A Joyous (Dry) January Celebration + Recipe

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A pair of 91-year-old twins test zero-alcohol cocktails. Plus, a recipe for an alcohol-free mint mojito.

The birthday twins, Ed and Ellen.
The Birthday twins Ed, and Ellen. —Courtesy of Catherine Walthers

If you’re joining the legions trying Dry January, you don’t have to give up celebrating special occasions as.  In addition to tasting great, these fresh cocktails leave a pretty light impact on the Earth. 

The term Dry January was coined in 2013 by a London-based charity as part of a public health campaign championed. The idea of abstaining from alcohol as a reset after holiday excess has since expanded into Sober February, and morphed into variations like Damp January, which  simply involves reducing your alcohol consumption.

My husband liked the concept, so we joined in a few years ago. We weren’t alone. Some one in five Americans have said they’re giving Dry January a try. As a recipe developer and passionate craft cocktail lover, I began creating zero-proof cocktails (they are generally no longer  referred to as mocktails) as a way to relax or to just have something special for festive occasions. 

I decided to put some new recipes to the test with my father and my aunt, who were about to turn 91. Yes, they are twins, now living together after their spouses passed away.

I traveled to Glen Cove, New York, last week for the birthday celebration. Making new concoctions in their kitchen, juicing the citrus, smashing fresh herbs, and trying different combinations made the evening a lot of fun.

My dad is picky, so the only one he wanted to try was a raspberry-honey-lemon combo, an idea I thought might work. While he liked the drink, and sipped while he watched television, I thought it wasn’t quite flavorful enough, so I moved on. 

My Aunt Ellen, a beautiful woman and the better-looking twin (my dad would agree) has been my biggest supporter. She happily tried a  kiwi, basil, lime, and honey drink, which I made by mixing crushed fresh kiwi and  the other ingredients in a shaker then strained the liquid into a glass filled with ice and topped it off with soda water — typical cocktail making. “That looked like a lot of work,” my aunt said. Still, we both enjoyed the results. Aunt Ellen suggested calling the drink The Basil Leaf — a green name for our green drink and for our climate-friendly magazine. But ultimately, the effort involved might be a bit much for those wanting to just relax. The last test we tried was a variation on a mojito — fresh mint leaves, limes, muddled to release all the flavors, and a honey syrup. No rum of course. I added fresh cilantro sprigs for a surprise twist, lots of ice, and a float of soda water. 

Cheers! We clinked our glasses together and sampled. This was the one, we agreed.  And that’s how the recipe below was created.

To make this non-cocktail making a little more sustainable, I did a couple things. First, I developed the raw honey syrup recipe (really just honey and water) you see below. It’s much better for you than the white sugar syrups and you don’t even need to boil it like simple syrups. When using fruit, I always choose organic — it’s especially important to use organic raspberries as they can contain high levels of pesticides. And I turned to great seasonal winter citrus like grapefruit and limes (see the recipe for the Grapefruit Fizz here). Finally, though I didn’t haul it with me to New York, I always use the SodaStream to make the sparkling water. It helps you cut back on all the single-use cans and plastic, especially when you want to practice a lot, like me.

Happy Birthday to Ed and Ellen. May we get to try this again next Dry January.   

Mojito Magic

Recipe by Catherine Walthers

Serves 1

We’re making the most of organic winter citrus, floral fresh herbs and a touch of honey-based simple syrup to usher in Dry January, but it would taste great anytime. The addition of cilantro gives this rum-free mojito an unusual twist — try not to skip it. I prefer the subtle but wonderful flavor of the raw honey I get at my farmers market  — the beekeepers place hives in the six surrounding towns and the honey tastes slightly different depending on what plants the bees visit! If you like making these non-alcoholic cocktails at home like I do, I also suggest getting a sparkling water maker so you can ditch the single-use soda cans and bottles, while you improve your own health. 

Ingredients

2 or 3 sprig tips of mint, using at least 10 leaves, still attached to stems

2 sprigs fresh cilantro

1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice (save a lime wedge for the glass)

1 ounce raw honey syrup (see note)

Soda water

Mint sprig, to garnish

Directions

1. In a tall glass, add the mint and cilantro and top with 1/2 of the juiced lime, sliced into 2 or 3 pieces. Using a muddler (or just the bottom of a sturdy wooden spoon), gently crush or bruise the herbs and lime pieces. The idea is to release the flavor but keep the herb leaves intact so that bits of herb are not floating around in the glass. 

2.  Add the lime juice and honey syrup to the glass. Fill the glass with ice. Top with the soda water. With a spoon, mix well so that the flavors of the herbs and lime are well integrated. Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy!

Note on choosing honey and making honey syrup 

If you have the choice between raw honey versus regular honey, I suggest raw honey, as it is a better choice for taste, bees, and the environment. Combine equal amounts of raw honey and water in a small bowl or mason jar. Use a whisk to blend. There’s no need to heat. Store in a mason jar in the fridge. Raw honey, with its immune-boosting properties and antioxidant compounds than sugar, is better for your health than the sugar typically used to make simple syrup. 

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Catherine Walthers
Catherine Walthers
Catherine Walthers, Bluedot’s food editor, is a Martha’s Vineyard-based writer, culinary instructor, and private chef. A former journalist, she is the author of 4 cookbooks, including Kale, Glorious Kale, Soups + Sides, and Raising the Salad Bar. She wrote an environmental guidebook called A Greener Boston published by Chronicle Books in 1992. Follow her on Instagram @catherine_walthers.

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