Bartending Sober – Day 22

The sugar problem.

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One of my primary motivations for going sober appealed to my vanity. I wanted to lose weight. I could argue the reasoning being, ‘it’s for my health,’ but it’s more shallow than that. I definitely thought, “oh I’ll drop weight when I quit drinking, no liquor, no beer, no bad carbs. It will be easy.” Then when you stop drinking vodka sodas, what replaces the vodka? This is a constant issue with cocktail menus with mocktails. They’re full of fruit juice, syrups, and carbonated things. This means sugar, just so much sugar.

This also brought to mind how my own drinking habits leaned towards the worst health offenders. Daquiris, sours, and Old Fashioneds all exhibit lots of sugar with simple syrup, and lots of fruit juices. It’s hard to find something to substitute the satisfaction that comes from a perfectly balanced whisky sour.

Anything I replaced it turned out to be just as bad, if not worse, than any beer or cocktail I typical drank. One night I went with friends to listen to jazz at a coffee place. While surrounded by six dudes drinking Mill Street session ales I drank a black sesame latte. Not something I expected to experience in a coffee shop, but having a liquor license is good for business.

A fancy latte sounds all good, but obviously drinking stuff like that on the regular probably resulted in me increasing my sugar consumption. No doubt my body was also craving the sugar I normally got from my regular alcohol consumption.

When I craved my whisky sours I subbed in tea instead of liquor. One version I made had black tea, the syrup from a jar of cocktail cherries, lemon juice, and a vegan foamer. Another version (meant to remind me of a gin sour) put together green tea, elderflower syrup, lemon juice, and the same vegan foamer. Both were plenty satisfactory, and a decent substitute for the real thing since it produced the same volume. It also had a similar balanced flavour to it with the same amount of sweet and acid.

It’s easy to get caught up with too much sugar consumption with a lot of the mocktail options out there. During my cocktail development session with Drinksmith for a thai/malaysian restaurant concept Bryn and I came up with a Nom Yen mocktail. I really wanted to make a vegan version, as the authentic Nom Yen is made with condensed milk. The two of us put together a cold version with coconut milk, passionfruit syrup, and a beet shrub to achieve the fluorescent pink colour. It’s probably considerably less sweet than the authentic, street-food style Nom Yen, because of the acidity from the shrub. This still had the addition of a syrup, and shrubs still have a good amount of sugar. It’s a great drink, as it has volume, and it’s pleasing to look at. It’s not necessarily a healthy alternative, since the coconut milk has a considerable amount of fat.


 Now I haven’t tried the Seedlip products, as it’s more expensive than several of my favourite brands of gin. More bars and restaurants are tapping into this unique product to create a more substantial mocktail list. At the moment Seedlip is cornering the market in terms of non-alcoholic spirits (at least in Toronto).


This sort of circles back to my original problem. If you’re a drinker that worries about sugar you drink a vodka soda. What happens when you can’t drink the vodka? Cold tea and soda? You drink Seedlip?

Non-alcoholic drinks might be the new cocktail trend. Low-ABV cocktail are already starting to push into menus. The alcohol-free versions seem to be the natural evolution from there. The challenge here is translating those spirit forward drinks like the martinis, Negronis and the like to an alcohol-free version. In the meantime it’s best to stick to sparkling water and cold tea.

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