Recently, I had the honour and privilege of being Best Man for a friend’s wedding. Which meant, amongst several other things, I was required to provide a stag do.

Easy, you might think. Piss up in a brewery level of ease.

But no.  Not unless breweries come in teetotaller friendly form.

Low Tea and Mocktails

Yes, a stag do for a non-drinking groom. So we went for low-tea at the luggage room, followed by returning to my place for an evening of mocktails – and it’s that last bit that I’m going to post about here.  I have, at various times, for extended periods, been off the booze.  I’m just embarking on another of those right now, in fact, so this was particularly timely for me also.

But mocktails have an annoying tendency to become a load of different fruit juices in a bucket with some ice and a pole.  They tend to lack the punch and the fun of their more boozy siblings.  I wasn’t going to have that, so I found a few weird and wonderful ingredients as well as the basics, and threw them into the mix.  I also pulled together a bit of a guide for the event:  The Mocktail Guide (created for the stag do) (.pdf download)

There were remarkably few failed mocktails, and I think the approach taken of everyone taking turns (a couple at a time) trying to come up with something, and everyone else then getting to try it out. With a bit of guidance, people really did start to experiment.

The only real crash-and-burn of the evening was the cocktail which became known as the “Toilet Block”, a new legend in it’s lifetime, able to reproduce the scent of urinal cakes as a taste in beverage form.  It will live forever in infamy.

We experimented again with Seedlip Spice 94 (which still, despite sounding amazing, lacks a punch) and for the first time with Seedlip Garden 108… which was somehow delicious despite tasting very much like peas.

But mostly, we experimented with various ratios of the following flavours:

  • Sweet
  • Sour
  • Strong

…with a touch of something else to add a bit of oomph.  With cocktails, the strong would normally be alcohol, but with that off the table, you have to get your strong somewhere else… and that sometimes comes in a bundle with the sweet.

I’d started out making some extra “sweet” ingredients ahead of time – sugar syrup and a few flavoured syrups as well – mostly one-to-two parts sugar dissolved in one part boiling water until invisible.

One of those was a chipotle chilli syrup, which turned out to make a pretty decent “strong” component for cocktail purposes, whilst also being a “sweet”.  I’m still working on how to make a dry “strong” component that works well in mocktails without being full of sugar, but I’m sure ideas will happen.

As it turns out, the chipotle syrup was a star ingredient… and I had some luck with using strong-brewed and cooled Lapsang Suchong tea as a whisky alternative – it has the smokeyness needed, anyway.

Ratios, mixes & Cocktail Families

With cocktails, things tend to boil down to the ratios and flavour combinations. The ratio tends to determine the kind of cocktail you’re making. Ratios vary massively, but I’ve seen all of the following

For a Sour:

  • 2 part strong flavour  : 1 part sweet flavour : 1 part sour flavour is traditional
  • 8 : 3 : 3 (aka: 2 : 3/4 : 3/4) is more common these days

For an Ancestral:

  • 1 cube Sugar and 1 dash of aromatic bitters of some form (enough to soak through sugar cube), with enough water to dissolve it – this makes up 1 part sweet and 1 part sour
  • 2 parts Strong – build up the drink with a stronger flavour

For what would be a “spirit forward” if it was boozy:

As Ancestral, but with 2 parts strong : 1 part different strong: 1 part sweet : 1 part sour

…and more.

There are meany, many more.  But because non-alcoholic “strong” doesn’t have quite the same kick to it as booze does, you need a little extra to give the kick. That’s why the Chipotle syrup worked so well – it added the oomph missing from other non-alcoholic ingredients

Take a look at other cocktail recipes, and look at how they’re assembled.  Swap out the “strong” for alternatives, and try to sneak some extra punch in via variations on one or two of the other ingredients.

An example…

Tea & Chipotle Sour

Make as if making a whisky sour, but swap out the whisky for lapsang suchong tea which has been strong brewed and then cooled.  Also swap out the simple syrup for chipotle syrup to give it the kick that the whisky would have had, but the tea lacks.

1. Combine:

  • 60ml Lapsang Suchong tea – strong brewed & cooled – 3 parts strong (ish)
  • 30ml Lemon Juice – fresh squeezed – 2 parts sharp/sour
  • 30ml Chipotle syrup –  2 part sweet (with a hint of strong to bolster the tea by being strong as well as sweet)

2. Shake with ice, then strain to remove the ice.

3. Add some egg white – I’d go with a tablespoon or so.

4. Shake again to get a bit of foam, strain & serve with a dash of bitters on the foam.

Other Ideas for Mocktail Bolsters or boosters

The chipotle syrup was a good way to add some kick back into mocktails, to get the away from the “bucket of fruit juice” flavours…  but it can’t be the only one.

Here are some ideas – I’ve not tried them yet, but think they’d be worth a look. Let me know if you try them.


Other chilli syrups – There are a surprising variety of chilli flavours out there. I’m tempted to try with Kashmiri Chillis (for indian fire), De Arbol (for clean mexican heat) or Habanero (slightly fruity spice).

Peppercorn syrup – I’ve not tried this but I could see it working

Ginger syrup – I really want to try this with fresh root ginger

Cinnamon syrup – You know how strong cinnamon has a kind of burn?  I’d like to try that in a cocktail.


So far, most of the non-alcohol based tinctures I’ve encountered have been quite mild, and the flavours have been easily lost, but I’m sure it must be possible to make stronger ones without using alcohol…

I’d be interested in herb or spice tinctures from things like rosemary or cinnamon.

Others ideas?

Let me know by commenting!