Non-alcoholic cocktails have come a LONG way in the past few years. Gone are the days of sugary sweet mocktails made mostly of juice and soda. Bartenders are crafting thoughtful, satisfying adult beverages with the same care they put into their alcoholic offerings. Non-alcoholic spirits have made this possible, and now folks who are taking a break from alcohol can now enjoy everything from a Paper Plane to a Cosmopolitan or Espresso Martini.
Spirit-forward cocktails, on the other hand, are much more difficult to pull off convincingly in non-alcoholic form. While the flavor and intensity of non-alcoholic spirits are generally very good, it's no secret that without 40% ABV, they just don't pack quite the same punch. The aforementioned Cosmo benefits from the citric bite of lime juice, sweetness from the orange liqueur, and tart cranberry juice, while the NA spirit comes in to complete the picture. Without being bolstered by mixers, spirit-forward NA cocktails can sometimes lack texture and complexity.
So what's a person to do who is craving a Negroni but not drinking any alcohol? The answer often lies in the choice of non-alcoholic spirits. Boldly flavored, but more importantly, uniquely flavored spirits can go a long way in creating satisfying spirit-forward drinks like a Negroni or Manhattan. When non-traditional spirits—i.e. those not trying to imitate whiskey, gin, etc.—are used in a classic cocktail format, a neat trick is played on the drinker where you're reminded of the familiar cocktail, but it's different enough to make you stop, pause, and really pay attention to what it is you're sipping on. It's unlike anything you've had before, preventing you from making comparisons to the alcoholic version, and allowing you to enjoy what's in front of you.
This non-alcoholic cocktail, The Bittersweet Symphony, accomplishes just that. It uses the standard Negroni format but makes some important changes to the spirits called for. Wilderton's Earthen stands in for gin, but with flavors of white peppercorn, smoked tea, and rose petals, is unlike any gin you've ever tasted. The distillery's excellent Bittersweet Aperitivo functions like Campari but is more herbal, complex, and interesting. And The Pathfinder, an intensely flavored Amaro substitute, is used instead of sweet vermouth, adding more weight and a bitterness that gives this cocktail some real bite. Our Orange and New Orleans bitters tie the whole thing together, providing tart fruit, citrus, and warm spice.
The resulting drink is intensely bitter, herbaceous, floral, and spiced. In other words, light years away from the mocktails of yesteryear. It's probably not going to be everyone's cup of tea, but then again, neither is a Negroni.