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Taste Test | Kids Try Nonalcoholic Cocktails

By Marissa Conrad

Scott J. Ross
Nonalcoholic Cocktails’ Most Unexpected Fans: Kids

The children of T contributors review the mocktails at Reception Bar on New York City’s Lower East Side.

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Pink Kong from Hunky Dory in Brooklyn

Ingredients: 1 ounce Seedlip Spice 94, 1 ounce sweetened rice milk, 4 ounces hibiscus pink peppercorn tea (recipe follows). Steps: Combine all ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake, then strain into a highball glass. To make hibiscus pink peppercorn tea: Steep ¼ cup dried hibiscus leaves and 1 teaspoon cracked pink peppercorn in 1 quart boiling water for about 15 minutes. Strain out solids. Extra tea can be stored in refrigerator for up to one week.

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The Hummingbird from Virtue Restaurant & Bar in Chicago

Ingredients: 1 ½ ounces basil simple syrup (recipe follows), ½ ounce lemon juice, 4 ounces soda water, 1 sprig basil (for garnish). Steps: Fill a Collins glass with ice. Add simple syrup and lemon juice. Top with soda water and garnish with basil sprig. To make basil simple syrup: Combine 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup fresh basil leaves in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Simmer for 1 minute. Remove from heat and let steep about 30 minutes. Strain out basil leaves. Extra syrup can be stored in refrigerator for up to one week.

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Pineapple Express from Arts District Firehouse Hotel in Los Angeles

Ingredients: 1 ½ ounces pineapple shrub (recipe follows), 1 ounce lime juice, Sparkling water, Lime wheel and pineapple wedge (for garnish). Steps: Combine the pineapple shrub and lime juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake briefly and strain into a tall glass filled with fresh ice. Top with sparkling water and give the drink a light stir. Garnish with lime wheel and pineapple wedge. To make pineapple shrub: Combine 12 ounces pineapple juice, 3 ounces rice wine vinegar, 9 ounces sugar and 1 ounce whole coriander in a blender and give a quick whir to break the coriander up just a bit. Leave mixture overnight. When ready to use, pour syrup through a fine strainer to remove coriander. Extra syrup can be stored in refrigerator for up to two weeks.

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Perhaps no one had more disdain for the Shirley Temple than the person for whom the kid-friendly cocktail was named. “Those saccharine, icky drinks? I had nothing to do with [them],” the actress told NPR’s Scott Simon in the 1980s. If only she could have gone to the restaurant Fishnet in Baltimore, where the Not So Shirley Temple is balanced with savoury baking spices. Around the country, restaurants are expanding their menus of thoughtful, complex, nonalcoholic cocktails to keep pace — especially this month — with a population that’s drinking less. And while these drinks are made for adult palates, they’re also drawing an unexpected fan base: children.

At the airy all-day cafe Hunky Dory, in the Crown Heights neighbourhood of Brooklyn, owner Claire Sprouse created the Pink Kong, a $9 nonalcoholic cocktail of rice milk, pink peppercorn tea and the cardamom-forward Seedlip Spice 94, for abstaining adults. Yet, kids “suck it down,” Sprouse says. “There’s nothing stranger than having to cut off a child before they rack up a huge tab.” At Yugen in Chicago, a 4-year-old recently sipped through the entire spirit-free cocktail pairing that’s offered with the multicourse Japanese meal. In Indianapolis, young patrons at Gallery Pastry Shop are ordering lavender-pear lemonade, served in Champagne flutes. “These kids have sophisticated palates,” says co-owner Alison Keefer. They embrace spice, understand balance and love to learn about ingredients they’ve never tried before.

Recently, T hosted a taste test, inviting children of the magazine’s staff and writers to assess several nonalcoholic cocktails at Reception Bar, a modern Korean spot on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. “Just the right amount of sweetness,” said Calla Mishan, the 11-year-old daughter of writer Ligaya Mishan, of the Restorative Doraji, a blend of sparkling Doraji tea, Korean pear shrub and chamoe, a Korean melon. She also liked the way the Jeju Shield, with Korean green pepper, lemon and ginger, made her mouth tingle: “It made my taste buds really excited.”

Since Reception doesn’t open until 6 p.m., owner Katie Rue doesn’t see as many kids as Sprouse does at Hunky Dory. But for the children who do visit with parents, ordering a nonalcoholic cocktail is a special experience, not wholly different from that of the child who’s thrilled to clutch a maraschino-laden Roy Rogers at a wedding. “You could tell that the daughter felt grown up,” Rue says of a tween who recently drank an elixir (what Reception calls its nonalcoholic drinks) while dining with her mother.

Not every kid, of course, has embraced these more savoury mocktails. Roman Engel, the 10-year-old cousin of T staffer Kristina Samulewski, crinkled his face after trying the spicy drink Mishan loved at Reception Bar. “Nope. Never. I give this a zero out of 10,” he said. He did, however, applaud the restaurant’s dedication to one other cultural shift. “Metal straws,” he said, with appreciation. “Save the turtles.”

Above, click through the slideshow for three kid-friendly nonalcoholic cocktails to try at home, from bars and restaurants around the country.