Tips for Perfect Summer Mocktails

By Rebekah Denn

Beet mocktail

Photo courtesy of Kathy Casey Food Studios


There’s a recipe for making the best summer mocktails — and luckily for us, Kathy Casey is here to share it.

The Seattle legend known as America’s first “bar chef,” has been a PCC member since “it was very hippie” in her teenage years. She spoke with Sound Consumer recently about the rising trend of nonalcoholic drinks, giving them her signature emphasis on cool combinations and fresh flavors.


Seattle Creator Kathy Casey

Casey began cooking professionally at 14 and was soon lauded as one of the finest young chefs in America, helping make Seattle’s name as an up-and-coming food city. Columnist Emmett Watson once wrote that “she has done more for food life in Seattle than any other person.”

Wondering why cocktail menus stayed stodgy while food menus moved forward, Casey became an early “mixologist” dreaming up original drinks. Then she began asking why people who didn’t drink alcohol — or just weren’t in the mood that night — had such limited options. Not so long ago, she recalled, those diners were restricted to either lemonade, or iced tea, or an extra-fancy “Arnold Palmer” mixing that same lemonade and iced tea.

Nonalcoholic cocktails have taken off in the last few years, but Seattleites got an early taste — Casey evangelized their benefits at least a decade ahead of the national crowd. Nonalcoholic options like her “Clear Conscience” summer mocktail with lemon-lime sour, cucumber slices and lemon verbena leaf topped the drink lists she created for ahead-of-the-curve restaurants.

“Over the years, I’ve heard people say “Hey, I don’t want just a cranberry and soda. I want to actually order a cocktail,” she said. Amazing nonalcoholic spirits have become available recently, Casey said, helping make those drinks just as great as their high-proof counterparts. Great, “really interesting” new nonalcoholic wines are also fun to mix with. And the ripe, local fruits and vegetables at their peak in the Northwest summer make for bright, fresh seasonal flavors.

Read on for both literal recipes and general advice on easy, refreshing and wow-worthy drinks.


Mocktail basics

How do you tell the difference between a glass of juice and a mocktail?

The ingredients are more interesting in a mocktail, Casey said. The flavors are complex. They’re served in captivating ways.

She squeezes fresh juices, thinks up clever combinations and pairings, strains them into attractive barware and adds lovely accents.

Garnishes are important, “but it has to have something to do with the drink,” she said. For instance, “if you’re making something that has cucumbers on it or cucumber juice or something like that, doing a really thin peel of cucumber lengthwise and wrapping it inside your glass before you add in your ice looks really pretty.”

Fresh herb garnishes are beautiful, she says. “Most people in the Northwest have some sort of herbs in their garden or a pot of herbs. (If not,) they’re so easy to get.” Edible flowers are also readily available, and “even a petal resting on top of the drink looks amazing.”

Ice matters too, particularly as different shapes and types dilute the drink at different rates and have different effects when shaking the drink. Those “little crescents” from your home freezer’s ice machine? “The worst ice ever,” Casey says. Ice-tray creations of spheres or balls or even large cubes work better and add glamor to a drink, to her mind. A lot of people like pebble ice now — some fast food chains will give or sell you some if you don’t have a pricey home machine. Online kits can help you make clear ice cubes at home — “it’s a little bit difficult to do — it has to freeze really slowly.”

Flavored rims or half-rims also add to the appeal. It’s fun to get fancy with those, as when Casey grinds dried citrus peels, sugar and salt for a citrus salt  (see how here).

How do you know when is enough?

Assembling a fancy drink is like putting an outfit together, she says. Sometimes you edit it down, but sometimes you “go for it” to match the occasion.


Go-to summer mocktail ingredients

Casey relies on fresh-squeezed juices or purees.

Fruit is standard, but “vegetable juices are really fun to use as well. A little bit of beet is really tasty with a little bit of orange,” adding a lot of depth, she said. Add something sparkling to the mix too, even Perrier.

She loves “the savoriness” that comes from adding herbs in cocktails, and she’s known for herb-infused simple syrups (try this PCC recipe for a mint version).

For the height of summer, a favorite flavor combination is peach and tarragon.

Citrus is a favorite year-round and refreshing in the heat, she loves rosemary with citrus and cucumber tonic.

Another nice touch is a little pinch of salt or saline solution, “which I sometimes call mermaid tears — which is fun if you’re writing a menu.”

Spicing it up with different types of Tabasco and Sriracha can work too, depending on the drink.

“I just really encourage people to experiment. Think of it like food, think about your flavors and what’s going to go well together.”


Party mocktail tips

Have a couple drink options if guests are coming over to fit different tastes, Casey recommends. If serving both alcoholic and nonalcoholic drinks, be very careful about cross-contamination. Even bar tools should be separate to avoid problems for people who can’t have or don’t want even a trace of alcohol in their drinks.

Along the same lines, “be mindful of glassware to keep those drinks separate,” Casey said. “Maybe there’s a different garnish on something that’s nonalcoholic, or it’s in a different glass.”


Cucumber lemon mocktail

Photo courtesy of Kathy Casey Food Studios


Sparkling summer mocktails

Interested in more summer mocktail recipes? A PCC collection is online here.

Learn about the nonalcoholic cocktail revolution in this article from the Sound Consumer archives.


Mocktails from Kathy Casey’s Liquid Kitchen

Note: PCC currently carries non-alcoholic spirits made by Wilderton’s and The Pathfinder. Peter Boeger, merchandiser of beer, wine, and spirits, particularly loves The Pathfinder and notes that many others currently on the market contain ingredients not permitted under PCC’s quality standards. We’ll continue to expand the selection as options become available.


Beeting Heart Citrus Cooler

Fresh beet adds an amazing color to this drink, as well as a delicious earthy flavor. Enjoy it over ice or mix with a non-alcoholic Italian bitter orange Campari alternative (Casey favors Lyre’s) and some sparkling water for a unique and refreshing spritzer.

Makes about 8 cups

6 cups warm water
2 cups sugar
½ cup small-diced (peeled) fresh beets
1½ cups fresh lemon juice

Place the water, sugar, and beets into a saucepan. Bring to a quick boil over high heat. As soon as mixture comes to a boil remove from heat. Let cool, then blend in a blender.

Strain beet syrup into a large pitcher, add the lemon juice, stir. Serve over ice. Store refrigerated for up to 5 days.


Salted Cucumber Rita

Fresh cucumber makes this drink a brilliant green. Try serving with fresh sprigs of mint. The Salted Cucumber Elixir is also delicious served on its own over ice.

Makes 1 drink

1½ ounce non-alcoholic tequila (Casey uses Ritual Tequila Alternative)
4 ounces Salted Cucumber Lime Elixir (recipe follows)
Garnish: fat orange peel (optional), cucumber slice

Combine non-alcoholic tequila and the elixir over ice in a tall glass.

Express the orange peel across the top of drink, twist and add to drink.

Garnish with cucumber.


Salted Cucumber Lime Elixir

Makes about 8 cups

2 cups warm water
2 cups sugar
½ English cucumber with skin on, cut in large chunks (about 1 cup)
½ teaspoon Kosher salt
3 cups cold water
1½ cups fresh lime juice

Place warm water and sugar into a large pitcher. Stir with a spoon until sugar is dissolved.

Place the cucumber, salt and cold water into a blender. Puree in blender, and then fine strain cucumber mixture into the pitcher. Add lime juice, stir. Serve over ice. Store refrigerated for up to 5 days.


Recipes ©2024 Kathy Casey Liquid Kitchen®

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