The mastermind behind the Columbia Room, a previous designee of “Best American Cocktail Bar” by the Spirited Awards, Derek Brown has just authored his second book devoted to the craft of the American cocktail. In “Mindful Mixology: A Comprehensive Guide to No- and Low-Alcohol Cocktails with 60 Recipes,” he rewrites the script of cultural expectations by delivering mouthwatering concoctions that deliver style and taste without a hangover.
“Mindful drinking is a very straightforward concept, as in ‘mind the gap:’ being aware of what you’re drinking and why you’re drinking,” Brown says. “If you’re drinking on automatic then you’re eventually going to have a problem.”
In the introduction of his latest work, which will be published this month, he shares a brief but candid discussion of reevaluating his own drinking habits.
“Mindful drinking is the goal and ‘Mindful Mixology’ is the tool,” he says.
His mindful-drinking toolbox includes 60 recipes ranging from seasonal delights to happy hour classics. More importantly, it reconceptualizes drinking responsibly and with meaning.
“Some of the drinks are simulacrum and others provide an entirely new perspective. But the greatest part of all of this is liberating cocktails from alcohol so individuals have the tools to drink them with or without alcohol,” Brown says.
In between the recipes of “Mindful Mixology” are interludes from bartenders, health experts and distillers about the meditative practices behind making liquors, selecting ingredients, slowly sipping and more.
Brown’s book is a wonderfully balanced mixture of a recipe book, historical text and introductory barguide with suggestions for tools, drinking glass styles and mixing methods. In the vein of exploring the history of American cocktail culture, “Mindful Mixology” builds upon Brown’s first published work, “Spirits, Sugar, Water, Bitters: How the Cocktail Conquered the World.”
Ever the historian, Brown offers an unsavory etymology for “cocktail” that will make you think twice the next time you see a horse swishing its tail prettily. He even turns to archives and old newspapers, adapting from temperance recipes from the Prohibition Era as the starting point for many of his nonalcoholic (N/A) offerings.
“A lot of skills that proliferated over the last decade have been hard-won by bartenders who focus on the craft of cocktails and look back at traditional techniques,” Brown shares. “It’s time for nonalcoholic cocktails to regain their crown. There isn’t a difference in my mind. It wasn’t different for early bartenders who included both alcoholic, non- and low-alcohol recipes in the same book — and they weren’t self-conscious about it.”
Just don’t call them “mocktails.” These are not merely stand-ins for the real thing, but delectable libations that stand on their own. Brown anatomizes and analyzes the components of a classical [sic] cocktail to show that intense aromas and flavors, a rich texture, an astringent bite, and overall style are the qualities that make a cocktail — not the amount of stiff liquor in the glass.
“I’m trying to show that nonalcoholic drinks can be just as sophisticated, sexy and have just as much gravitas as an alcoholic cocktail,” he says. “We are in such a great, albeit nascent, period of good nonalcoholic spirits, beers and wines. I hope in addition to enjoying these drinks at home that bartenders serve people who haven’t yet tried N/A cocktails and entice a new audience to try great craft cocktails.”
Many of these old-fashioned N/A cocktails and his contemporary adaptations, Brown points out, have less in common with a Shirley Temple or Roy Rogers and more in common with, well, an Old Fashioned.
There are fruit juices, purees and syrups galore, but there are also splashes of vinegar or soy sauce, various brewed teas, egg whites, garlic and beef broth poured into mixers and glasses. There is even a take on D.C.’s official native cocktail with sour cherries complementing the punch of lime juice to create a piquant Cherry Lime Rickey. For wintertime, try either the Twelfth Night Cider or the spicy bouquet of cloves, ginger and spices in the Lion’s Paw (a N/A version of a bourbon-centered drink called The Lion’s Tail).
There are originals, too, such as the mouth-puckering Pinch Hitter composed of lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, ginger syrup for heat, aquafaba (chickpea water) for weight, a pinch of salt and lemon garnishes.
“It’s ostensibly a lemonade in some ways, but it’s much more complex than that,” Brown says.
Even sans alcohol, the 60 recipes offered in “Mindful Mixology” are nonetheless spirited and a perfect way to mindfully enjoy the best of American cocktails.