Shaking it up
N/A summer sippers that won't leave you in a stupor

Shaking it up
Lucas Hess - 07/20/2023

As a bartender, I have grown comfortable using a variety of spirits to balance the flavors of cocktails. This has been nurtured from not only the array of orders I receive but also my own research, certification, and a bit of trial and error. These efforts have all been for the sake of highlighting and improving the experience of new and unique beverages. 

It also helps to become familiar with a spirit to learn what each has to offer. There are three main variables that make a spirit unique: ingredients; type of distillation; and production techniques. Not all spirits are created equal – it is important to consider each carefully and individually.  

Using non-alcoholic spirits has felt like a natural progression for me. My exploration of the non-alcoholic beverage category started from the same place as higher-alcohol drinks: sampling a liquid to consider how it appeals to our senses.

I have been tasting different offerings from local stores to get more of an understanding. It can be difficult to decide what to purchase, and non-alcoholic spirits can cost close to the same as their mid-tier alcoholic counterparts. Factors like this can make decision-making difficult.

When starting out on this quest, I gravitated to a style of spirit I am familiar with: Ritual Zero-Proof Whiskey Alternative. I also wanted to enjoy an aperitif and picked up a bottle of Ritual’s Zero-Proof Aperitivo Alternative. 

I always begin by tasting a product on its own in order to understand how it may work in a cocktail or, in this case, mocktail. The color of this whiskey alternative was golden honey to light amber. The aroma gave off a scent of sandalwood, oak and smoke. The mouthfeel reminded me of steeped tea. The flavors began with notes of apple and orange before ending with flavors reminiscent of herbal tea and spice. 

Using this ingredient in a cocktail was a bit tricky, and the first few attempts came out thinner than I expected, a result of the viscosity of the product. I decided bitters may be necessary to create a more rounded flavor profile and add depth and spice. However, most bitters contain a small amount of alcohol. Conversely, I used chai tea concentrate to achieve the desired notes of spice and depth without the alcohol. 

Alternative Smash Hit

2 slices orange, halved into wheels 

2 sprigs mint

2 dashes Angostura Bitters (optional)

.5 oz. agave syrup

.5 oz. chai tea concentrate

1 oz. Ritual Zero-Proof Whiskey Alternative

Using a cocktail shaker, add mint, orange and the rest of the ingredients. Add ice, and shake until the mixture has been properly diluted and chilled, about 10 seconds. Strain mixture into a 10-12 oz. glass. (If you do not mind a little fruit and herb in your cocktail, then the straining is unnecessary. As a bartender, we refer to this as a “dirty dump.”) Add ice as needed, and garnish with mint sprig and orange. The mint can be expressed to release more aromatics by clapping in between your hands before putting it into the glass.  

As for the Ritual Zero Proof Aperitivo Alternative, I poured it into a glass and noticed its ruby red color. The first aroma that caught my attention reminded me of rosewater followed by other floral notes that finished with white peach and orange. The inviting smell translated fairly similar to the taste, but I also picked up strong flavors of rhubarb and gentian root, which left behind a bitter aftertaste that some people who enjoy aperitifs find appealing.

My first thought was to create a spin on the well-known Aperol Spritz. But I quickly learned, bitterness prevailed as a leading flavor. When a bartender runs into overwhelming bitterness, it is common to combat it with a bit of sweetness. The recipe below steps away from traditional aperitif cocktails and incorporates fruit, sugar and naturally flavored soda. 

Aperitif Frescas

1 oz. Ritual Aperitif Alternative

Half of a lime

.25 oz. agave syrup

4 oz. Jarritos Guava

Lime wedge and bouquet of cilantro, for garnish

This mocktail is approachable in that all of the ingredients, besides the Ritual Aperitif Alternative, can be found at a grocery store. There are no special tools necessary, and it can be made directly in a 12 oz. glass filled with ice. Add all ingredients, and stir to incorporate. Add the garnish, serve and enjoy. 

Mocktail curious? Join Lucas for “Mixing Mocktails” this Thurs., July 20, from 1-2 p.m. at the Durango Public Library or Thurs., July 27, from 5-6 p.m. Space is limited and registration is required by calling (970) 375-3380 or visiting