Summer sippers: Five ways to make refreshing mocktails
July is here. Our throats seem to be perpetually parched as the temperatures soar, and that calls for some serious hydration.
There’s nothing more thirst-quenching than an ice-cold, non-alcoholic spritzer made with fresh fruit, a dollop of sparkling water and a hint of refreshing mint, rosemary or basil.
Sheana Davis, chef/owner of The Epicurean Connection in Sonoma, has been excited about mocktails ever since she created a Wine Country spritzer decades ago from grilled peaches, lemon verbena simple syrup and a float of sparkling water.
“I’m a fan of flavored simple syrups,” she said. “We came up with that about 30 years ago at Cannard Farm. You can skewer the peaches so you can nibble on them.”
A few years ago, Davis revisited the idea of virgin spritzers when she was hired by the U.S. Dairy Export Council to teach cheese and mocktail courses to clients from Asia and the Middle East.
“Now it seems like kind of a trend,” said Davis, who is also a cheesemaker. “During the pandemic, people are not drinking as much, because they’re trying to be healthy, and they’re looking for creative uses for fruit like cherries and pineapple.”
Since her husband doesn’t drink alcohol, Davis finds inspiration by testing her recipes with him as well as with her cheese students. She naturally favors ingredients that are accessible in China, the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates, where most of her students live.
“That led me down the path of rose water, orange blossom water and pomegranate molasses,” she said. “Then came raspberries, blueberries, peaches and pineapple.”
In the summer, Davis is also a fan of the European-style “tisanes” that blend herbal teas with fruity syrups for a refreshing, mid-afternoon quaff.
For The Epicurean Connection’s weekly catering menu, home-delivered from the Carneros to Kenwood, Davis often includes several tisanes, such as a blueberry tea with a blueberry simple syrup or a Meyer lemon chamomile tea with lemon zest.
“We deliver them chilled, and you can pour it over ice or add in spritzer water,” she said. “It’s different, it’s healthy and people love them.”
For the hot and sultry “dog days of summer,” Davis offered up five, non-alcoholic beverages that take advantage of the fresh fruit and herbs ripening in gardens and farmers markets right now.
These summer sippers would also work well if you want to make popsicles, which really help you beat the heat.
1 - Basil Cucumber Mint Spritzer
For this pretty cocktail, Davis folds the basil leaves over a cucumber slice, then skewers it for a garnish and serves it all in a Champagne flute or a wine glass.
“It looks refreshing and bright, especially when it’s warm out,” she said. “It has the bright, green leaves of the mint and the crisp white of the cucumber.
2 - Pomegranate Molasses Tonic
This mocktail gets its kick from a one-two punch of lime juice and pomegranate molasses.
“It has a little tartness to it,” she said. “That’s why I put a little honey or simple syrup in it.”
3 - Honey Mint Blackberry and Lemon Zest Spritzer
For this refreshing spritzer, Davis muddles the honey and mint with the simple syrup and the blackberries.
“We put it in a short, wide glass and lay a skewer of blackberries across it,” she said. “It could easily be served in a martini glass as well.”
4 - Dirty Horchata
Inspired by the delicious rice drink of Mexico, Davis gives this mocktail an Asian twist by mixing in some coconut milk with the rice milk.
“It ends up a lightish brown, like a chilled mocha,” she said. “We coat the rim with cinnamon sugar.”
5 - Smoking Rosemary Watermelon Cooler
The inspiration for this soft, melon drink came from Davis’ husband, who enjoys experimenting with his creme brulee torch. He once tried it on a rosemary garnish for a dinner, and it was a hit.
“It gives a nice smoky flavor to it,” Davis said of the flaming twig. “I do the watermelon in the food processor or blender, and I take all the seeds out before I puree it.”
The Epicurean Connection is currently open from 10 am. to 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays for pick-up of its weekly menu items plus a selection of housemade tapanedes, jams, relishes and pantry items.
You can sign up for their weekly newsletter at theepicureanconnection.com to see the weekly menu. You also can register at the website for a free, family-friendly cooking class given by Davis at 11 a.m. every Thursday on Zoom. Past classes and recipes are posted on her website under “virtual classes.”
The cooking classes are followed at noon Thursdays with a free Zoom Cheese chat with cheese experts from around the country.