You’ve stumbled upon Bar\Heart, a weekly newsletter about belonging and the places we call home. I’m so glad you’re here. This is the Friday afternoon Cocktail Hour, featuring a drink recipe, book suggestions and a curio cabinet of everything I find interesting each week. Please subscribe and I’ll mainline my brain straight into your box! Cheers.🍸
Hey, y'all! We made it to Cocktail Hour.
We've got a packed issue this week, with sober negronis, 10 books to read in March, the monetary value of your pets, a rave for Dollface and how to stock a booze-free bar.
Ok. Let's get to it!
For many people, this week marks the start of Lent and a season of fasting and abstaining, whether you’re doing it for religious observation or just want to reset.
So I figured this would be a good week to offer sober cocktail options for those of you who have chosen to give up alcohol. The New York Times' Wirecutter review site has a great rundown on the zero-proof options out on the market. These are drinks you can serve over ice, mix with soda water for a spritz, or get adventurous with and make a mixed cocktail that’s still booze free.
In that vein, I decided I wanted to make a n/a-groni using a recipe from For Bitter For Worse, a booze-free cocktail company based in Portland, Oregon.
So I put in an order for some The Saskatoon, mixed up the simple syrup, and waited for my package to arrive.
Here are the recipe and instructions:
2 oz. The Saskatoon
½ oz. juniper berry simple syrup*
Directions: Combine in shaker with ice. Shake gently. Strain and serve over ice with an orange twist garnish.
Note: After making their version, I discovered that I like this as a spritz. So put ice in a large tumbler or wine glass and top with soda water and a twist of citrus.
Juniper Berry Simple Syrup
2” lemon peel
2 Tlbs. juniper berries (forage or get them in the spice aisle)
⅛ c. sugar
¼ c. water
Directions: Muddle lemon zest and juniper berries with 1/8c sugar in a bowl. Let the sugar blend sit for several hours at least, or overnight if you can. Combine sugar mix with ¼ c. water and let sit in the fridge overnight. Transfer mix to a saucepan. Bring to a boil and then simmer until sugar is dissolved. Strain into a bottle and store in the fridge.
Here's me making the drink LIVE on my weekly Cocktail Hour. Enjoy!
Since I was making For Bitter For Worse’s n/a-groni this week, I decided to reach out to Shelley Elkovich, who founded the company with her husband Jeffrey, and get more advice about zero-proof cocktails. Here's our conversation.
Amy: What's your go-to drink for happy hour when you're not drinking?
What are the alcohol-free essentials you stock in your bar?
Great question! Of course, my own brand has pride of place. For Bitter For Worse cocktails are ready to enjoy over ice, but also fun in elevated cocktail recipes, so I have a lot of high quality mixers on hand at all times.
I admit to being pretty picky. I’m a label-reader who appreciates organic ingredients, and I’m not a fan of “natural flavors” or preservatives, so tbh my choices in the category are somewhat limited. But, the good ones are really good!
I love Casamara Club leisure sodas. They use traditional botanicals found in aperitifs — that bitter amaro flavor profile that I love — but their drinks are light, like a really classy LaCroix. I mix them with For Bitter For Worse to lengthen and lighten our cocktails.
I also love Raft cocktail syrups and bitters. It’s a woman-owned brand that uses organic ingredients. I mix Raft with our drinks when I’m in the mood to (literally) shake things up.
There’s a new line of alcohol-free bitters that’s great too: All the Bitter. Finally, if you like tiki-inspired cocktails, there are two brands I heartily recommend: El Guapo and Small Hand Foods syrups. Both are woman-owned and just impeccable. You can really nerd out on orgeat, falernum, pineapple gum & passionfruit syrups.
Any advice for making a good sober cocktail at home – if someone ran out of FBFW, of course!?
It’s all about balance. Sweetness isn’t necessarily bad — it just needs to be balanced with bitter, sour, and even a bit of salt. Try over-steeping tea as a base. Bubbles deliver flavor and texture, as does egg white or aquafaba (the liquid from canned chickpeas).
Finally, booze has “bite.” Consider adding a small amount of vinegar, or fresh ginger, or hot pepper, to get a burn. Good Drinks by Julia Bainbridge is a good book for recipes, and all the recipes are organized by ease or commitment level, which is helpful.
You make your drinks yourself instead of contract manufacturing. And how did you know where to start?
I’m a lifelong flavor-chaser, so I’ve been making all sorts of concoctions for many years. I also like to think that I’m a good host, so I’d experimented with “mocktails” when serving guests who weren’t drinking, and when I took breaks from alcohol over the years.
When a health challenge caused me to break up with booze, I got serious about making drinks that please me for the various occasions when one might drink alcohol (toasts & happy hour = Eva's spritz; dinner = The Saskatoon; nightcap = Smoky no.56).
What advice do you have for those going alcohol-free for Lent or some other reason?
All cravings pass. If you’re experiencing a craving, go DO something for 15 minutes or so. Moving your body really helps. When in doubt, dance it out.
How do you balance running a business and a "sparky" relationship, as you describe it on your website? It's so hard!
Ahh, balance. Is there such a thing? I’m not a very moderate person. I work hard & then play hard. For Jeff & me, it’s helpful to physically get away—from the house, the business, etc. We try to take an overnight every month. The last one was to The Society Hotel in Bingen, WA. They have outdoor soaking pools and a lovely sauna. We hiked during the day and then enjoyed the spa. Any work walk was forbidden.
This month’s Bar\Heart Book List takes us from outer space to future Michigan and everywhere in between. Plus, a bonus list of essential reads to understand what's happening in the Ukraine. You can read about them all here.
1. The Elephant in the Courtroom by Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker. A curious legal crusade to redefine personhood is raising profound questions about the interdependence of the animal and human kingdoms.
It’s been a while, but our good friend and contributor Shana is back this week with a rave for Dollface! Here’s her review of why you should be watching:
Jules gets dumped by her long-term boyfriend and then discovers she’d sunk so far into the relationship that she completely failed to maintain her friendships. An irritated bureaucrat literally tells her all her friendships have expired.
The show covers all the stuff people in their late 20s and early 30s go through: sleeping with the wrong people, finding the right people but the timing is off, hating your job, not having any idea what you want to do with your life, having big ambitions and middling success. (This would be a great spot for me to tell you it gets better. I’m sorry to tell you that it appears to just stay the same.)
Jules rebuilds her friendships. She cautiously gets back into the dating game. She and her friends bitch over cocktails. They deal with crazy bosses and coworkers. (Thanks to being on Hulu vs a traditional network, they use adult language the way normal people do.) Partners come and go, but the theme here is how important female friendship is.
They make Jules fight to regain their past relationship status, as well they should. Even when they’re not getting along, they support each other.
But also, Jules gets advice/interventions/sass via Cat Lady. That sounds terrible, but I’m telling you: It works. Cat Lady is a human sized cat person. She pops up here and there offering the unsolicited advice Jules needs. The show does a great job with this bit of magical realism. It’s very, very sarcastic. The visual of the Cat Lady is excellent; not great hair, glasses, ears twitching.
We had to say our final goodbyes to Hank this week. I’ll always remember him like this: Pure joy as he rolled around in the bed until I woke up to this face. His excitement was infectious and got me through dark days. Goodbye, sweet boy. I love you.
That’s all for this week, friends.
I’ll be back in your inboxes on Tuesday with a podcast and newsletter featuring the writer Lyz Lenz of the newsletter, en Yell At Me. You won’t want to miss it.
See you next week for Cocktail Hour.
💌 Got questions? E-mail email@example.com
💬 Got something to share? Leave a comment! I will respond.
What is Bar\Heart? It is Amy Haimerl’s weekly newsletter and podcast about belonging in America and the places we call home. Plus cocktails! You can read more about it here. The midweek edition includes intimate conversations from the heart; the Friday Cocktail Hour is a round up drink suggestions, book recommendations and other detritus Amy picks up on the Internet and in life.