Spiked with Flavor, Not Alcohol

Pineapple tea from Next restaurant in Chicago.
Pineapple tea from Next restaurant in Chicago. christian seel

Alcohol-free beverages are becoming just as trendy as the vinegars and offbeat spices that they feature.

Vinegar might not be the first liquid that comes to mind when selecting a refreshing spring or summer drink. Yet house-made drinking vinegars with macerated fruit and sugar, more commonly known as shrubs, are among the craft beverages featured on the menus of a growing number of full-service restaurants, according to research from Datassential.

Among the beverage flavors predicted to trend this season are mint, cucumber, lavender, guarana, tamarind, and blueberry.

At Boka Restaurant + Bar in Seattle, bar manager Katherine Lang has up to three shrubs on her menu at any given time. She typically uses white vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or red wine vinegar as the base to achieve a sweet and sour flavor. Although balsamic vinegar would overwhelm most fruits, Lang likes the way it marries with strawberries for a warm-weather cooler.

Another favorite at Boka is the lemon thyme and white vinegar shrub, and for the warmer days, Lang plans to offer a cherry vanilla, apple cider vinegar version.

House-crafted sodas also continue to grow quickly, the Datassential July 2014 report shows. So are Latin American-inspired aguas frescas, or waters that have been infused with fruit and other botanicals.

Gina Chersevani, who is known as the mixtress at Hank’s Oyster Bar on the Hill in Washington, D.C., features a minimum of four house-made sodas on the menu. Citrus (lemon-lime) with fresh sage is a menu staple. For spring, she plans to offer a birch beer cream soda made from the bark of Virginia birch trees.

At Caracol Restaurant in Houston, the aguas frescas change daily, says Sean Beck, sommelier and beverage director. Among the flavors that have been featured are cucumber with mint, tamarind, passion fruit, grapefruit, pomegranate, and a sweet and savory combination of mango and Tajín, which is a spicy blend of dried chili peppers, lime, and salt.

Beck, who also develops the beverage menus at Houston’s Backstreet Café and Hugo’s Restaurant, uses grilled fruits to bring caramelized notes to his beverages. For one drink, he adds pomegranate to grilled pineapple soda. Sweet tea also gets a distinctive flavor with the addition of grilled peaches.

Bobby Murphy, director of non-alcoholic beverages and cocktails at Next Restaurant in Chicago, brings innovative juices, infusions, and teas to pair with dishes on the restaurant’s menus. He likes to surprise guests by “flirting with the lines between savory and sweet,” such as balancing a sweet dessert with a beverage made from honeydew, wasabi, and rice milk.

In spring, Murphy tends to gravitate toward light, bright flavors. A favorite drink ingredient is sweet corn, and his seasonal version of a non-alcoholic piña colada is made with sweet corn stock, clarified pineapple juice, coconut water, and tarragon.

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