Alcohol has a unique effect on the palate. Spices can mimic or at least suggest a similar effect.
- Capsaicin the spice in chili-peppers can be used. It just needs to be used in careful quantities - as not every cocktail should be "spicy".
- Black pepper can be used in syrups and infusions.
- Szechuan pepper corns are very unique and their numbing effect, can lead to a far more unique experience.
- Further interesting spices can also further evolve the experience: uda pepper (West Africa), Tasmanian peppers are fruity, spicy and super cool; there are long peppers, grains of paradise and so on.
- Use a lot spices & herbs:
- My favorite spices:
- vanilla (expensive - but worth it - an infusion with vanilla and other spices rocks, when mimicking barrel aged spirits).
- cinnamon - don't overdo it, otherwise everything taste like "cinnamon" - but it is also important as a good background aroma.
- cloves - also used in small doses - but this gives you a lot of warmth.
- coffee beans - don't grind them up - use them just like that. A hint of coffee aromas, will totally bring the "je ne said quoi"
- cocoa nibs - just great.
- cinchona bark - especially for things which need to be bitter - it is a reliable partner.
- wormwood - cinchona bark and wormwood make an infusion taste like an Italian aperitif.
- gentian - another bittering agent. Never goes from my side.
- allspice - taste almost like a blend of baking spices - but it is just one berry. Amazing!
- Dose it up - don't be cheap
- Next generation 0º cocktails are no longer your "mocktails" - that means, they can be almost on the same level of alcoholic drinks.
- That means, use sufficient spices - and don't cheap out.
- Use oak
- I tell you here a secret: don't put a syrup into an oak barrel. Your chance of success is very limited (wood is a good insulator, so you cannot put the barrel into a water bath and expect any result).
- Either way buy some oak chunks (usually for bbq) or use an oak barrel and disassemble. Use the oak staves.
- Retoast / charr all surfaces of the oak - that will result into the maximum (positive) effect.
- Add it into the bag or jar in which you Sous Vide the infusion.
- Don't use too many juices
- Juices are bringing you back to mediocre (at best) mocktails.
- Great 0º Cocktails are crafted around infusions, good alcohol free spirits and artisan syrups and cordials.
- Free your mind
- This is my biggest issue - like a god chef, I try to stay clear of specific things (in the kitchen it would be MSG or artificial color). But there are things, which might be anyway "sneaked into" some of your "premium products" (alcoholic and alcohol-free) anyway:
- Preservatives (like sodium benzoate).
- I really have to experiment a bit more and also read more about it. But if you don't want to have every 0º drink a sugar bomb - but otherwise don't want to do a daily full inventory of infusions, this might be the only reasonable option.
- Essential oils and natural aromas
- Yes commercial products (even the "craft" ones) are using this all the time. You cannot do yourself at a reasonable cost critical CO2 extraction or steam distillation. We just have to get crafty with these things - but you have got to know what you are doing.
Most importantly: You have got to know what you are doing!!!
I really mean it. This has been the case a couple of years ago, when people started to make tobacco infusions, and I was just the "party pooper" and tried to educate all bartenders that nicotine (in the tobacco) is deadlier (dosage) as cyanide!
There are many things in normal ingredients, which might be dangerous in high doses: for example wormwood and cinchona bark can be easily overdosed - but even nutmeg, should not be used in crazy amounts. Be save and keep your guests save, happy and healthy!
(*I would say mixologists - but a lot of people think, it is a stupid term - bartender is though a bit underselling).
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