In The Spirit

Starting Over

Embracing the flavor of zero ABV drinks


By Tony Cross

I’ve always had a weird relationship with January. Part of me likens the month to 31 Sundays. It’s the day after a raging Saturday night; everything is kind of fuzzy; I’ve come down from the big high that was the holidays and all the excess that comes with it. The other part of me (probably my organs) is looking forward to getting back on track with diet and exercise. I never stopped any of that, but last month I doubled down on the debauchery, so they kind of canceled each other out. Kind of.

This January, I am taking the month off from spirits and am focusing on the year ahead as clear-headed as I can be. I hate February, too, but will have my half-filled bottles of whiskey and rum to see me through. If you’re like me and are taking a sabbatical — or maybe you’re pregnant or maybe you and alcohol don’t have a great relationship — here are some zero-proof drinks that can cheer you up after the big comedown. There are quite a few syrups and such to be made with these drinks, so be prepared. Of course, they’re delicious in spirit-based cocktails, too.

La Luz

Jon Feuersanger, 2019, Death & Co. NYC, New York

Hot off the press! The folks over at Death & Co. have just released their newest cocktail book, Welcome Home. Admittedly, I have not been able to read all of it, but when I first opened the book to skim through it, what did catch my eye was the addition to their repertoire of low- and no-ABV cocktails. The first ingredient in this drink is verjus. Verjus is the juice of unripened grapes. It’s usually acidic and can be dry. You can order it online and get it within the week. The Christmas crunch is over, right? As an alternative to using citrus juices, verjus can be a great base in a non-alcoholic cocktail. It’s also terrific as a balancer in cocktails with spirits in them. Feuersanger writes of his mocktail, “No-ABV drinks can be challenging. Ingredients interact differently with alcohol. I looked to Hawaii to inspire this summery drink. The tartness of the pineapple pulp cordial plays with the acidity and sweetness of the passion fruit purée and gives the drink the weight of a Gimlet or Sidecar. It sounds sweet, but it goes down easy.”

La Luz

1 3/4 ounces Fusion verjus blanc

1 ounce pineapple pulp cordial (recipe below)

1/2 ounce Perfect Purée passion fruit purée

1/4 ounce fresh lime juice

1 dash orange blossom water

1 lime wheel (garnish)

Shake all ingredients with ice, then double strain into a chilled Nick & Nora glass. Garnish with lime wedge.

Pineapple Pulp Cordial

450 grams unbleached cane sugar

450 grams filtered water

100 grams pineapple pulp (left over from juicing pineapple)

Malic acid

Citric acid

Combine the sugar, water, and pineapple pulp in a blender and process until the sugar has dissolved. Strain the mixture through a paper coffee filter or Superbag (available on

Calculate 2 percent of the weight of the above mixture to get X grams of malic acid. Calculate 3 percent of the above mixture to get Y grams of citric acid. Pour X and Y into a storage container and refrigerate until ready to use, up to two weeks.

Business Casual

Jon Mateer, 2019, Death & Co. NYC, New York

Yes, I know — that last drink was a doozy. Fear not. This one doesn’t involve much math, but you will probably need to order a few ingredients online. The first is Giffard’s Aperitif syrup. It’s a great substitute for Campari or Cappelletti Aperitivo — red and bitter. This aperitif has flavors of bitter oranges, gentian root and spice. As a side note, you can enjoy this with sparkling water and an orange slice and be A-OK.

Business Casual

1 1/4 ounces Giffard Aperitif syrup

3/4 ounce chilled brewed black tea

1 ounce red verjus syrup (recipe below)

1 teaspoon cane sugar syrup (recipe below)

1 orange half wheel (garnish)

Stir all the ingredients over ice, then strain into a double old-fashioned glass over 1 large ice cube. Garnish with the orange half wheel.

Red Verjus Syrup

130 grams red verjus

60 grams vanilla syrup (see below)

31.5 grams cinnamon syrup (see below)

In a bowl, whisk together all the ingredients until combined. Transfer to a storage container and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 2 weeks.

Vanilla Syrup

500 grams simple syrup (equal parts sugar and distilled water)

2 grams vanilla extract

Combine in a storage container and shake. Refrigerate until ready to use, up to 2 weeks

Cinnamon Syrup*

500 grams simple syrup

15 grams crushed cinnamon sticks

Blend together and pour into a storage container to sit overnight in refrigerator. Strain out solids the next morning, and refrigerate syrup, up to 2 weeks.

*(The Death & Co. recipe is a bit much, this is a simpler version.)

Cane Sugar Syrup

300 grams unbleached cane sugar

150 grams filtered water

Combine the sugar and water in a blender and process until the sugar has dissolved. Pour into a storage container and refrigerate until ready to use, up to 2 weeks.  PS

Tony Cross is a bartender (well, ex-bartender) who runs cocktail catering company Reverie Cocktails in Southern Pines.


Photograph by Tony Cross

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