Dry January makes sense when we’re talking about what happens to skin when the humidity drops and heating clangs violently on, but it's a total misnomer for starting the year off nonalcoholically. Are not other beverages… wet? And if yes (which, yes), can’t you enjoy something poured into a glass without it doing funky stuff to your central nervous system? That’s the argument writer and editor Julia Bainbridge put forth in her totally alcohol-free book of cocktail recipes Good Drinks, anyway: that taking a break from alcohol doesn’t mean you can’t still enjoy delightfully delicious sips. Julia’s gained a reputation as the internet authority on nonalcoholic drinks, so when we reached out for a recipe recommendation she was quick to lend a hand.
This one has just three ingredients: tonic water, soda water, and some white verjus, a nonalcoholic product made from wine grapes. And if that sounds like the recipe for a white wine spritzer, well, you’re basically right. But don’t think of verjus as a one-to-one replacement for your favorite chardonnay. Unlike nonalcoholic wine, which is regular wine with the ethanol removed, the fruit used to produce verjus isn’t fully ripe. As Julia explained to the “Washington Post," the unripened grapes are traditionally a winemaker’s byproduct—in order to ensure the grapes have enough sun access to fully ripen, their clusters are thinned out up to 30-percent. The baby grapes plucked off haven’t had the chance to develop rich sugars, so when they’re pressed into juice it’s a lot more acidic. Another difference between verjus (pronounced like "vair-jhoo," from the French vert jus, btw) and wine is that the former never undergoes fermentation.
So, what’s it taste like?
“Verjus has this soft acidity to it,” she tells ITG. “It's less sweet than grape juice, but not harsh like vinegar.” It’s a good thing to have in your pantry for quick and delicious salad dressings, while chefs can use a couple dashes for a hearty braise. “But it's a real powerhouse ingredient for the alcohol-free home bar.” You don’t want to drink it on its own—undiluted, it’s aggressively tangy. But it’s delicious thinned out with water, and can be worked into cocktails spirited or sans. Mixed with tonic and seltzer as below, it hits the same tart, fizzy, aperitif-like notes as that white wine spritzer mentioned earlier. “Pour it into an ice-filled wine glass and garnish with a twist,” says Julia, and it’s just the ticket for a non-boring dry January. Or any occasion you don’t feel like drinking alcohol—it’s just a good drink.
Once you pop a bottle (Julia says that this Fusion Verjus is the one most bartenders use, though she also likes Wölffer Estate's, Noble's, and this pink one from Scribe), verjus stays good in the fridge for about a month. Head to your local gourmet grocer then whip this baby up:
2 ounces white verjus
2 ounces soda water
2 ounces tonic water
1 lemon twist, for garnish
Combine the verjus, soda water, and tonic water in a wine or spritz glass filled with ice. Garnish with the lemon twist.
Reprinted with permission from Good Drinks: Alcohol-Free Recipes for When You’re Not Drinking for Whatever Reason by Julia Bainbridge, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Photography copyright: © 2020 Alex Lau.