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Summer sippers: Five ways to make refreshing mocktails

Dive into a fizzy, non-alcoholic spritzer and skip the pool.|

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.

The following recipes are from Sheana Davis of The Epicurean Connection. Simple syrup, required in many mocktails and cocktails, is easy to make yourself and keeps in the fridge for months.

Simple Syrup

Makes 1 quart

4 cups water

4 cups sugar

In a small pan over medium heat, bring water and sugar to a simmer and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool. Store in a container with an airtight lid. The shelf life is 6 months in the refrigerator.

Here is an example of a flavored simple syrup that can serve as a base for spritzers, lemonade and other summer sippers. Feel free to substitute your favorite fruit.

Strawberry Simple Syrup

Makes 1 quart

3 cups simple syrup

1 cup strawberry puree

In a small pan over medium heat, bring simple syrup and strawberry puree to a simmer and allow to simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to cool. Store in a container with an airtight lid. The shelf life is 2 weeks.

Davis suggested serving this spritzer in a wine glass. To turn it into a cocktail or a popsicle, add 2 to 4 ounces vodka.

Basil Cucumber and Mint Spritzer

Makes 1 spritzer or 2 popsicles

1 teaspoon simple syrup

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

2 fresh mint leaves, washed and torn into pieces

4 fresh basil leaves, washed and torn into pieces

4 strips fresh lemon zest

4 ounces sparkling water

Slice of lemon

Slice of cucumber, wrapped in basil leaves

Ice

In a shaker, add simple syrup, lemon juice, mint leaves, basil leaves and lemon zest.

Shake for 15 seconds; strain over ice. Add in sparkling water and garnish with a slice of lemon and basil cucumber skewer.

This mocktail works best in a lowball glass. To turn it into a cocktail or a popsicle, add 2 to 4 ounces bourbon.

Honey Mint Blackberry and Lemon Zest Spritzer

Makes 1 spritzer or 2 popsicles

8-12 mint leaves

Sprinkle of fine lemon zest

1 tablespoon simple syrup

1 tablespoon honey

Ice

4 ounces sparkling water

Fine lemon zest and blackberries, for garnish

Using a shaker, muddle together mint leaves, lemon zest, blackberries, simple syrup and honey. Pour into a glass. Add in ice and sparkling water. Garnish with lemon zest and a skewer of blackberries.

Serve this cooler in a martini glass. To turn it into a cocktail or a popsicle, add 2 to 4 ounces bourbon.

Smoking Rosemary Watermelon Cooler

Makes 1 cooler or 2 popsicles

2 rosemary sprigs (2 inches long)

4 ounces watermelon juice

2 ounces cranberry juice

1 tablespoon simple syrup

1 teaspoon lime juice

Ice

Flaming Rosemary Sprig, as garnish

Place ice in glass; add watermelon juice, cranberry juice, simple syrup and lime juice. Stir together. Garnish with a rosemary sprig, set on fire with a creme brulee torch.

You should serve this mocktail in a high ballglass. To turn it into a cocktail or popsicle, add 2 to 4 ounces bourbon.

Pomegranate Molasses Tonic

Makes 1 tonic or 2 popsicles

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

1 teaspoon honey or simple syrup

Splash of lime juice

4 ounces tonic water

Ice

Lime twist

Place pomegranate molasses, honey and lime juice in glass and stir together. Add ice in a new highball glass and pour mixture over ice and finish with tonic water. Garnish with lime zest twist.

Serve this refreshing drink in a lowball glass. To turn it into a cocktail, add 2 to 4 ounces tequila.

Dirty Horchata

Makes 1 horchata or 2 popsicles

Sprinkle of cinnamon

Sprinkle of sugar

2 ounces coconut milk

2 ounce rice milk

2 tablespoons maple syrup

¼ teaspoon vanilla

Sprinkle nutmeg

Sprinkle cinnamon

1 teaspoon coffee extract or instant Espresso

Ice

Cinnamon stick, for garnish

Place cinnamon and sugar on a plate and mix together. Wipe rim with water and press glass in cinnamon-sugar mixture.

In a shaker, mix coconut milk, rice milk, maple syrup, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon and instant espresso. Shake for 15 seconds.

Place ice in sprinkled lowball glass. Pour in mixture and garnish with a cinnamon stick.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-4521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56

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