The Syrup Dilemma

Making virgin drinks that taste like the original drink has it’s challenges. To make a virgin mudslide required a coffee syrup and a home made Irish Cream without the Irish Whiskey. Cut with milk this drink was tasty – but sweet. To make my latest masterpiece the Tidy Bowl Shooter, I used curaçao syrup but cut it with Jamaican Ginger Beer so the sweetness was balanced by spice and fizz. Some shooters though are an epic fail – especially when blending multiple syrups instead of multiple liqueurs. While liqueurs are sweet they also have a kick of alcohol, the syrups… well they are simply sweet. This was most apparent when I tried to use my butterscotch syrup in place of butterscotch schnapps. I tried something called a Butterfly shooter from BarNoneDrinks: half Butterscotch and have Irish Cream right? Well I had both of these – in syrups so it should be a piece of cake! Nope. Thick and utterly impossible to drink – ick. Similarily the pumpkin pie shooter made from Butterscotch Scnapps, Baileys and Goldschlager also doesn’t translate well into a combination of syrups. There is also a similar mix called the oatmeal cookie using vodka and cinnamon schnapps, but again too much syrup and nothing to cut it with.

So how to fix this dilemma?

It occurred to me that one needs to balance the sweet with something, similar to in a cocktail where bitters are used to balance the sweetness. And so far, in other more successful shooters, I have used the addition of a cream, a sour mix or a fizzy spicy addition to balances the sweetness of a syrup based skeeters (virgin shooters).

So what options are left? Salty? More Sour? More Fizz or Spice? Or do some drinks simply not convert to the virgin option no matter how much you want them to?

So there is my dilemma – and my latest challenge.

Sugar and Cloth had one way to meet this challenge. She blends sweet caramel, ice-cream and milk with a dash of salt. What a better way to cut sweetness than cream and salt! You can find her recipe here.

Another option is to relish in the sweetness. There are a ton of shooter recipes that are imitating food. The Oreo Cookie Shooter that blends chocolate, coffee liqueur and Irish cream – all easy enough to replace with syrups to make a strong sweet concoction. So why not serve with a glass of milk just like the cookie, as a chaser? Or to be more creative, invest in some shooter bomb glasses and serve the milk around the shooter – just like a kid would dip his oreo in milk. We tried this recipe with non alcoholic syrups… Tasted nothin’ like an Oreo Cookie – unless you are dipping them into coffee!

So this is just the beginning of my journey – and more experiments are needed – but I am hopeful.

Valentine’s Mocktails Review

Four very different valentines cocktails to consider for your sweethearts. From left to right: Mexican Chocolate Mocktail, Sweet Apple, Brazilian Strawberry Limeade & Hibiscus

Four very different Valentines cocktails to consider serving  your sweethearts this year. From left to right: Mexican Chocolate Mocktail, Red  Apple Delight, Brazilian Strawberry Limeade & Hibiscus Mocktail.

When I think about some of my most special Valentine’s Day memories they are with family. Going back as far as my childhood, I remember special valentines breakfasts where my mom made a special meal complete with strawberries, fancy pancakes and a chocolate. Dinner often had a little treat for each of us kids, and a card from my parents to each other that once read created a sentimental look in their eyes that us kids at the time didn’t understand.

At the time for us kids, Valentines was about getting  (or not getting) cards at school, and about chocolate and candy hearts, then later as a teen about who would (or would not) dance with you at the Valentine’s dance. And now as a parent and wife, I have come full circle and Valentine’s Day is again about family, sharing a special meal with them and a sentimental card with my spouse.

So as a mocktail enthusiast – I wanted to share some special Valentine’s drinks this year as part of our Valentine’s Day celebrations. The web is full of great pink, red and chocolate Valentine’s Mocktail ideas so we decide to try a few this Valentines weekend.

2015-02-13-by-eye-for-detail-005Hibiscus Mocktini

At Christmas I treated myself to a couple of Herbal Blossom Teas by Epicure that I hoped to try out in mixed drinks. One in particular called Scarlet O included rose petals, hibiscus and elderflowers – three ingredients that are hard to find up north. I also picked up rose water and hibiscus water on my trip to Vancouver – and so this recipe by realsimple.com jumped out at me when I was surfing the web. You can find the full recipe here and my adaptation below. The recipe serves 6.

Ingredients:
Our Thoughts:

This is not a very sweet drink and resulted in mixed reviews from my family. The colour and presentation are fantastic and the drink has a very interesting flavour complex. But, my two girls found it needed additional sweetener and more ginger ale than the recommended amount, and even with a shot of grenadine and added ginger ale only one of the two (the youngest interestingly enough) finished her drink. All four of us found the drink tasted more like tea than a cocktail, and this drink rated the lowest for the majority of our family. Would it work for an adult party? Perhaps, with a twist of pineapple juice thrown in. I would also consider trying this with Dark Gingerale to see if the flavour blend works better. Having no Red Zinger in town though, I am not sure what a different Hibiscus Tea would do to the drink.

Kid-o-metre 1/5 Not enjoyed without adding extra sugar and pop, then only moderately.
Taste: 3/5  Very unique a flavour and for a sophisticated palate.
Simplicity: 5/5 Nothing hard in this from a mixologist perspective. Don’t even need a cocktail shaker!
Ingredient finding: 3/5 Red Zinger was not available, an alternative is thanks to a local home businesses – remaining ingredients easy to find.

2015-02-13-by-eye-for-detail-002Red Apple Delight

This recipe by SoberJulie looked like a elegant sparkling apple juice coloured by a touch of grenadine. I was intrigued by the addition of sweet lime juice suggested and decided to give it a try at our family Valentines dinner. You can find her recipe here. The basic ingredients are also below. This make 4 servings.

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 cups apple juice
  • 3/4 cups sweet lime juice
  • 4 tsp grenadine syrup
  • 1/4 cup carbonated water
  • 1 cup crushed ice
Our Thoughts:

This drink reminded me too much of Sunripe Apple Lime blend – while the presentation was elegant the drink itself could have used more fizz than it called for. That begin said, my youngest chose this as her second favourite drink of the four we tried over the evening.

Kid-o-metre 3/5 Kids had mixed feelings about it. One didn’t finish her glass and said it was too lime tasting for her.
Taste: 2/5  Isn’t really special enough and too much like something out of a carton.
Simplicity: 5/5 Very easy to make. The garnish is a little tricky, but by the third one I had mastered it.
Ingredient finding: 5/5 All ingredients used to be easy to get locally, however my store has stopped carrying grenadine… sigh!

The next two recipes were from a list of 6 truly inspiring Valentines Mocktail ideas by One Good Thing by Jillee who had come up with amazing recipes including exotic ingredients like pomegranate juice, papaya nectar, blood orange juice as well as more common (but hard to find in my town) ingredients like white grape juice and colourful sorbets. I wish I could try all her ideas, but am settling on two – the first one using strawberries and lime and the last using chocolate.

2015-02-13-by-eye-for-detail-003Brazilian Strawberry Limeade

This recipe is similar to something I had thought of while considering how to incorporate strawberries and cream into a drink. Jillee uses a combination of simple syrup laced with lime, strawberry puree and sweetened condensed milk to create a pink tinted creamy mixture. You can find her recipe here and the ingredients you will need are listed below. This drink makes a full pitcher (about 2 litres) ready to serve to 8 to 10 guests depending on size of glass.

Ingredients:
  • 4 smooth, thin-skinned limes, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 cups cold water
  • 6 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 pound strawberries, pureed
  • Ice
  • Light corn syrup (optional)
  • Red sugar (optional)
  • sliced strawberries and limes for garnish
Our Thoughts:

This drink rated in the top two for the majority of our family. The blend of fresh lime juice, strawberry puree and condensed milk is very sweet and natural tasting and I was amazed at how sweet the drink was considering that the sugar syrup is very light (1:6) and the only other sugar is in the condensed milk (6 tbsp in an entire batch).

I used fresh strawberries for this recipe (about 400 grams) and blended them with half the sugar syrup after blending (then straining) the limes with the other half. The original recipe calls for pureed berries – and having no pre-pureed strawberries I improvised. This may have mixed the drink more effectively – and also added more sweetness from the strawberries since they were almost liquified in the blender.

I would serve this at any Valentine’s Day party – and happily pay for this drink in a bar if it was available.

Kid-o-metre 4.5/5 Kids enjoyed it, but it was not the first choice for either, but both finished their glass!
Taste: 4.5/5  Fantastic! Truly worth the work and cost of ingredients and it’s a huge party sized batch.
Simplicity: 3/5 There is some time required to make this drink, and a blender is an absolute necessity. (Sorry Mom!)
Ingredient finding: 5/5 All ingredients for this were readily available at my local store in my little town.

Mexican Chocolate Mocktail

2015-02-13-by-eye-for-detail-004Chocolate is a must at Valentine’s Day as is cinnamon. Infact if I had to choose, I would pick the cinnamon hearts over a box of chocolate any day. So when I read the ingredients for this Mocktail on Jillee’s website, that she adapted from HGTV.com by adding a red sugared rim, I had to try the recipe out. I would have liked to adapt it slightly myself – by adding crushed cinnamon hearts instead of red coloured sugar – but cinnamon hearts are not available this year locally. The ingredients are below, and you can check out the links to see the full instructions.

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup water
  • 
2 cups almond milk, chilled
  • 4 glasses
  • Light corn syrup (optional)
  • Red sugar (optional)
Our Thoughts:

Wow! I am not a huge chocolate milk fan, but the cinnamon, cocoa and almond milk make this drink an absolute dream. This drink rated equal to the last recipe in our home. The recipe makes a perfect four servings and there was not a drop left in any glass. I would still love to try this with crushed cinnamon hearts – sigh. Maybe next year!

Kid-o-metre 4.5/5 Kids chose this as first and second choice of the four drinks.
Taste: 4.5/5  Like I say… Wow! This does require almond milk – which isn’t cheap, but well worth the investment.
Simplicity: 5/5 This is very easy to make. Requires some time for cooling of the ingredients, but no special tools.
Ingredient finding: 5/5 All easily found locally.

I would love to create something new, and may spend a little time on Valentine’s Day coming up with my own creation, but while Valentine’s is about love – and I love mixology – it’s about relationships. So my goal for the day is to spend as much time with those I love as I can, being a mom and a wife and a friend.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Skeeters – Virgin Shooters Renamed

Virgin drinks are not new. Mocktails have been around for a while. According to oxforddictionaries.com the word originated in the 1930’s. According to a blog written by FASD prevention the term is more recent starting in the 1970’s. Ok, so Mocktails in concept may be almost 90 years old but more likely originated about 40 years back.

Shooters on the other hand are a bit harder to pin down. One story says that the first shot glass may have been as old as the 1930’s with the possible origin of a “shot” of alcohol being from a story of a man who shot a barrel of whiskey with his riffle to prevent a bar from opening in his area. After that the coin “a shot of redeye” became popular according to wikipedia. Looking further a shot may refer to the equivalent in alcohol to one bullet, or have to do with the prohibition, and similar to a jigger of rum or whiskey. Most sources agree that the shot glass is about 90 years old. Wikipedia and the net seems to have no mention though of the origin of the shooter drink – only a list of recipes and the general idea behind the drink. Heh? Can’t seem to find anything on the internet to tell me… but I am guessing it was in the last 30 years, as my parents are not familiar with the concept.

Teens today are though, and early adults especially. Each generation the age kids/youth start to try alcohol decreases, even if drinking law age limit remains steady. The availability of alternatives to common drinking practices, like cocktails and shooters, is one way that people can enjoy social activities and the idea of mixed drinks without the consequences, and younger individuals who wish to be like their parents (or older friends) can have fun without breaking the law, getting drunk or worst.

Mocktails follow the invention of the Cocktail, with a lag of a few hundred years. Cocktails were first coined sometime between the 17-19 century according to wikipedia and the oxford dictionary. Mocktails came out in the 20th century with the gaining concern for alcohol awareness and drinking and driving, and as an alternative to cocktails for those who wish to refrain from alcoholic beverages but wish to enjoy the experience of being social, and like mixed drinks. The popularity of Mocktails depends a lot on the region and culture of the area. Bigger cities with more diverse populations and more bars/restaurants are more likely to consider alternative beverages, while smaller communities like my own often only have pop or coffee offered to designated drivers.

Ok but I digress. This article is about the next step. Just as Mocktails offer an alternative to sipper drinks like cocktails, what about the alternative to the newer Shooter? And what do you call a virgin shooter so that it is not associated as closely with the shooter who’s sole purpose seems to get the individual drunk in the shortest time possible?

So I have to think. Why else have a shooter? In previous posts I mention a shooter also gives a big hit of flavour quickly. Recently in chatting with young adult who liked making and mixing drinks, shooters are also an art form and fun to make. A friend an teen centre employee compared virgin shooters to water pong. Both are a safe alternative to the “real deal” and hopefully teach youth that there are fun and safe choices out there.

My two girls joke that they “shock” teachers by telling them that their mom serves them shooters – they are 7 and 11 – and then explain “virgin shooters”. Fortunately the teachers here know me and what I do well  and aren’t really shocked, but imagine a parent hearing that a teen had shooters at a youth event? And if the teen didn’t explain… well, time to rename the virgin shooter.

So I introduce to you the Skeeter. (No not the mosquito!) Which won out in my circle over the Vooter (lame), the Mooter (lamer) and the Mockter (which seems to have some other uses). Will it catch on? Probably not. But it took a few hundred years between the first cocktail and the first Mocktail, so give it time… and to my knowledge virgin shooters, or Skeeters, are a new concept first introduced here!

Glacier Melt

Glacier Melt: a new name for a wicked drink - served over crushed ice for a wonderful new virgin flavour.

Glacier Melt: a new name for a wicked drink – served over crushed ice for a wonderful new virgin flavour.

In looking up drinks to try using the bitters that I had procured in my trip to Vancouver, BC, and while I was in still in holiday mode, I was cruising the internet looking at recipes and came across an drink made with orange juice, orange bitters and curacao along with both dry and sweet vermouth and gin. Being in full holiday mode and awaiting the arrival of Christmas, my brain translated the drink as Santa’s Whiskers – Curled and I thought, what a fun thing to try as a virgin make-over during the holiday!

Turns out I was experiencing a dyslexic moment, as the true name of the drink is Satan’s Whiskers – Curled. Oops.

Not to be daunted by misspelling, I gamely converted the drink into a virgin creation substituting curaçao for curaçao syrup which I had picked up (but is also simple enough to make with some orange rinds, simple syrup and blue food colouring), white grape juice for the dry vermouth and a blend of apple juice, lemon juice and water for the sweet vermouth. The idea for the substitution was based on cooking substitutions for alcohol which if you are interested you can find here.

The result was a fun blue drink, with a nice flavour complex and no name! Without the 2 oz of alcohol, the drink is not as “wicked” as the original and needed a name that fit the new flavour of the beverage.

Glacier Melt

Ingredients:
  • 1 oz juniper and lemon tea (see below)
  • 1 oz Apple Lemon Blend (see below)
  • 1 oz white grape juice
  • 1 oz orange juice
  • 1 oz curaçao syrup (or for do it yourself check here)
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
Procedure:

Blend all ingredients in a mixer with ice and shake well. Strain into a old-fashioned glass and serve with a twist of orange. Or serve over shaved ice in a tall glass for an elegant and modern look.

My Thoughts:

This drink received positive reviews from young and old while we were on holidays. Everyone found the beverage tasty and commented on the nice blend of flavours. The addition of the Juniper tea enhances the drink flavour, however the cinnamon was the prevalent flavour and I may reduce the cinnamon by half or less (break the stick into a smaller bit). Depending on what tea you choose to use this drink will vary slightly in flavour.

This drink really relies on the blend of flavours, I tried it again later but didn’t have any white grape juice available, the mix didn’t have as much power and presence.

If you wish to keep this drink less complex, omit the tea. The drink will change in flavour only slightly, but who’s to know but you?

Kid-o-metre 5/5 This drink was enjoyed by my daughters and the adults.
Taste: 4.4/5  This drink can be made with or without the juniper tea, and either way it’s enjoyable.. just different.
Simplicity: 3/5 If you can find curaçao it is slightly easier, but making the juniper tea increases the difficulty of this drink.
Ingredient finding: 2/5 juniper berries, specialty tea and specialty syrups… all need to be shipped in or pick them up on a trip to a specialty store.


Gin Flavouring – Juniper Tea Recipe

To replace gin I wanted a infusion or tea that included a blend of flavours. Gin is normally predominantly juniper, but includes such botanicals as orange and lemon peel, cardamon, cinnamon, nutmeg, angelica and coriander among others. According to ginvodka.org there are usually from six to ten flavouring agents (or botanicals) in the gin making process. So for a replacement I chose a tea, and instead of a simple juniper berry tea I chose a tea from DavidsTea called Detox which has juniper, lemongrass, ginger in it’s flavour profile and added about 2 Tbsp juniper berries, cinnamon and a few cardamon pods to the mix.

Ingredients:

3 tsp juniper/lemongrass based tea (detox or other variety)
2 Tbps juniper berries (dried)
4 cardamon pods
1-1/2 cinnamon stick

Brew all ingredients for half hour in hot water, strain and cool. Store until needed.

Apple Lemon Blend

Knowing someone who knew the taste of vermouth is very helpful in making a replacement. The description of what to replace sweet vermouth from the website mentioned above include apple juice or a blend of lemon juice and water. I worked out a recipe that my taste tester says is very “vermouthy”.

Ingredients:

6 oz apple juice
2 oz water
1 oz fresh lemon juice

Blend ingredients and chill until needed.


I am a big fan of this virgin version of the drink and look forward to serving this to friends in the future. How does it compare to the original Satan’s Whiskers? Mild, very mild, I would guess.

Tidy Bowl Shooter – Lemon Fresh

Tidy Bowl Shooter - like something out of a lab.

Tidy Bowl Shooter – like something out of a lab. Good science, wonderful science!

I had the fun and honour of offering non-alcoholic shooters at a teen dance for Winter Carnival and wanted to come up with something a bit “odd” to offer on the list. As I was using my DYI curaçao syrup for another shooter (Blue on Ice) that I had created back in October of last year, I thought I would see what other things could be done with this ingredient.

I came across a recipe for a shooter called Tidy Bowl on the Ultimate Shooter List on Good Time Charleys menu. And looked to see who else had come up with the idea of replicating the toilet bowl cleaner colour and look in a shooter. Turns out that the tidy bowl recipe is not the same across the internet – other than that they all use curaçao for the colour blue.  BarNoneDrinks suggests rum and grapefruit juice mixed with the blue curaçao, BartendingBlueprint suggests a combo of southern comfort, sweet and sour mix and curaçao, BarGeek and TheBartend.com suggests simply curaçao and vodka (although BarGeek suggests a few raisins in the bottom – which means the bowl isn’t tidy doesn’t it?) mmm.

So for a non alcoholic version, it seems that it’s wide open to be inventive, as long as I use curaçao in the mix! Well the stores now offer a martini mix called blue raspberry. I thought, hey it’s blue too, why not mix that into the recipe! The flavours paired well but left the drink needing something to cut the sweetness. Ah Jamaican ginger beer man, that’s the thing! And boy does it pack a kick!

But how to take it one step further… what about that lemon fresh scent that you often get after cleaning a bathroom? … sure why not! So I mixed the drink, and then rubbed the rim with a half lemon, letting the juice run where it may – yup lemon freshness. And the flavour worked – better than I could have hoped for.

Tidy Bowl Shooter – Lemon Fresh

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 oz blue curaçao syrup
  • 1/2 oz blue raspberry martini mix
  • 1 oz Jamaican ginger beer
  • 1/2 lemon
Procedure:

Measure out ingredients into shot glass finishing with the ginger beer. Rub lemon half on the rim allowing some juices to drip into glass. Serve.

My thoughts:

I was excited to offer this at the dance, it is a simple drink to make, looks fun and has a strong flavour. As it turns out my instincts were dead on, and this became the most popular choice at the event. Teens kept coming back for more, asking for “that blue one” (maybe I should rename it… nah!). Of the 38 drinks sold that night to a small group of teens who attended the event, I make about 25 Tidy Bowl shooters and used half a bottle of home made Curacao syrup!

The night was a  huge success for Experimental Virgins. I am guessing each youth had about 3 drinks on average – not including the free shooter game I offered – yup, I did a shooter game with my Dragon’s Breath recipe, served in test tubes and made as spicy as a set of dice dictated. While some recipes were not as popular ( due to personal tastes) and I had a dickens of a time getting my ice to crush satisfactorily for the Blue on Ice recipe (shooting back chunks of ice isn’t pleasant!), I am looking forward to offering virgin shooters at future wake-a-thons, dances and other youth events.

TEEN-o-metre 5/5 absolutely enjoyed by all who tried, they came back for more!
Taste: 5/5  Strong, spicy and seconds are required.
Simplicity: 4/5 once the curaçao is made, it’s a cinch.
Ingredient finding: 4/5 if you can’t find mandarine for the curaçao, just use more orange extract, if you can’t find either… meh!

Virgin Old Fashioned Part Three

Made with Diet Coke and sweetened with Agave, this drink is one of my top ten!

Made with Diet Coke and sweetened with Agave, this drink is one of my top ten!

Kola Old Fashioned

This recipe was found after some serious digging on MakeMeACocktail.com. The ingredients not your standard four as tequila replaces whiskey, chocolate bitters replaces orange bitters, and coke is added (just a splash) instead of the standard water. I was excited about this option – as tequila is actually fairly simple to replace with agave syrup.

I tested this recipe on my kids, my parents and a friend who wanted to join the tasting fun and in an effort to be scientific worked out the important of each ingredient by testing the mix starting with just Coke and bitters and then adding the agave syrup and finally orange to the mix. Interestingly, the agave syrup brings the chocolate taste to the forefront of the drink and lends some complexity to the flavour. This created a very nice “chocolate cola” but I wanted to push it one step further.

As citrus and chocolate are commonly blended flavours, I tried muddling in a mandarine orange (skin and pulp) and adding just a dash of orange bitters back to the mix to bring back the element of citrus so common in Old Fashioned Cocktails. The result was something I am proud of.

Ingredients:
  • 1 oz agave syrup
  • 1 oz water
  • 6 drop chocolate bitters
  • 1 drop orange bitters
  • 6 oz cola
  • 1 mandarine orange (cut in 8)
Procedure:

Muddle orange, syrup, bitters and water in cocktail shaker. Add ice and shake well to blend. Strain into two 6 oz glass full of ice and top cola. Stir and serve with a twist of orange as a garnish.

My Thoughts:

This drink is reminiscent of chocolate orange candy. The cola lends well to the two flavours without being lost in the mix, and the addition of the orange bitters, while seeming negligible, brings out the orange of the mandarine to blend without competing with the chocolate.

Not everyone like chocolate and orange together though – and the drinks without the addition of the muddled orange or orange bitters is also very tasty – just less sophisticated in my opinion. Other family and friends enjoyed both options, some preferred the chocolate alone with the coke and agave. Which to be honest is closer to the original concept of the Kola Old Fashioned.

What did the kids think? My daughter thinks this should be called the Kola Miracle since it converts a simple Coke into something… well magical.

Kid-o-metre 5/5 my kids love this, they finished off their testers and asked for more.
Taste: 5/5  unless you don’t like orange and chocolate together and then, well… you’ll disagree.
Simplicity: 4/5 muddler required.
Ingredient finding: 2/5 mandarines are sometime seasonal, and the syrups require special order or specialty store purchases.

Virgin Old Fashioned Part Two

Silver Mocktail - a pink tinted mild mannered drink

Silver Mocktail – a pink tinted mild mannered drink with hints of juniper and orange.

Silver Mocktail

Another recipe from the same site (found here), called for orange bitters, sugar, and a combination of dry vermouth and gin. Instead of citrus for the fruity taste, they ask for maraschino cherry liqueur. Vermouth can be replaced with white grape juice which is easy to find, and gin… well I had just brewed up a pot of juniper and lemongrass tea which I am hoping would make an appropriate replacement.

Ingredients:
  • 2 oz. Juniper/Lemongrass Tea (or other juniper citrus based tea)
  • 2 oz. White Grape Juice
  • 1/2 tsp. Sugar Syrup (1:1 sugar to water)
  • 1 tsp. Maraschino Cherry Juice
  • 4 dash(es) Orange Bitters
Procedure:

Brew tea according to instructions. Strain & let cool. Stir all ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Serve garnished with a twist of lemon peel.

My Thoughts:

This drink is pleasant but lacks the kick and clean feel of a true Old Fashioned. The resulting flavour is very mild and … not dry enough? I think this has potential but needs some work. Back to the drawing board!

I tried this with a dash of Jamaican Ginger Beer (a carbonated beverage – non alcoholic) and this added a kick, but also changed the flavour complex from fruity to strong ginger/pepper bite. I may revisit this later… but there are other more interesting options for Old Fashioned Drinks to tell you about next!

Kid-o-metre 3/5 the kids enjoyed this, but didn’t ask for more, I agree…
Taste: 3/5  bland.
Simplicity: 4/5 One ingredient that takes some work, unless you have to make your own bitters.
Ingredient finding: 3/5 specialty tea and orange bitters are a “ship in” items

Virgin Old Fashioned Part One

Virgin Old Fashioned. Take away the whiskey but non of the kick.

Virgin Old Fashioned. Take away the whiskey but non of the kick.

Recently I picked up new ingredients to enhance my drink making repertoire. One of the essentials I had been missing was bitters – a needed ingredient in Manhattans and Old Fashions, both whiskey based drinks.

According to Wikipedia an Old Fashioned drink starts with muddling sugar and orange bitters then adding the whiskey, water and a twist of citrus. It’s served in an Old Fashioned Glass – and if you are curious what comes first “the glass or the drink” … it’s the drink.

Old fashioned drinks have come along way since the original in 1806. By the 1860’s the drink evolved to include a number of orange flavoured liqueurs, and became fashionable again and given the name “Old Fashioned”. Today recipes can include a splash of pop instead of water, brown sugar syrup instead of white sugar, a choice of bitters, and sometimes even a choice of liquor.

Interestingly enough when you google virgin old fashioned drinks there is nothing that comes up that is actually non alcoholic. Huh! Looking further, into cooking substitutions, again there is no substitution for whiskey. Not to be outdone, I looked up drinks made with orange bitters and … Bingo!

BarNoneDrinks lists 135 drinks containing orange bitters (which you can find here) and among them a number of drinks that use sugar, bitters and whiskey that could be adapted. Here is the first of a series of attempts to create some interesting New

Commodor Mocktail #1

This recipe is an alteration of the whiskey based drink found on BarNoneDrinks that for all practical purposes uses the same key components of a basic old-fashioned: sugar, bitters, citrus and whiskey (no water in this version).  Since there is no real replacement for whiskey – I chose to go unconventional and use something that recently came into the market: Dark Ginger Ale.

Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 oz. Dark Ginger Ale
  • 1/4 lemon – juiced
  • 1 tsp  sugar
  • 2 dash(es) orange bitters
Procedure:

Muddle sugar and bitters with lemon in bottom of glass. Add Ice and Ginger Ale and serve with a twist of orange.

My Thoughts:

Wow! This drink is a powerhouse. When creating a virgin drink, often all the drinks tend to blend together into either fruit juice blends or fizzy sweet beverages. The idea behind the Old Fashioned is actually simplicity and kick. And this virgin version brings both in spades.

Kid-o-metre 5/5 my kids love sour, and they finished off their testers and asked for more.
Taste: 4/5  Dad didn’t like this, but everyone else thought this drink was the bomb.
Simplicity: 5/5 easy as lemonade.
Ingredient finding: 3/5 two ingredients that are more challenging, dark ginger ale may only be seasonal, and orange bitters are a “ship in” item.

A Bitter Story

Bitters and infusions.

Bitters and infusions, having bottles is so nice. Left to Right: Orange, Angostura & Aztec Chocolate Bitters, Hibiscus and Lavender Water. Far Right: Experimenting with Infusions – Grapefruit.

Living in a small town limits the drink recipes that can be created somewhat as the selection available to a admixture drink mixer is limited. While many items can be made with a bit (or a lot) of work if the basic ingredients are available this is not true of every item used in cocktails and some of the basic items are worth considering a trip to the big city or the shipping to have them sent to you.

One of my most missed ingredients is bitters. Virgin drinks are mostly juice, syrup or pop based. This leads to many being sweet and if one blends too many sweet items together – well it becomes unpalatable. One can use infusions – tea like creations made with water and flavouring agents without the sugar, to help cut the sweetness and I continue to experiment with teas and fruit, but sometimes one needs a strong concentrated hit to enhance or add interest to a drink without adding volume.
Bitters in cocktails play the role of seasonings in food, adding an element of interest but also toning down the sweetness in the drink and bringing the more subtle flavours to the front. (For the non-virgin drink makers bitters are a must in old-fashioned or manhattan cocktails.)
There are loads of great websites that teach how to make your own bitters, which I used when first starting out in October – creating a bitters from thyme and grapefruit appropriate for the apple cocktails I was creating. Lately I have found that bitters are not a one fits all ingredient, and that a selection of flavours is necessary to expand my drink making options.
Most bitters recipes call for grain alcohol and a selection of herbs, spices and botanicals. If you are interested in making your own, it looks like you can order a “build your own custom bitters kit” through Etsy and then use one of the great online sites to make your own.
Some suggested sites to check out are listed at the end of this blog but three types of bitters stood out as must haves for me in 2015: Orange, Chocolate and Angostura Bitters.

Orange Bitters

Orange Bitters are a bit more complex than simply infusing orange rind in liquor. The orange bitters recipe from chow.com is fairly straight forward, and most ingredients can be found in your grocery store: Orange peel, fennel, coriander, cardamon all are pretty accessible. Gentian extract is more challenging to come by. I found the product at Mountain Rose Herbs and on amazon.com. but have been deliberating about dealing with shipping costs for the one, and as a Canadian am not privy to purchasing from the other.

Chocolate Bitters

Chocolate Bitters according to the recipe on howsweeteats.com is fairly complex with 14 ingredients. Wow! Adventuers in cooking hot chocolate bitters recipe calls for extracts – which are fairly hard to find in small towns such as mine. After my experience making my own cacao syrup with mixed results,I have been hoping for a true chocolate flavour to add to drinks and trying to decide how to best go about this.

Angostura Bitters

According to instructables.com Angostura Bitters calls for 13 ingredients. HooBoy! That 7 dollar prepared bottle is looking like a really good idea about now, if it were not for the extravagant shipping! Fortunately that is not the end of the (Bitter) Story.
This year, Christmas holidays included a trip to big city (Vancouver) and led to a fruitful shopping extrusion to Gourmet Warehouse where I picked up these three bitters as well as some other additions (floral flavoured waters) to my drink making kit. So, while at some point I will experiment again with making my own bitters and infusions (which from all research can often be far nicer)… for the time being I am going to explore what can be done with these fabulous additions and take some of the guess work out of virgin recipe making.
Make your own bitters online instruction sites:

Rosemary Lemonade Snowballs

Rosemary Snowballs

Rosemary Lemonade Snowballs made with fresh fallen snow. From back to front: Rosemary Limonade, Rosemary Citrus & Vanilla Rosemary Lemonade Snowballs.

Some of the simplest virgin drinks are lemonades. Creating simple syrups from citrus and herbs, and pouring a tall iced glass full of sweet and tangy refreshment is the classic summer drink. So what to do when it’s blustering on a winter day? Well when they give you lemons, make lemonade. And when they give you mounds of snow, make lemonade snowballs!

The three recipes are my favourites from a summer of research in preparation for this blog, each using rosemary as the herbal note in the drink along with either lemon or lime. Each is a intriguing drink as a lemonade, bright tart and delicious, but not too sweet. Cold numbs the taste buds somewhat, so syrups used for snow cones and slushes often have to be slightly more concentrated.  I thought it would be fun to see how these lemonade syrups stood up to the snowball test.

Each of these syrups I poured over about 1 1/2 cups packed snow to make a 3 inch snowball.

Rosemary Limonade

The Kitchen has a wonderful recipe for syrup that is based on limes. I’ve always found limes sweeter than lemons and the tartness of this drink provides quite a punch (as described in the original recipe which you can find here.)
The original recipe calls for 1 part syrup to 2 part water or soda water, however for my purposes I poured 2 oz syrup over snowball (yep real fresh clean snow, but you can make this with 1 1/2 cups shaved ice if you don’t have the benefit of freezing cold snowy winters).
Rosemary Lime Syrup
  • 1 cup lime juice (6 limes)
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • Peel of 2 limes
  • 2 (4 inch) sprigs rosemary

Mix juice and sugar, heat on medium until sugar dissolved. Add rest, lower to med-low and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat, let cool overnight then strain and store.

My Thoughts: 

The original recipe is very strong and tart. The drink, as the recipe states, has a serious kick which is great for a thirst quencher and for those who like a more sour taste. We tested the drink as directed against the snow ball version, and the snow ball version is less sweet tasting but equally as sour. I tried cutting the syrup half and half with simple syrup for the snowball, which made the result still tart but pleasant and less likely to result in a “pucker power” face.

Rosemary Citrus Lemonade

The Kitchen also came up with this recipe using the both oranges and lemons, and  blending these with rosemary and honey for a wonderful flavour. The result is a wow factor to the drink that according to the the people at The Kitchen compares in flavour to Orangina.

The lemonade recipe calls for 2-3 tbsp syrup poured over ice and filled with water or soda water. When making this up I found that regular stirring was required to keep the syrup from sinking to the bottom of the glass. You can find the original recipe for this Rosmeary Citrus Lemonade here. The authors of The Kitchen mention that this syrup would make a fine granita, which would be a frozen version of the syrup, possibly straight up. So in keeping with the idea of this experiment I poured 2 oz syrup over snowball.

Rosemary Citrus Syrup
  • 2 lemons zest & juice
  • 2 oranges zest & juice
  • 4 4-inch sprigs rosemary
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cups honey

Bring to a Boil 1 min, remove from heat and cool 10 min. Strain and store.

My Thoughts:

This recipe as a drink  when diluted with water as instructed (1 part syrup to roughly 2 parts water) is very pleasant and the orange juice and additional sweetness the honey provides makes this the sweetest of these three drinks. We found the rosemary quite strong in this blend and if rosemary is not your preferred flavour you may want to reduce the amount in half.

As a snowball, the orange added more colour to the snow than the other two drinks, giving visual appeal, and the snow mixed in to the syrup reduced the sweetness of the drink but not the other flavour profiles.

Vanilla Rosemary Lemonade

This last recipe was found at MyRecipes.com and is little different in its creation and execution. The syrup for this recipe, unlike the others, doesn’t incorporate the citrus into the mix. Instead the lemon juice is added in equal portion to the syrup as a fresh squeezed component and mixed in glass. You can find the recipe for the original drink here.

Because the original drink doesn’t incorporate the lemon I adjusted the concept slightly to make it work for the snow ball.

Vanilla Rosemary Syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 3 fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 3 cups water
  • fresh squeezed lemon juice (need 3 cups total)

Simmer all but the lemon juice until sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and let cool 30 minutes. Strain. Mix 1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice with 1 oz syrup in a cocktail shaker. Shake and pour over snowball.

Makes about 24 servings. If you are making smaller servings squeeze lemons as you use the syrup and store the remaining syrup without mixing the lemon in. The syrup should last about 1 month in the fridge.

My Thoughts:

This drink is very tart both in the liquid and snowball form. This is probably due to the fresh lemon used with the vanilla rosemary syrup. I found that adding a bit of simple syrup to the drink made a big difference, and would recommend the following formula for the snow if you like things a little sweeter: 1/2 oz lemon juice, 1/2 oz simple syrup, 1 oz vanilla rosemary syrup.

Our Verdict:

For the sake of my tests I wanted clean fresh snow and had to live with what we mostly get: Powder. Great for skiing in, terrible for making snowballs out of. Warming the snow helped, so I left it in a bowl for a day (outside but near the house & covered) and by the next afternoon the snow was perfect for packing. It took about three cups of powder snow to make what would normally amount to one “packed snowball” which required hand packing without mitts (no fluff please!). After freezing my poor fingers, I realized one could pack the snow into a rounded bottomed glass and then simply tip the snowball out into the serving cup… much better, but not quite the same realness.

Pouring the syrups over the snow, once it was packed, did not fully saturate the snowball and the result was something that needed to be eaten with a spoon like granita. Stirring the snow up, and giving it a few seconds, allowed the flavour to blend into the snow more uniformly and after a minute or two the drink became, well, more drinkable. Kind of like a daiquiri.

But what about the taste? Well…

The Rosemary Limonade was the most powerful flavour of the three: the rosemary, sweetness and lime all blend for a tart and slightly sweet mix that is lovely, but more a slow sipper. The Rosemary Citrus Lemonade was the mildest and sweetest, easy to consume in large quantities with no “pucker power” (but possibly some mild brain freeze!). The Vanilla Rosemary Lemonade was the most sour, probably due to the high concentration of fresh lemon juice and low concentration of sugar in this recipe. The vanilla was lost though, masked by the stronger rosemary and lemon flavours, and I am not sure what the addition of that ingredient brings to the drink. (Guess that means further testing… next summer!)

So does super cooling the drink make a difference? According to an article in The Guardian the answer is yes. In fact, just as we found, the colder the beverage the sweetness will be less noticeable and the sourness of the drink will be more apparent. This explains why the limeade (which used the least amount of sugar and the strongest juice – 1 cup lime juice) was too strong at full strength, and the rosemary lemonade (where the syrup was diluted with lemon juice) did not taste very sweet, and lost some of it’s more interesting flavours to the cold.

These drinks could use something special for presentation.

These drinks could use something … fancy looking, to add a visual interest.

For presentation, these could use something… maybe a swirl of zest on a cocktail stick, a beautiful spoon for stirring, or a citrus wheel. I am hoping that Santa will bring some interesting accessories this year, cause there is not much in the way of local options, and shipping costs are a bit more than this girl can swallow.

General Review of idea below!

Kid-o-metre 4/5 The concept was super fun too much rosemary was not according to my kids.
Taste: 5/5 I made these over and over while we had fresh snow until I ran out of syrup… sometimes we blended syrups for more interesting flavours. Definitely a winter treat!
Simplicity: 4/5  not too hard to put together – snowball making skills may be required 🙂
Ingredient finding: 2/5 snow in abundance, rosemary not so much… And in warmer climates… I bet it’s the opposite!