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Cheers! Zero-proof cocktails can be just as tasty as their boozy counterparts

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Nonalcoholic drinks are becoming increasingly popular. Dry January is a good time to check them out.

Just because it’s Dry January doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a really tasty mixed drink.

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Usually a nonalcoholic drink would use lemon or lime for tartness and because they are cloudy, the drink would be shaken. Verjus is clear like wine, so this drink is stirred.

Tammy Coxen of Tammy’s Tastings was pouring and stirring, and I couldn’t find a single spirit. No gin, no whiskey, no rum. No alcohol.

These alcohol-free drinks are sometimes called mocktails, but Tammy doesn’t like that term.

“That’s right, because there’s nothing fake about them. These are legit cocktails. They just don’t happen to have alcohol in them,” she said.

In the past few years, nonalcoholic cocktails have been popping up on the menus of the best craft cocktail bars. Nonalcoholic beers are very popular, and most brewers are making stouts, IPAs, and ales of all kinds that are tasty and alcohol free—or nearly so, coming in at a maximum of 0.5% alcohol by volume to legally be considered nonalcoholic.

“We’re really in an exciting period right now for nonalcoholic drinking,” Tammy said, adding, “Gone are things like a Shirley Temple, which is just sugar on sugar on sugar, and instead, we’re getting these really complex and nuanced drinks.”

Last year, Tammy discovered a book called Good Drinks by Julia Bainbridge. In it was a recipe that called for verjus. It’s the juice of unripened grapes. She mail-ordered a bottle of verjus (pronounced ver-JOO) to experiment with it.

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio
Straining the Golden Hour into a coupe.

Then last summer, she stopped by Black Star Farms and found that Michigan winery was making verjus.

“It’s really tart and acidic, but also has this really nice grapiness,” Tammy said.

That’s what she decided to use in this simple recipe from Good Drinks called Golden Hour, created by a bartender named John Palmer in Minneapolis.

Golden Hour

2 oz white verjus
3/4 oz honey syrup
1/2 tsp orange blossom water
Garnish: orange twist

Combine ingredients in mixing glass with ice. Stir very well and strain into coupe or martini glass. Garnish.

Honey Syrup

1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup hot water

If honey is fluid, stir until thoroughly combined. If honey is crystallized, heat on stove until completely dissolved. Let cool and store refrigerated. Yield: 5 oz

Tammy Coxen and Lester Graham are the authors of Cheers to Michigan: A Celebration of Cocktail Culture and Craft Distillers from the University of Michigan Press. The book is based on the Cheers! episodes heard on Michigan Radio.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Radio from 1998-2010.
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