116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Maybe it was the corporate Christmas party that helped you realize you’re a little too reliant on the ol’ social lubricant. Maybe it was the hangover on New Year’s Day. Or maybe you just want to prove to yourself that you can do it.
Whatever the reason, if you want to stop drinking or drink less this January, you’re not alone. The trend trademarked by Alcohol Change UK’s public health initiative 10 years ago has picked up steam in recent years, and the health benefits last beyond 31 days.
Studies show that even a brief break from alcohol can improve weight loss, sleep, mood and energy levels, and physical activity.
But if you’re not sure how to get started, take a few tips from your local bartenders who can ensure you’re getting your fill with drinks far from mundane as you get your feet wet.
How to turn any cocktail into a mocktail
Turning your favorite drinks into non-alcoholic versions, or crafting new virgin cocktails that won’t make you miss the taste of alcohol, is easy to do with the right ingredients.
Rodina bartenders suggest bitters, soda, fresh fruit or fresh fruit juice and acid phosphate as a good starter kit to figure out how to find your new type of buzz.
“Start with stuff that’s good and go that direction,” said Josh O’Connell, bartender for Rodina who helped form the restaurant’s bar program. “A lot of times that can be missed — a lot of places go, ‘Here is your soda.’”
It’s a matter of using the same thought process for cocktails to craft your new beverages, he said. A big part of cocktails is simply balancing sweetness and acidity.
“I’m really a fan of allowing to cater to specific tastes and see the closest we can get to (customers’) ideas,” he said. “Sometimes it’s as simple as a fresh, from-scratch lemonade.”
But sometimes, you want more than a lemonade or a soda — so use that base as a jumping point.
Substitute bitters for various flavors or other sweeteners in place of sugar as one of the easiest ways to elevate the sweetness of beverages to something that does more than scream “sugar.” Use acid phosphates in place of lemon, or mix it with maraschino cherry syrup for a cherry-oriented flavor profile that makes you forget you’re not drinking alcohol.
Rodina keeps tinctures like juniper, lemon grass and coffee on hand that readily elevate any drink with just a dropper full of liquid, making the possibilities nearly endless.
Bartenders at Unimpaired, a dry bar in Iowa City, specialize in replicating the fun environment of bars and camaraderie of drinking without the intoxicants and side effects. They expect an increase in customers this month, especially with a Mocktail Crawl in Iowa City alongside other bars and restaurants.
They’re big fans of using muddled fruit or flavored syrups to create something that’s flavorful, colorful and fun while still staying sober. Pick fruits you like, muddle, add a mixer as simple as Sprite or tea, and shake with ice before straining out the fruit.
“If you want to get crafty and build your own drink at home, stick to what you know,” Unimpaired Dry Bar manager Matthew Earhart said. “You will have a colorful, easy-to-build drink using ingredients you already know you like and probably already have.”
If you want something a little more sophisticated, quick drinks like a pineapple and lime mocktail can be as simple as pineapple juice and a splash of lime juice mixed with tonic water and shaken with chopped coriander leaves.
Unimpaired Dry Bar is one of the few places with a full line of non-alcoholic spirits that replicate the flavor profile of liquors like rum, tequila, gin, vodka and more. There, they serve traditional drinkers popular items like whiskey sours, gin and tonics and Old Fashioned cocktails without the booze.
Making a syrup out of sugar cane juice can replicate the taste of French island rums with the funky notes that accompany them, O’Connell suggested.
Finding the right detail ingredients is key to a good mocktail, he said. A star anise added to Rodina’s Cardamom Fizz, for example, adds a new layer of complexity as it soaks into grapefruit juice and cardamom bitters.
That’s the reason Rodina’s bar program takes its non-alcoholic options seriously — so that everyone has a good time and doesn’t feel like they’re missing out, whether they prefer sweet, dry or adventurous profiles.
But perhaps the biggest part of being successful in stopping or cutting back on drinking is a supportive environment.
“This month is all about what we specialize in, and we want the community to know we are here for them no matter what they are going through or if they just want a change of pace with a new atmosphere,” Earhart said. “Slowing down or even cutting out booze entirely can be very difficult. Having a support system on your side is the biggest factor to make this lifestyle change.”
The results are worth it.
“Everyone I talked to who has done this has only had positive things to say,” Earhart said.
Cardamom Fizz recipe by Rodina
Fill a glass with ice to chill as you make this drink.
Stir three dashes of cardamom bitters, 1 oz. of grapefruit juice and 3/4 oz. of honey syrup together with ice (roughly half that amount if you prefer to use regular honey instead.)
Add soda water to taste and pour into your chilled glass. Garnish with a twisted orange peel and star anise.
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