“To Be American Is to drink. To be American is to worry about drinking.” Elva Ramirez
When our Dietician Caitlin and I started talking in 2020 about how to best help people during the pandemic shutdown we decided gut health had to be at the center of the conversation. The goal at the time was to keep people engaged during an incredibly difficult and uncertain time. We decided on an old challenge I had already created in 2012 that had 8 basic daily tasks. However, unlike the old days of CrossFit Paleo challenges, this one only asked for the elimination of 2 foods: alcohol and added sugar. At the time, appropriately so, we wanted to help people with their immune system, thus we had to start with the microbiome health of the gut. In other words, while the rest of America was drinking their way through the pandemic, we were asking our members to give it up!
In essence, we created a MICRO HABIT challenge that we dubbed the 90 DAY DETOX. The name is a bit deceiving because there are only two food substances to give up; alcohol and added sugar. The goal was to help our members create micro habits for long term health. This was a difficult ask but one we felt was necessary if we were to create space for healthier habits. I will address sugar at a different time because it is abundant in most of the processed food American’s eat and requires further discussion. For now, let us tackle the joy alcohol can momentarily bring us and the pitfalls of overindulging.
Dr. Peter Attia is out with a new book, Outlive, and believes that alcohol is so prevalent in our American way of life that he considers alcohol to be a 4th macronutrient alongside protein, fat, and carbohydrates. While acknowledging that alcohol is a way to unwind from a long, stressful day, over drinking is a major problem in our society. Alcohol also packs on the weight because unlike the other macronutrients it has no nutritional value, but alcohol will slow down your bodies ability to burn fat.
What is too much? According to Dr. Attia and the research, 7-8 drinks per week is the suggested amount with no more than 2 drinks per sitting. There is solid research to show that anything more than this is heading down a road of trouble later in life especially when it comes down to our cognitive health. How do we balance socializing and staying healthy?
The great news, bars have started creating the most interesting non-alcoholic drinks for people who don’t want to drink alcohol. Whether it’s for a Dry January challenge or for other purposes, finding interesting drinks on the menu sans alcohol has become a thing. This movement started in earnest in 2015 when a London company started SEEDLIP, the first non-alcoholic distillate to launch and thus was born ZERO PROOF.
Elva Ramirez wrote the book ZERO PROOF, but I couldn’t find who coined the term. It’s a nice, sophisticated replacement for the term mocktail and gives a better description of the modern-day non-alcoholic cocktail. No matter what you call it, the Shirley Temple and Roy Rogers of yester year has gotten a serious upgrade and what bartenders are serving up in the Zero Proof line up gives your taste buds a tantalizing mix of bitters, adaptogens and aromatics.
A little history is necessary to understand the American drinker. According to Ramirez, Americans have been drinkers since they arrived on the Mayflower. A cup of water in hand indicated you were too poor to afford a decent beer or strong nip. I can only imagine what the original settlers would have thought of us starting our day with 8oz of water. To them starting their day with a drink was normal and everyone, even the children, partook. Drinking was so much a part of the Colonists way of life that the brew house was one of the first buildings built when a new settlement was founded.
For a deeper delve I highly recommend picking up Zero Proof and settling into a comfy chair with your own concoction of Zero Proof drink as you read about America’s drinking history. It gives you an appreciation for how our lives are built around socializing with drinks and through drinking. Thus, giving up drinking can be difficult because as Ramirez surmised, drinking “is deeply woven into the American character.”
Let’s start by first breaking down the anatomy of the Zero Proof drink:
BITTERS: infusion created by combining roots of plants that have health benefits with adaptogens and aromatics. Bitters are usually made in alcohol and 99% of bitters in a liquor store will be highly concentrated in alcohol. This is called ABV, or alcohol by volume, and the volume is going to be 45% or higher. Therefore, bitters are used sparingly in cocktails, most drinks having only 3-4 drops.
Finding non-alcoholic bitters can be difficult. I found some bottles of alcohol-free bitters at Boston General Store in Coolidge Corner (or Dedham). I chose to get Dram Citrus blend. The flavor appealed to me. But for the more adventurous, please visit Mount Rose Herbs and order your roots to make your own bitters. Use SeedLip distillate as your base and you will be able to create your own non-alcoholic bitters.
In addition to the roots, you will also want to infuse your concoction with adaptogens like ginger, turmeric, ginseng, maca, holy basil, and cinnamon to name just a few. Let your taste buds and creativity build your bitters!
You will also be tempted to use aromatics.
Herbs and Flowers: mint, sage, hibiscus, yarrow, rose
Spices: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, star anise, vanilla beans
Fruit: citrus peels and dried fruit
Nuts and Beans: nuts, coffee beans, cocoa beans, and cocoa nibs
The possibilities are endless. For a full description and a deeper delve visit Tiffany La Forge on Healthline: BITTERS
I was so excited about my newfound love of ZERO PROOF drinks I went out and purchased my first mini cocktail set and some fancy antique “copas” (Spanish for whiskey glasses). I wanted the full experience. As you can see from the picture my kitchen this weekend looked like a science lab. I made the most delightful Zero Proof cocktail:
A La Mexicana (Recipe Makes 2 Drinks)
Chill 2 Glass Tumblers (glasses used for whiskey)
Have a plate of honey and another plate of chili powder/sea salt mix ready.
Fresh Mint Leaves to muddle and for garnish
Fresh Lemon Wedges to muddle
Optional Dried Citrus Wheels for Garnish
Seedlip Grove 42
Chili Powder Mix: 1 Tablespoon of Chili Powder to 1/8 teaspoon of freshly grinded sea salt. If you are watching your salt intake just two twists of salt is all you need.
Before juicing the fruit, take the tumblers and put the top onto the plate of honey and then into the chili powder and put them back into freezer.
Juice of 1 WHITE Grapefruit
*I used white grapefruit for my first batch and pink for the second. I highly recommend using white. There are different varieties of white grapefruit and I found some at Whole Foods. You can search for Marsh, Duncan, Oro Blanco, and Melogold. To learn more about grapefruits and the nutrition value go to: ASK The FOOD GEEK
Juice of 1 Orange
Juice of 1 Lemon
After juicing all 3 pour the juice through a mesh strain into a cocktail shaker filled halfway with ice.
Once all have been combined and strained into the cocktail shaker, give it a wild shake. Now add the 8oz of SeedLip and shake vigorously again.
Take your glasses out of the freezer and muddle fresh mint and lemon slices. Add more ice.
Pour the juice from cocktail shaker over the ice and top with fresh mint and dried wheel of citrus.
Use your imagination and have fun!