How to stock the perfect booze-free bar cart for Dry January
Featuring zero-ABV tips and tricks from Gord Hannah, corporate beverage manager at the Drake
Abstaining is easier than ever thanks to craft sodas, tasty syrups and genuinely good zero-proof spirits. The Drake’s corporate beverage manager, Gord Hannah, showed us how to stock the perfect home bar for a sober happy hour.
1. Sodas: A good bar starts with high-quality soda. Fever-Tree makes a wide variety of flavours, but for something more local, there’s Barbet. “I love the cucumber-lavender Light Wave,” says Hannah. “It has a slight purple colour that looks fantastic in a glass.” For soda on the rocks, add a sprig of mint—but soak it in ice water first to make it look fresh and green.
2. Fresh citrus: Canned juice won’t cut it. “Fresh-squeezed,” says Hannah, “is the difference between a $10 cocktail and a $20 one.” Squeeze the citrus ahead of time and keep it in an empty wine bottle for easy service. But, before squeezing, use a vegetable peeler to remove large twists of rind from grapefruits, lemons or limes. Point a twist at your cocktail of choice rind-side-down and bend it in half—bartenders call this “expressing the citrus.” The oils will elevate any drink to new heights.
3. Syrups: Think of these as natural flavour amplifiers. DIYers can easily make their own infusions by combining equal parts sugar and water with their ingredient of choice—elderflower, lavender, coffee—heating it on the stove, then cooling and, if necessary, straining.
4. Tools: Stock your bar with a jigger (because measurements matter), a shaker, a strainer and a bar spoon or other long stirring implement. “I like using chopsticks,” says Hannah.
5. Bitters: Most bitters contain alcohol, but a few drops will dramatically change a drink while keeping its ABV under one per cent. “I add bitters to everything—they’re my salt and pepper,” says Hannah. Angostura is affordable, available at most supermarkets and particularly magical. “It’ll blow your mind in a root beer float.” And keep in mind that a great drink doesn’t need to be complicated. Even just soda or tonic water with orange bitters and a big grapefruit twist has surprising depth of flavour.
6. Glassware: Drink out of a nice glass, and use the right vessel for the beverage. “You need a good old fashioned glass, great wine glasses and a coupe. Start your collection with glassware you love.”
7. Spirits: Zero-proof spirits are making it easy to replicate the flavours of high-octane cocktails without the octane. “Non-alcoholic spirits will never be great to sip on their own, but in a cocktail they impart depth and nuance,” says Hannah. Try Seedlip as an all-purpose spirit option or Novara from Niagara’s Bark and Bitter as a substitute for amaro, Campari or Aperol.