It took me a while to get on Team Seltzer. Flat, non-sparkling water was fine, honestly, and all the hubbub about fizzy water seemed misplaced.
But I tend to drink cocktails and rosé rather quickly, especially in the summer. I love the taste of these drinks, but I don’t love the effect; I’m not a person who drinks to get drunk. So something had to give. Enter: Homemade seltzer.
Seltzer is simply carbonated water, or H20 into which carbon dioxide bubbles have been introduced. It’s different from club soda and mineral water, but just as hydrating as tap. So I’ve started experimenting with bitters, citrus juices, and other flavors. Bitters tend to be, yes, concentrated forms of alcohol, but one only adds a few drops of them, keeping the drink largely virgin. If you go that route, you could try angostura, the classic, which if you’re ordering it at a bar goes by “bitters and soda,” or “bits and bubs.” It’s very slightly bitter, and aromatic—a delightful thing to sip when you don’t want something heavier.
But I like to play around with other bitters, too, particularly peach and orange. These days, I try to think of seltzer the way I would about a good bottle of bourbon. “What can I do with it today?” I’ve been mixing one part homemade limeade and one part seltzer for homemade lime spritzers. Since I’ve recently discovered tomato water—the water that results from salting tomatoes—I’ll try to make a tomato spritzer next. You could add cucumber slices and mint to seltzer, drop in your favorite type of berry, play around with the fresh herbs from your garden, or add the juice leftover on a cutting board after you slice up summer stone fruit. (I suggest balancing sweet stone fruit juice with citrus or bitters.)
When making mocktails, consider color, presentation, and temperature. In my home, we keep tall, wide glasses pre-chilled in the freezer, and have large ice cubes we can drop in them. I keep chilled seltzer at the ready for right when I get home, and add three drops of peach bitters and a half teaspoon syrup from my jar of Italian cherries.
Bubbly, sweet, and floral—and not too sweet—this riff on the Shirley Temple has a rosy hue, so it’s appetizing to drink. If I’m craving a treat, I’ll drop in a cherry.
If you get stuck, think about the flavors you love in your go-to cocktail. Margarita drinkers should experiment with fresh lime juice, orange bitters and seltzer. Bourbon sour lovers might play around with lemon juice and maraschino cherries. Scotch fans, investigate the world of smoked and wood bitters.
Because sometimes it’s the idea of a cocktail, minus the alcohol, that you’re craving.
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Gourmet.com, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.