Review: Zero Proof by Elva Ramirez

Welcome to another cookbook collaboration! Zero Proof was fun and took me way out of my usual comfort zone. That’s always a recipe for something weird and wonderful brewing in my kitchen.

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Trish: Chatting with my cookbook co-conspirator Sylvia of @bestlovedcookbooks, she noted she’d been participating in Dry January. Her husband Mike enjoys a drink but not too often. My spouse Alan and I don’t drink at all. It’s a choice we made individually long ago and it’s completely normal for us, but sometimes we can feel a bit bummed when we go out and everyone has a fun or sophisticated cocktail. Coming from these different perspectives, she suggested we choose a “mocktail” book and make an evening of it. Seriously, that had never occurred to me. I just order boring water wherever I eat out, and maybe get a decaf coffee or a tea with dessert. And we don’t go out for “drinks” because, well, we don’t drink. So I was super happy to give this a try!

What made you excited to try a zero-proof cocktail book, Sylvia?

Sylvia: As you said, I participated in Dry January and during that time, I explored several mocktail books as I was looking for some nonalcoholic drinks to include in my repertoire. It’s the ritual of having a cocktail at the end of the day, especially after a day at work, that I enjoy and I was looking for a way to carry on the ritual, even as I was doing Dry January.

Trish: We decided on Zero Proof: 90 Non-Alcoholic Recipes for Mindful Drinking by Elva Ramirez. We’d found other books that used low-alcohol brews, but we wanted to go alcohol-free. This book is also interesting because Ramirez is food journalist, not a chef or bartender, so rather than being the mixologist behind these drinks, she’s written a pretty comprehensive introduction to the history of non-alcoholic mixed drinks, and then called on a variety of bartenders to contribute their best zero-proof drinks. I like this, because we’re getting experts who are mixing drinks for a living, and know that their non-alcoholic drinks need to live up to a demanding clientele.

And we had some specific thoughts about which drinks we wanted to choose.

Sylvia: Many mocktails used 0% Spirits for drinks like nonalcoholic G&Ts. Since neither Mike, Trish nor Alan usually drink, I thought it was important to explore mocktails that were delicious in their own right, instead of those trying to mimic alcoholic drinks. To me, that’s a bit like exploring vegetarian cooking but choosing recipes that use meat substitutes instead of celebrating the vegetables. Speaking on my husband’s behalf, if he ever has a drink, it would never be a G&T so it made no sense to look at mocktails that tasted like drinks he would not normally enjoy in the first place.

Trish: I was so appreciative of Sylvia’s help here. I didn’t have a cocktail shaker, or a measuring shot glass. I didn’t have the “feel” of how to work with the shaker, how to strain things, how much ice to put in the shaker and the glasses. I learned that cocktail-making requires a ton of ice. Ice everywhere! I almost ran out.

The work for our zero-proof cocktail evening started in the week before the event. We had to make many syrups from scratch and gather so many ingredients for these cocktails. We snapped a picture before we started:

That's a lot of ingredients for four drinks!


We paired our four drinks with some wonderful savoury and salty appies provided by Syliva, and got set to make our drinks.

The Drinks!

Trish’s Choices:

🔹Golden Oat Milk
Natasha David and Jeremy Oertel, Soho Diner, New York

I chose this because it sounded odd. Odd for a zero-proof cocktail, that is. I’m a bit of a health nut, so Golden Oat Milk sounds like a perfectly reasonable ultra-health drink for your gut or immune system. It feels like it should be a drink accompanying an overnight chia seed pudding preparation or the like, right? But this was our sophisticated evening cocktail party. Why not?

The foundation of this drink is oat milk. I had to make Vanilla Turmeric Syrup, which was a vivid yellow hue; and ginger syrup, which involved grating a whole lotta ginger root on my microplane. Into the shaker, and poured over a glass of ice, to keep it chilled.

I’ll admit, it didn’t look super delicious. If it wasn’t icy cold, it may be a bit less appetising. The guys said they could tolerate it (“it tastes a bit better than it looks”), but Sylvia and I actually liked it. I suspect I liked it because it tasted like a health drink, albeit slightly sweeter. I could see myself sipping it on a hot summer afternoon, and feeling the turmeric and ginger just boosting my cellular health.



 🔹Strawberry-Peppercorn French Soda
Daniel Sabo, Lumiere Brasserie at the Fairmont Century Plaza, Century City

I wanted to try something sophisticated, and this sounded very chic. The addition of the pink peppercorns was alluring. I made a Pink Peppercorn Syrup by crushing the peppercorns and steeping them in hot water, then straining and adding to a simple syrup. It smelled very peppercorn-y! I pureed fresh strawberries. The cocktail was simply the syrup, pureed strawberries and club soda. Then I added a bit of cream at the end to give an ombre effect (that sounds cool, right?). All this does sound amazing…but the drink fell flat for us. The peppercorn did not come through at all. In one word: Underwhelming. At least it looked pretty! This one looked better than it tasted.


 
Sylvia’s Choices:

When I chose my drinks, I chose them solely because I thought they would be things that my husband, a fruit lover, might enjoy. My mocktails were fruit juice-heavy and tended more toward citrusy notes. I chose the Sky Hook (apple, lemon, lime and yuzu) and the Swashbuckle (cucumber, pineapple, lime and orange blossom).

🔹The Sky Hook
Sam Johnson, Death & Co, New York

This was amazing and everyone agreed that it was a real winner for flavour and overall satisfaction. The balance between sweet and sour was perfect and since cocktails have a celebratory feel to them, it seemed like the perfect drink to serve at a party.


🔹The Swashbuckle
Daniel Sabo, Lumiere Brasserie at the Fairmont Century Plaza, Century City

This was not quite the hit of the Sky Hook. Although the flavours were also good, I think I was a bit heavy-handed with the orange flower water and everyone agreed that flowers were better observed with the eye than the palate.


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Trish: This was a most entertaining evening! It was interesting for me to learn the new skill of cocktail-shaking and pouring. It was a blast to taste the drinks then discuss them, sometimes praising them, sometimes panning them. It didn’t matter, it was all in good fun, and always fascinating. I could make a cocktail like these easily if I have guests over, though it's a bit of work for a drink, in my opinion. I’ll be more likely to confidently order a zero-proof cocktail when out with friends.

Sylvia: I tend to agree with you there, Trish. I am a girl who will always love a beautifully made cocktail but this book opened up the possibility for me that the right cocktail for an occasion might actually be one that is Zero Proof.

Trish: And we only made four out of 90 drinks here! We’d highly recommend Zero Proof for your shelf if you’re ready to explore the world of non-alcoholic cocktails. Cheers!

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