Photo: Karl Gustafson
DrinkeryDrinkery is The Takeout's celebration of beer, liquor, coffee, and other potent potables.  

This is is it, everyone. One more week of Dryuary. This time Friday, many of us will be popping champagne or doing Jell-O shots or even just opening a nice Kate Bernot-suggested beer to end this long, dry month.

Until then though, there’s horrible weather attacking the country, and we’ve got four full days to go. This is when we dig in. This is brass tacks. This is when we bypass our daily LaCroix rounds and shoot the works on fancy sodas and fruit garnishes for our mocktails. And there is one particular bottle that somehow makes everything better, more elegant, more cocktail-like. A small bottle of bitters will kick your simple mocktail into the stratosphere, making these final Dryuary days a snap to sail through. Yes, there is alcohol in bitters, but a few shakes add only a trace—and this is coming from someone so stone-cold sober I’m pretty sure I got a little loopy on Bourbon BBQ chips last week.

So, after going on a tear to gather flavored sparkling waters, shrubs, and ginger soft drinks (no matter how expensive that fancy soda is it’s still not going to be as pricey as a nice bottle of wine), I mixed and matched various concoctions withe a few fellow Dryuary drinkers until we came up with the ideal combo: water base + flavored soda + garnish + bitters. Go about half and half with the water and soda, depending. The only downside is that the bitters made everything pink, like a kiddie cocktail. So let’s break these down a bit.


Water base

Your favorite flavor of flavored soda water will work here (even plain), or us mineral water. But don’t forget the subtly sharp and lovely quinine beauty of tonic water. Plus, you’ll never get malaria.

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Flavored soda

You can go hog-wild here, spiking your mocktail with any flavor you like. I found the Dry Sparkling Soda in vanilla to be a revelation (vanilla bean flecks right in the soda!)—honestly, it should be, it’s pretty pricey. I hear the rhubarb one is great also. On a more affordable tack, Spindrift is like LaCroix with just a bit of juice added. Those fancy Fentimans sodas I tried last week all certainly qualify. I also bought some Sprecher ginger ale, because I love a fancy ginger ale.

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Garnish

Again, anything goes, so I splurged on a small jar of these pricey Egbert’s Cocktail Cherries from Dashfire (steeped in cherry juice, and bitters). Some citrus from your local produce section will do just on the less-sweet side of things.

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Bitters

Don’t forget these; they make everything amazing. I went with Peychaud’s Bitters, which were originally created by an apothecary in 1830. Our Takeout fancy whiskey shopgirl Allison Shoemaker informs me of the many varieties of bitters, such as the Dashfire line, which come in flavors including lavender, orange, and celery. But for my first time out in the world of bitters, I decided to stick with the classic, which wound up augmenting every flavor combo I tried.

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As I whipped the elements all together like some mad scientist who had taken over the office kitchen, a friend walked in and asked what was going on. Actually, a few people queried expectantly, only to lose interest when they learned what I was crafting on a Friday afternoon was mocktails, not cocktails. A coworker referred to my beverage crafting, “That’s my Ken doll.” I didn’t get it. He said, “It’s missing an important part.” I had to disagree. I liked these concoctions better than anything else I’ve imbibed over Dryuary (and I’ve imbibed a lot), and maybe even more than some actual spiked drinks.

Of all my mixing and matching, here are a few of my favorites:

Seltzer + vanilla soda + a cherry and some juice + bitters

Yes, a four-pack of Dry Sparkling Vanilla will currently cost you $6 on Amazon Prime. It’s worth it. A not-too-sweet soda with vanilla flecks adds inestimable flavor to your fancy non-cocktail, and cherry is a smooth accompaniment. A drink with childhood flavors, but for grownups.

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Lemon seltzer + ginger beer + lemon + bitters

Feel like you’re coming down with something and longing for a hot toddy? This (granted, cold) combo will absolutely fit the bill. The Fentimans ginger beer I found too strong on its own was delightfully spicy when cut with lemon seltzer (ginger and lemon being an ideal combo), making for the perfect mocktail with which to toast your own health.

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Tonic + shrub + lime + bitters

Longing for a strong taste, even without alcohol? A shrub is a colonial-era mocktail made by made by mixing a bit of vinegar with fruit syrup and water. This lemon mint shrub from Element contains some apple cider vinegar, considerably augmented by the tonic water and bitters, wiht extra lime. If that’s a bit too strong for you, cut with plain seltzer or even the sweetness of some ginger ale—still delicious.

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But these are just suggestions—obviously, feel free to hand-craft your mocktail to your specific beverage preferences. For example, one of my tasters liked the cherry combined with a grapefruit seltzer, which was an unexpected matchup that worked well. Who knows, you may find that some of these work as well in the non-Dryuary months—if, like me, you are enjoying the feeling of having your clothes fit better and no headaches on weekends, but appreciate a replacement beverage a bit more special than a wedge of lime in a seltzer glass. I just hope no one will think it’s weird if I start carrying a bottle of bitters around with me in case of mocktail emergencies.