“Dry January” — like its sister month, “Sober October” — is marked by a sudden influx of annoying PR emails. Seltzer, soda, tea, and juice brands fill my inbox with all sorts of beverage “recipes” aimed at people who are trying not to drink. Most of them are elaborate, but knowing how to make a fancy mocktail packed with specific ingredients is not the key to sobriety, even for a month.
There are a lot of reasons to take a month off from drinking, and all of them are valid. But different people have different needs they need met while abstaining. Some are able to sip seltzer and forget about booze entirely, while others may find they need to recreate the ritual of having a drink, or at least craft themselves a special-feeling beverage to take the place of a cocktail. I have some strategies for the latter group, none of which involve bitters and soda (or hinge on single recipe with very specific ingredients).
Pick a base with body
Liquor provides a cocktail with more than ethanol (though ethanol is the main attraction). It provides body. It provides a burn. A good no-proof drink also has a backbone of some kind. Products like Seedlip seek to replicate the botanical support provided by gin and other spirits, but I wasn’t super impressed with the stuff when I tried it (though I have developed a way to make your own fake spirit, which I will get to in a bit).
Unsweetened fruit juices and strongly-brewed teas can work as bases for your mocktails, but sweet and vinegary shrubs are my favourite alcohol-free beverage foundation. The acid gives the drink a bite, and they look pretty when mixed with soda water. (They’re also very good with black tea.)
If you want something with a little more botanical quality, you can make “fake gin” with flat tonic water, dried juniper berries, a splash of rosewater, and a few other plant parts. Let everything infuse for a few days — or speed it up with your immersion circulator — and mix two ounces of your fake gin with one ounce of fresh lemon juice and 3/4 of an ounce of honey syrup (or use any of these Camper English Seedlip recipes, subbing in your own creation in place of Seedlip).
Use your usual bar tools
Muddlers, strainers, and shakers (or Blender Bottles) are all tools used to make cocktails better, and there’s no reason you should abandon them for the month along with the booze. Muddled berries are a nice addition to lemonade or teas, and the aeration provided by a cocktail shaker gives lots of drinks — even orange juice — a fluffier, lighter texture and better flavour. Try shaking an Arnold Palmer with muddled strawberries if you don’t believe me (don’t forget to strain out the solids when your pour it into a pretty glass).
Use fancy syrups
I believe that everyone — even those who never drink cocktails — should have a collection of flavored syrups. Tea, coffee, lemonade, juices, and seltzer (and combinations thereof) are all improved with a bit of liquid sweetness, and they’re especially nice if you like your coffee iced. (Dissolved sugar goes into solution in a cold environment much more easily than crystallised sugar.) Berry honey, no-cook ginger syrup, and homemade grenadine are a few of my favourites, but you can check out our more complete guide on the subject here.
Season your drink with salt (and brine)
If your beverage leans towards the sweet end of the flavour spectrum, you’ll definitely want to season it with a little salt. Salt enhances the flavour of your drink by tempering bitterness and providing contrast, and more people should add it their lemonades, coolers, and punches.
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Straight-up sodium chloride works fine, but don’t overlook a brine. I like adding sushi ginger liquid to any lemon- or lime-based beverage, and A.A. Newton enjoys a nice Soda Xi Moi — a refreshing drink made by muddling a pickled plum (umeboshi) with a few tablespoons of sugar before topping it off with lots of ice and soda water.
Keep lots of fresh citrus around
There is something inspiring about a bowl of beautiful citrus fruits, and Dry January happens to coincide with citrus season. In addition to the usual lemons and limes, now is the time to check out your local fruit stands and markets for unusual oranges, fancy hybrids, and the somewhat elusive, incredibly fragrant Buddha’s hand citron. Once acquired, combine your fresh citrus with soda water or the aforementioned fake gin, or shake up some fresh-squeezed juice with tea, a little simple syrup, and lots of ice.
Identify your favourite fizz (and buy lots of it)
There are a lot of seltzers out there, all with varying levels of carbonation, minerals, and “essence.” Finding your favourite can be quite the journey, and a nice distraction (which you may or may not need while trying not to drink). My current faves are tangerine La Croix, plain Topo Chico, and the mineral-heavy, aggressively-carbonated Gerolsteiner. Find your favourite and guzzle it, with or without the fancy citrus and syrups mentioned earlier.
Use nice glassware
A pretty glass makes any drink feel more special, and a lot of people miss that specialness when they quit drinking. Well, there’s no rule that says you can’t drink your lemonade our of a champagne flute, or your juice out of a coupe. If you have glassware you save for “special” occasions, bust it out now (because meeting your health goals is special).
Make lots of ice
I never knew how much I liked ice until I went to Europe. I love Europe, but I don’t know why they hate ice so much. The way they ration it makes no sense. Two cubes of ice in a glass of room-temperature Diet Coke isn’t going to do shit, my friend — ice works best when there’s lots of it.
This is all to say that you should keep a lot of ice around, in whatever shape or state of clarity you enjoy. (Clear ice isn’t necessary for every beverage, but making it is a fun project.) Try drinking soda over pebble ice (you can buy bags of it at Sonic), shaking OJ over a big ol’ rock, and sipping lemonade over the crushed stuff. Just make sure you make more than you think you’ll need, so you never have to settle for a European style beverage.
Don’t forget the garnish
Everyone deserves a little snack, a little finishing touch, a little garnish with their drink. Add pickled fruit to fruity seltzer drinks, olives to shaken tomato juice (try shaking it with Clausen brine), and strips of lemon zest to everything. A garnish will make your beverage more fun, more luxurious, and more appealing overall, and appealing drinks are the ones you are most likely to drink.