The virgin diaries: Cold drinks with no booze but plenty of spirit

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by Brian Clarey, Eric Ginsburg, Jordan Green, Anthony Harrison and Sayaka Matsuoka

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I don’t drink anymore.

That is to say, I don’t drink alcohol anymore, though my experience in that realm is considerable.

I still spend time in bars, for both business and pleasure — mostly, I admit, pleasure, even though I no longer partake in the hard stuff.

But I’ve noticed in the last year or so that Triad bars, restaurants and coffee shops have been stepping up their soft-drink game, bringing more to the table than what’s available in the soda gun.

Unique coffees and sparkling drinks, fresh and custom ingredients, mocktails, ethnic delicacies and virgin brews proliferate in these parts, meaning, among other things, that I never have to quietly sip on a Diet Coke ever again.

It’s a trend whose time has come — certainly for me, and for anyone else trying to cool off under this oppressive summer sun but isn’t quite ready to start the party.

The list is by no means complete, but it’s a pretty solid survey of offerings in our cities. Feel free to let us know what we missed; we’re always looking for something to sip on.

— BC

Mocktails @ the Marshall Free House (GSO)

Corey McAdams presents a glass of Pineapple con Verdito, a sweet and refreshing drink with a powerful kick — one of three drinks on the Marshall Free House’s mocktail menu.
Corey McAdams presents a glass of Pineapple con Verdito, a sweet and refreshing drink with a powerful kick — one of three drinks on the Marshall Free House’s mocktail menu.

The Pineapple con Verdito is the adventurous cousin in the trio of refreshing summer drinks on the Marshall Free House’s mocktail menu.

A green drink served in a chilled glass and topped with an aromatic mint leaf, the first impression of the Pineapple con Verdito is a heady commingling of pineapple, cilantro and basil, followed by a wave of heat from jalapeños. On a hot day, it’s almost enough to trigger perspiration and bug-eyed determination to soldier through the spicy onslaught. In that way, the jalapeño is a good substitute for liquor, and helps pace the drink for maximum appreciation.

And though he’s talking about the British-inspired pub’s ginger ale — made with an extract from raw ginger root and simple syrup — owner Marty Kotis’ remark might just as easily apply to the Pineapple con Verdito.

“If somebody is having a vodka and tonic, you’re pacing yourself with them, and you feel like you’re part of the party,” he says.

The standard version of the Pineapple con Verdito with tequila won the 2014 Bartenders Ball in Greensboro.

Like the other two drinks on the mocktail menu, it was developed by Myles Cunliffe, a consultant with the Mixology Group in the United Kingdom whom Kotis has kept on retainer for about three years. While the Pineapple con Verdito exults in heat, the Ginger Fizz, with lime juice, ginger syrup, mint, blackberries and club soda corners the market for fruitiness, and the Almond Smash brings a nutty flavor profile, with almond water and fig syrup intermixing with lemon juice and club soda.

All the herbs used in the cocktails at Marshall Free House are grown on Haw River Farms, an operation managed by his wife Asheley at their place in Summerfield. That’s an important principle for Marty Kotis, who prides his staff on their ability to customize drinks to his patrons’ individual specifications.

“When you’re making good drinks,” he says, “you’re using fresh juice, fresh herbs. It’s not just something you throw together.”

— JG