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How to make mocktails like those at Julep in Houston

In June 2022, Alba Huerta returned to Houston from the James Beard Award ceremony in Chicago, bringing home the prestigious win for Outstanding Bar Program, beating out four other bars nationwide. The next day, her newly awarded cocktail bar Julep on Washington Avenue was packed from the attention.

“The bar being busy is good for everyone, it’s good for the staff,” Huerta says. That business has kept up over the months, and this means people are always looking to Julep for their seasonal specials, she adds.

The latest menu flip ushers in the first post-holiday season of the year: Dry January. The month-long movement to abstain from alcohol has grown in recent years, and Houston bars and restaurants are taking note with enhanced non-alcoholic cocktail offerings.

“We still want to socialize,” Huerta says. “Dry January doesn’t mean you-have-to-stay-at-home January.”

Visit Julep year-round and ask for a zero-proof cocktail, and you’ll receive a drink with just as much care put into it as their boozy versions. Every January, the bar doubles down with a special menu to accommodate the higher volume of people foregoing liquor that month. After closing for a week in the new year for its staff to rest and some minor renovations, Julep opened back up last weekend.

If you want to recreate the magic at home, Huerta has some tips for making your own non-alcoholic cocktails. Check them out in her tutorial video—and we’ll break some down below.

A boom in non-alcoholic substitute products

There’s never been a better time to go sans-booze. Huerta says new non-alcoholic products are coming onto the market constantly, from zero-proof wine and beer to substitutes for rum, whiskey, gin and more. There’s even a sober bottle shop in Houston now, called Sipple.

Huerta warns that these products aren’t always cheap, though. Making your own shrubs and bitters, like Julep does, is time-consuming. You can either put in a little extra elbow grease yourself, or pay for the convenience of someone having made the product for you. But making non-alcoholic cocktails can be as involved or as easy as you want it to be.

Alba Huerta, owner of Julep in Houston, also has a cocktail recipe book called "Julep: Southern Cocktails Refashioned."

Alba Huerta, owner of Julep in Houston, also has a cocktail recipe book called “Julep: Southern Cocktails Refashioned.”

Julie Soefer / Julie Soefer

Down to the basics

There are four elements that are crucial to making cocktails, whether with alcohol or not: “your drink is being mixed, your drink is being aerated, your drink is diluting, and your drink is getting cold,” Huerta says.

A key to making sure all these things happen is to add enough ice to your shaker. This means a ton of ice—fill ‘er up. Huerta says people who come to her cocktail-making classes are often afraid to put too much ice in their shaker, but that’s the only way your drink is going to be properly mixed, aerated, diluted and cold.

When you’re not using liquor, you still need a liquid to dilute your other mixers and elements into the drink. Before so many products came onto the market, Huerta simply used water to replace alcohol in cocktails, and you can still do that if you don’t want to shell out for a special bottle.

Huerta says there has to be a variety in every cocktail, both sweet and tangy elements for example to create balance. And she never—ever—forgets a garnish. Especially if you’re foregoing the booze, it’s nice to make your drink just as special.

The easiest cocktails without alcohol to make at home

Huerta has two words for you: blended drinks. These are cocktails that are made by blending ice, liquor and a mixer, but it’s very easy to make no-booze versions. The piña colada is Huerta’s favorite example: simply blend coconut water or cream with ice, pineapple and lime juice. But really, the possibilities are endless.

“The craft of the cocktail shouldn’t have to end at alcohol,” Huerta says. And better drinking habits can continue throughout the year, way beyond Dry January.



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