My sister took me out for my first drink. It was great until we realized our bodies can’t handle alcohol. We both flushed crimson from head to toe, then her heart began to beat too rapidly. That part was not great at all. And neither were the killer headaches the next day. Since then, we’ve learned we have plenty of fun drinking together without any booze.
We initially experienced the high of sipping delicious mocktails at State Bird Provisions in San Francisco. It was the first cocktail menu we saw that listed nonalcoholic options more exciting than a Shirley Temple. And they were. With the brightness of citrus and berries, our drinks weren’t too sweet but balanced sharp, spicy and smooth elements like any well-made cocktail. Fizzy and fresh, they gave us a pleasure high not unlike a nice buzz.
It’s easy to get that same good-bar vibe at home. To start, make simple syrup from scratch. It takes only a few minutes and lasts a few weeks. While simple syrup can be infused with anything from spices to chiles, it’s especially tasty when it reflects the season and the place. This wintry L.A. version combines the pine notes of rosemary with the scent of eucalyptus in bay leaves. It works just as well in a refreshing citrus spritzer as it does in a warming mug of mulled juice. The former gets the night started and the latter helps end it.
And in both cases, you’ll wake up the next morning feeling totally refreshed.
ROSEMARY-BAY SIMPLE SYRUP
5 minutes, plus cooling. Makes about 1 cup.
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 sprigs rosemary
1 fresh bay leaf
Combine the sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
Remove from the heat and immediately add the rosemary and bay leaf. Cool to room temperature.
Make ahead: The simple syrup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
5 minutes. Makes 1 drink.
Yuzu is a citrus fruit that tastes like a blend of lemon, lime and grapefruit. Fresh ones or the bottled juice are available online and may be at farmers markets or Japanese or Korean groceries. You can substitute a mix that’s 2 parts grapefruit juice to 1 part each lemon and lime juice to get a similar effect, and use the zest of any of the fruits for garnish.
1 fresh yuzu, scrubbed
1 tablespoon Rosemary-Bay Simple Syrup
Sparkling water, to serve
Using a vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife, remove the yuzu zest in a long, winding strip. Spiral the zest up the sides of a highball glass, then fill the glass with ice.
Squeeze 2 tablespoons juice from the yuzu and pour into the glass. Add the simple syrup, then top off with sparkling water. Serve immediately with a stirrer for mixing.
MULLED POMEGRANATE JUICE
10 minutes. Makes 1 drink.
You can substitute unsweetened tart cherry juice or cranberry juice.
1 cup unsweetened pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon Rosemary-Bay Simple Syrup, plus more to taste
1 cinnamon stick
1 star anise
3 allspice berries
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Combine the juice, simple syrup, cinnamon, star anise and allspice in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Taste and add more syrup if desired. Reduce the heat to low and let steep for 5 minutes.
Transfer to a mug and serve warm.