13 Tips From Experts On How To Make Standout Mocktails

Mocktails have shed their "just for Dry January" reputation and are increasingly recognized as a versatile, flavorful alternative to alcoholic beverages. They're not just the sugary, uninspired drinks you might remember from years past. Instead, they've evolved into sophisticated, complex beverages that can be enjoyed on multiple occasions — whether it's winding down after a long day at work or serving as the inclusive option at events.

Mocktails offer the complexity and flavor profile of a well-crafted cocktail without the alcohol, making them accessible to a wider range of people. Whether you're the designated driver, pregnant, abstaining from alcohol for health reasons, or just in the mood for something non-alcoholic, there's a mocktail recipe that's got your name on it.

This article will help you take your mocktail game up a notch. With expert advice and pro tips, we'll walk you through the steps to create mocktails that are anything but basic. It's not just about replacing the booze; it's about understanding the balance of flavors, textures, and even the presentation to make your drink truly stand out. Let's get started.

1. Make your drinks complex

Timo Torner, a certified bartender and consulting mixologist with Cocktail Society, stresses the importance of complexity in mocktails. Torner said that "the more complex the flavor profile of a mocktail, the closer the experience is to drinking a craft cocktail."  A great mocktail is essentially a puzzle made up of various taste elements — sweet, sour, bitter, and sometimes even savory or spicy. The key is to combine these elements in a way that is balanced but surprising.  

Torner says that it's okay to experiment with unconventional flavors. "Use ingredients like hibiscus, essential oils from lemon and orange peel, dried citrus fruit peels, or even vinegar to add a pinch of extra complexity." 

Why does this matter? Complexity keeps your taste buds engaged and makes the mocktail-drinking experience multi-dimensional. It's not just about sipping something tasty; it's about enjoying a drink that evolves with each sip, much like a well-made craft cocktail would. So next time you're at the grocery store, maybe venture into the gourmet aisle and pick up some unusual ingredients. Your mocktails will thank you for it.

2. Start with classic recipes

Got a favorite classic cocktail? Great, use that as your mocktail's foundation. Timo Torner says to "re-create a classic cocktail that you love," swapping out the booze for something equally tasty but non-alcoholic. One of the challenges you'll encounter is mimicking the complex flavors that spirits bring to cocktails. But worry not; Torner has some hacks for that.  

"Experiment with a variety of ingredients to mimic the flavors of a certain spirit," Torner emphasized. For instance, the mixologist suggested that if you're a fan of the smoky notes in mezcal, try substituting it with lapsang souchong tea. The smoky flavor profile of the tea can stand in for mezcal's distinctive kick. Love the unique bite of tequila? A splash of pickle juice might give you that same sort of zing, without the alcohol content. It's all about identifying what makes your favorite cocktails tick and then finding non-alcoholic substitutes that can replicate those key elements.

And this isn't limited to just one or two drinks; the same principle can be applied to virtually any classic cocktail. Using classic recipes as a jumping-off point gives you a frame of reference, making it easier to experiment and iterate. The more you tinker and tailor, the closer you'll get to crafting that perfect mocktail. Keep experimenting and you'll be a mocktail maven in no time.

3. Texture matters

Timo Torner emphasizes that texture plays a critical role in a memorable mocktail, and that it's critical to "consider the texture of the drink when alcohol is removed." A good mocktail should have a certain mouthfeel that makes the experience more satisfying and complete. In traditional cocktails, the viscosity of certain spirits contributes to the drink's overall texture. When alcohol is removed from the equation, it's crucial to find alternative ingredients that can give your mocktail a similar depth and body. 

Torner suggests using ingredients like butter or coconut to introduce a creamy, luxurious texture to your mocktails. A bit of coconut milk or cream can lend a tropical richness, making each sip feel like an indulgence. Similarly, a small amount of melted, unsalted butter can add a velvety dimension to warmer drinks, making them perfect for cozy evenings. But be cautious with quantities; you're aiming for a subtle touch, not an overwhelming presence.

Texture is an often overlooked yet vital component of the drink-making process. By paying attention to it, you elevate your mocktails from merely good to truly exceptional. This added layer of complexity makes the mocktail not just a substitute for its alcoholic counterpart, but a standalone beverage worthy of appreciation.

4. Use cocktail tools

When it comes to assembling a mocktail, Hilary Sheinbaum, the author of "The Dry Challenge," advises not to skimp on the tools. The quality of the drink still hinges on how well you can balance different elements — flavors, aromas, and textures — to create a cohesive and pleasing beverage. "Even though it doesn't have alcohol, you still have to make an effort to create a well-balanced beverage," Sheinbaum emphasized. For this, the same cocktail tools used in traditional bartending are essential.

Why are tools like shakers, sifters, muddlers, and jiggers so important? These instruments serve specific functions that are just as relevant when making mocktails. For example, shakers are excellent for amalgamating ingredients quickly and effectively. This is essential for achieving a uniform taste, especially when working with ingredients that don't easily mix, like oils or syrups. Sifters can help strain out any unwanted particles, ensuring a smoother final product. Jiggers offer precision, enabling you to measure out each ingredient accurately, thereby ensuring that the final product is balanced and not overly dominated by one element.

The notion here is simple yet powerful: Meticulous preparation leads to a superior end result. The aim is to craft a well-mixed, fully integrated mocktail that stands on its own merit, and the right tools are instrumental in achieving that goal.

5. Use teas and juices to add complexity

If you're striving to craft mocktails that are anything but monotonous, look no further than teas and fruit juices as your base. Hilary Sheinbaum told Mashed that she recommends using "teas [and] juices as a base instead of spirits." They offer a complex flavor profile that can act as the backbone of your drink. Teas bring a nuanced complexity ranging from smoky to floral, while fresh fruit juices provide natural sweetness and tartness, both of which make for a more exciting and layered beverage.

One of the advantages of using teas and juices is their versatility. Whether you want a tropical vibe with pineapple juice or a cozy, comforting feel with a spiced chai, the possibilities are virtually endless. The idea here is to select a base that complements the other elements of your mocktail. Think about how the tartness of a fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice might balance the sweetness of a homemade syrup, or how green tea could add an earthy note that elevates the entire drink.

While you can definitely go the extra mile to make your own fresh juices or brew your own teas, store-bought options can be a time-saver without compromising too much on quality. However, if you're opting for the store-bought route, read the labels for any added sugars or artificial flavors, as these can significantly alter the intended taste of your mocktail.

6. Use non-alcoholic spirits

In the ever-evolving landscape of mocktails, nonalcoholic spirits have emerged as a game-changer. Hilary Sheinbaum says that "nonalcoholic spirits like Damrak 0.0 or Free Spirits (gin, tequila, Milano, and bourbon)" can be used "to recreate your favorite full-bodied cocktail in nonalcoholic form."  These spirits are crafted to emulate the taste, aroma, and mouthfeel of traditional spirits like gin, whiskey, and rum, making it easier to whip up a nonalcoholic version of a classic margarita, negroni, piña colada, old-fashioned, or mojito without losing the essence of the original.

However, navigating the world of nonalcoholic spirits isn't without its pitfalls. With the rise of online sober marketplaces, the lines between truly nonalcoholic and low-alcohol products can sometimes blur. Exercise caution and scrutinize product descriptions before making a purchase. A mocktail can quickly become an alcoholic drink if you inadvertently pick up a low-alcohol product thinking it's completely alcohol-free.

Being diligent in your selection ensures that your mocktail stays nonalcoholic and that the flavors align with what you're trying to achieve. The key here is to do your homework — read reviews, perhaps even try a sample if possible — so that the nonalcoholic spirit you choose serves its intended purpose: to enrich your mocktail without compromising flavor or authenticity.

7. Fresh ingredients matter

Dominic Tougas, one of the co-founders of Mox Cocktails, says it's important not to "minimize the importance of fresh ingredients." Unlike cocktails where alcohol can mask or modify certain flavors, mocktails have nowhere to hide. Each ingredient plays a starring role, and using fresh components can significantly elevate your non-alcoholic concoctions.

"Juice your lemons or limes to extract maximal flavor," Tougas advises. The difference in flavor is noticeable — fresh citrus adds a brightness and zing that you simply can't get from a bottle. The natural oils in the citrus peel also contribute to the aroma, enhancing the overall sensory experience of the drink.

Beyond just citrus, consider muddling fresh ingredients directly into the glass to extract the most flavor. Whether it's fresh mint leaves for a mojito or ripe strawberries for a fruity twist, muddling helps release the natural oils and juices, infusing the mocktail with a depth of flavor that pre-packaged or dried ingredients can't match.

8. Use egg whites to create a foamy top on your mocktail

For those looking to add a professional touch to their mocktails, Dominic Tougas has an insider tip: egg whites. "Shaking your cocktail with an egg white will make a beautiful foam on top of your drink," Tougas says. This classic cocktail technique can be easily applied to mocktails for a rich, foamy top that not only looks impressive but also adds a creamy texture to each sip. 

Tougas shared the process with Mashed: "First add all your ingredients to the shaker and shake without ice for 5 seconds. Fill the shaker with ice and shake vigorously for another 10 seconds. Strain the contents of your shaker into a martini glass (no ice) or a highball filled with ice. After that, you can zest some citrus on top or dust with spices or just leave it as is." Either way, the foam should rise to the top, giving your mocktail a professional finish.

9. Use mixers

For those who want to whip up a mocktail that's both quick and delicious, Stuart Yurczyk, the founder, VP, and general manager of Mixly Cocktail Co., has a tip: Don't underestimate the power of mixers. These pre-blended concoctions pack a flavor punch and can dramatically reduce the time spent crafting your drink, making them a smart choice for both novice mixologists and busy entertainers.

Mixers come in a myriad of flavors and profiles, from tropical fruit blends to spicy ginger infusions. Using a quality mixer doesn't mean you're cutting corners on taste. In fact, many mixers are expertly crafted to balance a range of flavors, offering complexity that would take much longer to achieve from scratch. Whether you're hosting a large gathering or just looking to unwind after a long day, a good mixer can be your best ally in creating a tasty mocktail with minimal effort. 

For example, Yurczyk recommends a spritz mocktail using a "strawberry pomegranate mixer complemented with a crisp, dry Odd Bird Blanc De Blancs." This duo has the same bubbles as an alcoholic spritz and Yurczyk says that you can "garnish with strawberry slices or pomegranate seeds if you're feeling extra fancy." 

10. Create a mocktail pairing menu for your meals

When it comes to elevating a dining experience, we often think of wine or cocktail pairings, but why not a mocktail pairing menu? Starting with the appetizer or salad course, consider matching the lighter flavors with an equally refreshing mocktail. For example, if your salad features Mediterranean elements like olives and feta, a tomato-based mocktail with hints of basil and lemon could provide a harmonious pairing, echoing and enhancing the flavors on the plate.

Moving onto the main course, think about the dominant flavors you'll be serving. For a spicy Mexican dish like chorizo, a citrusy mocktail with a hint of chile could work wonders, cutting through the heat while complementing the overall palate. For a rich, creamy pasta like a chicken alfredo, a mocktail with tartness, like a nonalcoholic lemon sour, can balance the dish beautifully. For a fresh and light pairing, Yurczyk suggests a cucumber tonic highball, which you can make as follows: "Fill a highball glass with ice, add cucumber mint lime [mixer], then top with 3-4 ounces of Top Note Indian tonic water, stir and garnish with a cucumber ribbon." It's a simple but elevated complement to a meal.

11. Use mood-altering ingredients

Salia Phan, mixologist and founder of Holistic Cocktails, introduces a fascinating dimension to mocktail-making: the use of mood-altering ingredients. Just because your drink is alcohol-free doesn't mean it can't have a physiological impact. "Adding ingredients such as adaptogens and certain herbs can decrease your stress and elevate your mood," says Phan. This allows you to craft a mocktail that not only tastes good but also offers benefits like stress reduction and mood elevation. "One of the main complaints about mocktails are that they are glorified sodas," Phan says. This mood-altering element can give you an alcohol-like feel at zero proof.

Phan is particularly keen on incorporating ashwagandha and rhodiola, two adaptogens known for their calming and mood-boosting properties. Adaptogens are non-toxic plants that may help the body resist stressors, whether physical, chemical, or biological. Ashwagandha, for instance, has been traditionally used to alleviate stress and boost energy (via Healthline). Rhodiola is another adaptogen known for its potential to reduce fatigue and enhance mental performance.

Phan suggests adding ashwagandha or rhodiola tinctures or powders directly into the mixer or shaker. Because adaptogens typically have an earthy flavor, pairing them with citrus or fruit juices can create a balanced taste profile. Of course, dosage and individual reactions can vary, so it's recommended to start with a smaller quantity and consult with a healthcare provider if you have any medical concerns.

12. Use natural and not artificial sugars

When it comes to sweetening your mocktails, Salia Phan advises ditching artificial sweeteners in favor of natural sugars from fruits. "You can taste the difference and the complexity of adding fresh ingredients where possible," she says. Artificial sugars often lend an overly sweet or even chemically profile to your beverage. On the other hand, natural sugars offer the sweetness you're looking for, but with a depth of flavor that can actually enhance your mocktail.

Oranges, ripe bananas, and even fruits like peaches and berries can provide the sweetness you need while also contributing additional flavor elements. Take an orange, for instance. Not only does it offer sweetness, but it also adds citrus notes that can brighten up a drink. Or a ripe banana, which brings in both sweetness and a creamy texture, making your mocktail more complex and satisfying. Phan says she likes adding in fresh fruits because "it adds brightness and can cut back on added sugars typically found in juice concentrates or flavored syrups."

Another upside to using natural sugars? Seasonality. By opting for fresh, seasonal fruits, you introduce an element of variety into your mocktail-making. Summer might inspire you to incorporate fresh berries or peaches, while fall could usher in mocktails sweetened with apples or pears. This seasonal approach keeps your drink menu fresh and allows you to take advantage of fruits at their peak ripeness, so you'll get the nutritional benefits and flavor.

13. There's always time for a cocktail glass

When it comes to serving mocktails, Eduardo Porto Carreiro, beverage director of the esteemed cocktail bar Le Loup in Nashville, owned by four-time James Beard semifinalist Ford Fry, insists that presentation is crucial. In other words, your mocktail deserves to be treated with the same respect as any alcoholic cocktail — and that starts with the glassware. 

Carreiro emphasizes that a sophisticated drink should be presented in an equally sophisticated manner — no water glasses allowed. Whether it's a martini glass, a highball, or a snifter, the right glass can enhance the overall experience, from the visual appeal to the way the drink feels in your hand to the first sip you take.

But it's not just about choosing the right glass; it's also about the temperature. "Anytime we're putting together a tasting syrup for a mocktail, we are using top-notch glassware that is properly chilled, taking them out of the fridge or freezer depending on the drink so that the final impact and flavor has that pop and temperature is respected," Carreiro says. He also suggests properly chilling your glassware before serving. Why does this matter? The temperature of the glass can greatly affect the final flavor of the drink. A properly chilled glass keeps your mocktail cooler for a longer time, ensuring that it tastes the way it should.

14. Ice is critical

Still on the topic of details that make a difference, Eduardo Porto Carreiro emphasizes the role of ice in crafting the perfect mocktail. "We are definitely using ice — crushed or big cubed ice to take the drink to another level," he noted. Ice isn't just a way to keep your drink cool; it's an ingredient that can significantly alter the mocktail's texture and overall experience. In other words, the type of ice you choose can take your mocktail to another level.

Crushed ice tends to thicken a drink, lending a slushy-like texture that can be delightful in a fruity or tropical mocktail. It can also help integrate various flavors as it melts, providing a dynamic drinking experience from start to finish.

On the other hand, big cubed ice has its own set of merits. It melts more slowly, preserving the original flavor and temperature of the mocktail for a longer period. This is particularly useful for complex mocktails where each ingredient has been carefully chosen for its role in the overall taste profile. Plus, a big cube of ice can add a touch of elegance to your presentation.

The choice of ice can also be a quick way to make a drink feel seasonally appropriate. Imagine a winter-themed mocktail with flavors like cinnamon and apple — serve it over crushed ice, and you've instantly transformed it into a refreshing summer sipper.

15. Choose your garnish wisely

"You shouldn't be able to tell the difference between a cocktail that's made with booze and one that's made without," Eduardo Porto Carreiro says. He is a strong advocate for the power of garnish in a mocktail. According to Carreiro, the right garnish can make all the difference, elevating your alcohol-free beverage to the level of its boozy counterparts in both presentation and experience. In essence, when done right, a mocktail garnish should be so captivating that the drinker shouldn't be able to tell whether the cocktail contains alcohol or not.

So, what makes a good garnish? It isn't just a cherry on top or a slice of lemon on the rim. Think creatively. Fresh herbs like mint or basil can add a burst of color and a complementary aroma. Spices like a cinnamon stick or star anise can also make an eye-catching and fragrant addition. For a tropical vibe, consider a slice of pineapple or even an edible flower. Le Loup even uses garnishes that extend beyond the glass for meaningful visual impact.

But the garnish isn't just about aesthetics. It should also complement or enhance the flavors in the mocktail. For example, a sprig of rosemary might pair well with a mocktail that has woodsy or herbal notes. Or a slice of charred grapefruit could be the perfect garnish for a mocktail featuring citrus and smoke flavors.