Fine and Dandy (Faux) Shandy Mocktail!
For when you can’t drink (or don’t want to) but still want a little something special.
For some reason, pretty much every new year I feel compelled to quote Death Cab for Cutie: “So this is the New Year/ and I don’t feel any different.” Because it’s true, you know? But this New Year maybe I do feel a little different, if only because I’m not as hungover as I normally am. In late December, my husband and I decided to take a break from drinking. We had lots of reasons. We’re planning on starting a family, and you know, drinking isn’t super healthy. Also, we’d been going to so many holiday parties, and general holiday indulgence had started bumming us out. Oh also? I quit my awful job in October, and between October and December my nightly cocktails were getting a little too nightly. Was I self-medicating for the post-traumatic stress disorder I’m still suffering from? Maybe. It’s possible.
We decided to go 30 days without drinking. It shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but we live in America and are in our mid-30s, so it is! Drinking is how you socialize! We go to bars! We go to breweries! We love craft cocktails! Bourbon is my jam! But, you know, too much of a good thing, etc. I may secretly love those always-drunk characters on TV (like Patsy from AbFab and Lucille Bluth from Arrested Development) (I aspire to be Lucille Bluth, only less hateful), but in reality, drinking makes you feel bad. It just does. It’s a depressant, it stimulates your adrenal glands which leads to sleep issues, it lowers your inhibitions so it’s hard to stick to any kind of diet, it’s highly caloric so, you know, unless you really commit to being an alcoholic (i.e. stop eating), you’re going to gain weight. On the other hand, booze is delicious. And it relaxes you and makes you feel hilarious and charming.
So, moderation. We all know this. Drinking in moderation is healthy. Realizing that we’d gone too far afield from “moderate,” Brian and I decided to step it back. We would take 30 days off of drinking.
Club soda is a surprisingly good alternative to beer.
The first few days were weird, not because it was so hard to stop drinking but because, well, what else do I do in the evening? I mean, what do I physically drink while I’m cooking dinner, for example, if not a beer? How else do we celebrate and kick back after a long day or a long week? If our Saturday dinner and dance parties (wherein Brian plays Spotify DJ and I cook dinner) aren’t alcohol fueled, will they be as much fun? The first time we went out to dinner without ordering a beer was kind of weird. It was like when I quit smoking and I didn’t know what to do with my hands. I ordered a water, and while it was, you know, hydrating, it just lacked the specialness of the cold and bubbly beer. The next time we went out, we met friends at a local brewery and I was seriously at a loss as to what to drink. This brewery didn’t make its own root beer or ginger beer, so I ordered a club soda. It was good! Fizzy and cold, with a squeeze of lemon. It was like a beer, kinda, even though it was just water; it felt somehow special.
Since we had this newfound need for non-alcoholic drinks and mocktails, and since we were saving so much money by buying booze out, we decided to buy a SodaStream. Brian had already made the switch from flat water to sparkling water, and every week we’d haul home liters and liters of club soda. So why not eliminate the hauling and the waste and just make our own soda water? (By the way, this is not sponsored, but I will happily work for you, SodaStream. Call me!) Once we ordered it, I went on a soda syrup pinning spree! I made lavender syrup, rosehip syrup, and spiced orange syrup. Making your own soda is really fun. You can use as much or as little sugar as you want, and play with awesome flavors. I even made up a recipe for a vanilla coconut syrup that made the most delicious coconut soda.
So, life without alcohol was turning out alright! We would go out to dinner and be amazed at how cheaply we could eat out if we weren’t drinking. We woke up refreshed, rather than hungover. We started getting more done on weekends because we had more energy and our sleep was more restorative. And then I decided to complicate things. I decided to do the Whole30 Program. Never heard of it? Well, basically it’s 30 days of no sugar, no alcohol, no dairy, no legumes, no grains. What does that leave? Meat, nuts, vegetables, and fruits. Fortunately I love those things, and I don’t eat much processed food anyway. Brian and I cook 90% of our meals, and we’ve long since been devoted to eating whole foods. And I’d already done two weeks without booze, so why not? It was a little hard to contemplate drinking my morning cuppa tea without half-and-half and honey (one of life’s great pleasures), but I wanted to try it. Mostly I wanted to lose a little weight and break my sugar addiction.
When club soda isn’t doing it for you, make yourself a mocktail. It’s just good sense. Bonus points if it looks like beer!
Going on the Whole30 meant that I couldn’t use my beloved soda syrups. But I could make my own version of La Croix, since there’s no added sugar. If you like the Pampelmousse La Croix (grapefruit), all you have to do is add two strips of grapefruit zest to some club soda. Huzzah!
There’s a lot of good information out there for people trying out the Whole30. Instagram is awesome, (#whole30 for meal ideas), as is Pinterest. One thing I discovered on one of the many Whole30 compliant grocery lists is the Pineapple Juice from Trader Joe’s. It’s in the refrigerator section, it’s pure juice, and it’s lovely.
And so this mocktail was born. It’s crisp and tart, and a little sweet, and frothy, and damned if it doesn’t kind of look like a beer, or at the very least a shandy. I mean, it’s yellow-er and murkier than beer, but if you squint just right, it looks like a beer shandy in a pint glass. The pineapple juice is sweet and lovely, and could be a little too sweet if not tempered with a lot of club soda. The pomegranate juice adds just a bit of tartness and color, and the bitters round out the flavors in the best way. They make the drink complex; you’re not just drinking watered-down fruit juice, you’re having a special beverage.
Disclaimer: Now, it’s true that bitters are made with alcohol. The high-proof alcohol extracts the flavors of the bitter ingredients such as cinchona bark (which used to be used to treat malaria!) and other spices. So, if you’re pregnant, you might not want to add the bitters to your mocktail. However, while bitters are alcohol based, you’re only using a few drops, so, maybe it’s not enough alcohol to worry about? I’m not pregnant, so I don’t have that concern, and I’m certainly not telling pregnant ladies to drink alcohol. I’m merely pointing out that the amount of alcohol per drink is teeny-tiny. So, I leave it to you.
This isn’t so much of a recipe as a jumping-off point. If you prefer orange juice, go for it! Or why not an orange-pineapple mix? You can add more or less pomegranate juice, or leave it out altogether. If sugar isn’t an issue, try a homemade soda syrup, they’re so delicious and so fun. I’m dying to make this Vanilla and Earl Grey Italian Cream Soda. Just as soon as I’m done with this Whole30 thing!
Fine and Dandy (Faux) Shandy Mocktail
Bitters (I like Bittermilk Bourbon Barrel Aged Old Fashioned Bitters, pictured, or classic Angostura Bitters)
Fill your glass 1/3 to 1/2 with pineapple juice. Add a splash of pomegranate juice and several shakes of bitters. Top with club soda. Pretend it’s a beer, and drink it down! The upside? No hangover!