Dry January makes sense when we talk about what happens to the skin when the humidity drops and the heating tinkles sharply, but for the beginning of the year, non-alcoholic is a completely incorrect name. Aren’t other drinks … wet? And if so (which, yes), can’t you enjoy something poured into a glass without doing weird things with your central nervous system? This is an argument written by writer and editor Julia Bainbridge in her book of completely alcohol-free cocktail recipes. Good drinks, anyway: just because you take a break from alcohol doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy deliciously delicious sips. Julia gained a reputation as an internet authority for soft drinks, so when we reached out to recommend the recipe, she helped us quickly.
This has only three ingredients: tonic water, soda water and some white verjus, a non-alcoholic product made from grapes. And if that sounds like a recipe for a splash of white wine, you’re basically right. But don’t think of verjus as a one-time replacement for your favorite chardonnay. Unlike non-alcoholic wine, which is a common wine with ethanol removed, the fruit used to make verjus is not fully ripe. As Julia explained to the Washington Post, unripe grapes are traditionally a by-product of the winemaker – to ensure that the grapes have enough sunlight to ripen, their grapes are thinned by up to 30 percent. He didn’t have a chance to develop rich sugars, so when pressed into juice, it’s much more acidic. Another difference between verjus (pronounced “vair-jhoo”, from French vert jusbtw) and the wine is that the first never undergoes fermentation.
So, what’s the taste?
“Verjus has such a fine acidity,” says ITG. “It’s less sweet than grape juice, but it’s not as rough as vinegar.” It’s good to have quick and tasty salad dressings in the pantry, while the chefs can use a few dots for a hearty stew. “But it’s a real powerful ingredient for an alcohol-free home bar.” You don’t want to drink it alone – undiluted, it’s aggressively pungent. But it’s delicious diluted with water and can be incorporated into cocktails or without. Mixed with tonic and seltzer, as shown below, it strikes the same sour, sparkling tones similar to an aperitif as the aforementioned white wine spray. “Pour it into a wine glass filled with ice and decorate by turning,” says Julia, and it’s just a ticket to a boring dry January. Or on any occasion when you don’t feel like drinking alcohol – it’s just a good drink.
Once you put the bottle (Julia says this Fusion Verjus is used by most bartenders, although she also likes Wölffer Estate’s, Noble’s and this pink from Scribe), the verjus stays good in the fridge for about a month. Head to your local gourmet grocery store and then whip this baby:
2 ounces of white verjus
2 ounces of soda water
2 ounces of tonic water
1 lemon twist, for garnish
Mix verjus, soda water and tonic in a wine glass or spray filled with ice. Garnish with lemon.
Reprinted with permission of Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for any reason by Julie Bainbridge, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, imprint of Penguin Random House. Photo copyright: © 2020 Alex Lau.