Virgin Mojito Review

A taste of sunshine in winter.

A taste of sunshine in winter.  Enjoy this brightly flavoured drink on winter days and think of sunny beaches.

Last February and we had the biggest snow fall of that winter. Snow was piled higher than my car in the front of the yard from all the snow blowers removing the snow from the roads, and while it’s all so pretty – there were days I dreamed of summer. This year our family headed south to the Dominican Republic for Christmas and my dreams of summer beaches became a reality.

Ah sandy beaches. Where one can sit enjoying the warmth of the sun rays and sip on a cool refreshing drink. Something exotic? Like a Mojito!

Last year we started trying ideas around a non-alcoholic Mojito option so the whole family could enjoy the taste of summer. We found that putting together a drink that is normally rum and club soda based was more challenging than we anticipated. According to food.com a Virgin Mojito simply uses the club soda or switches it out for ginger ale and hold the rum.

Does it work? Well… Sort of.

The resulting drink was approved by my two girls, but I found the flavour of the mint less noticeable than I expected. The drink ended up tasting mostly like a lime pop, slightly sweet and pretentious, but not something that says “Wow! This was worth the expensive fresh mint leaves I drove 2 hours out of town for!”

What to do to fix this… well the drink called for the mint muddled with lime and sugar before adding a simple syrup and ginger ale. So what if the mint was incorporated into the syrup? Or how about more mint mixed in? (The recipe called for 15 mint leaves – but hey why not double it!) Since I didn’t have anymore mint and wasn’t about to venture back out onto the highway for another 2 hour drive to get some we left it at that… what if?

Online, other recipes included apple juice (BBC and Wikihow), lemons or lemonade (Salisfood.com and  BBC), and lemon-lime soda was suggested instead of ginger ale or club soda (Wikihow and Salisfood.com). But all sites I found suggested that only 8-10 mint leaves was necessary. In our test, I found that ginger ale’s flavour did not work well in the drink as it competed with the mint and lime.  I would not recommend using it in further recipes. Again we were left with … what if?

So, this Christmas, I had the tropical drink experts make me up a virgin mojito (and a “leaded” one) and discovered the secret to a successful summer drink. MORE.

Yep. MORE mint, MORE lime and MORE sugar = MORE kick. Watching the bartender make up my order I noticed that they used chopped mint and muddled that into a sugary syrup then topped it up with something akin to lemonade. I found the tropical virgin version to be less lime tasting and have less kick than I expected but it had plenty of taste which my attempts at home had lacked. (The “leaded” version had plenty of kick due to the addition of rum).

It was time to test out my theory and make a High Octane Version. Loaded with fresh lime wedges, lime sweet and sour mix, and about 3 cups of chopped fresh mint, I headed over to our family New Year’s Eve party. “Who want’s a mojito?”

The result? Yummy! The drink matched the bright taste and kick of it’s adult brother and was enjoyed by teens and adults alike. When I left the party a few hours later my niece was sad to see me go – because the drinks were leaving with me. Success? I think so!

Virgin “High Octane” Mojito

Ingredients
  • 3 tablespoons chopped mint
  • 2 lime wedges (1/4 lime)
  • 2 oz lime sweet and sour mix (see below)
  • ice
  • 4 oz 7-up (or lemon lime soda)
Procedure

Muddle chopped mint, lime wedges and sweet and sour mix in bottom of a cocktail shaker by crushing the limes to release the juices and pressing the mixture about 4-5 times onto the bottom of the shaker. Add ice and shake once or twice. Pour in 7-up, stir and pour contents into a tall glass (not all the mint will make it to the glass but that’s ok). Top with 7-up if needed, Garnish with a lime twist or mint sprig and serve.

My Thoughts

The 7-Up takes the place of lemonade in the tropical version but adds fizz and sweetness lacking in the original recipe tested using club soda. The addition of lime sweet and sour mix replaced the need for a simple syrup and sugar while maintaining the intensity of the lime taste.

Using chopped mint and fresh limes introduce a bitterness (Wikihow explains that tearing or bruising the mint releases chlorophyll which is bitter, and the lime rinds also have a bitter element). Many cocktails call for bitters to balance the sweetness and allow the drinks flavours to come through and this is the case here.

The chopped mint leaves give a stronger mint flavour, the fresh limes lend a sharp kick to the drink and the sweetness of the 7-up and sugary sweet and sour mix create exactly the taste needed for this drink to compete head on with it’s “leaded” brother. I did find I suck up a bit of chopped mint through my straw – so if you don’t like that – I would recommend straining the drink before serving.


Lime  Sweet & Sour Mix

This version uses only lime juice for it’s sour component. I used bottled lime juice for this as I was adding fresh limes into the final cocktail. While fresh lime juice is always nicer, however since this recipe is cooked it is not essential. This recipe is not as sour as a standard sweet and sour mix as the ratio of sugar to juice is higher.

Ingredients:

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 cup lime juice

Procedure:

Heat all ingredients in a small saucepan and allow to come to a gentle boil. Allow to simmer 2-3 minutes and remove from heat. Cool and store until needed.


Kid-o-metre 5/5 Kids loved it.
Taste: 5/5  Nailed it!
Simplicity: 5/5 Simple and easy to make.
Ingredient finding: 3/5 Mint is not available locally and this recipe calls for a whole lot – I was able to purchase bunches like parsley at a decent price when passing through a larger town.

Rosemary Lemonade Snowballs

Rosemary Snowballs

Rosemary Lemonade Snowballs made with fresh fallen snow. From back to front: Rosemary Limonade, Rosemary Citrus & Vanilla Rosemary Lemonade Snowballs.

Some of the simplest virgin drinks are lemonades. Creating simple syrups from citrus and herbs, and pouring a tall iced glass full of sweet and tangy refreshment is the classic summer drink. So what to do when it’s blustering on a winter day? Well when they give you lemons, make lemonade. And when they give you mounds of snow, make lemonade snowballs!

The three recipes are my favourites from a summer of research in preparation for this blog, each using rosemary as the herbal note in the drink along with either lemon or lime. Each is a intriguing drink as a lemonade, bright tart and delicious, but not too sweet. Cold numbs the taste buds somewhat, so syrups used for snow cones and slushes often have to be slightly more concentrated.  I thought it would be fun to see how these lemonade syrups stood up to the snowball test.

Each of these syrups I poured over about 1 1/2 cups packed snow to make a 3 inch snowball.

Rosemary Limonade

The Kitchen has a wonderful recipe for syrup that is based on limes. I’ve always found limes sweeter than lemons and the tartness of this drink provides quite a punch (as described in the original recipe which you can find here.)
The original recipe calls for 1 part syrup to 2 part water or soda water, however for my purposes I poured 2 oz syrup over snowball (yep real fresh clean snow, but you can make this with 1 1/2 cups shaved ice if you don’t have the benefit of freezing cold snowy winters).
Rosemary Lime Syrup
  • 1 cup lime juice (6 limes)
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • Peel of 2 limes
  • 2 (4 inch) sprigs rosemary

Mix juice and sugar, heat on medium until sugar dissolved. Add rest, lower to med-low and simmer 1 minute. Remove from heat, let cool overnight then strain and store.

My Thoughts: 

The original recipe is very strong and tart. The drink, as the recipe states, has a serious kick which is great for a thirst quencher and for those who like a more sour taste. We tested the drink as directed against the snow ball version, and the snow ball version is less sweet tasting but equally as sour. I tried cutting the syrup half and half with simple syrup for the snowball, which made the result still tart but pleasant and less likely to result in a “pucker power” face.

Rosemary Citrus Lemonade

The Kitchen also came up with this recipe using the both oranges and lemons, and  blending these with rosemary and honey for a wonderful flavour. The result is a wow factor to the drink that according to the the people at The Kitchen compares in flavour to Orangina.

The lemonade recipe calls for 2-3 tbsp syrup poured over ice and filled with water or soda water. When making this up I found that regular stirring was required to keep the syrup from sinking to the bottom of the glass. You can find the original recipe for this Rosmeary Citrus Lemonade here. The authors of The Kitchen mention that this syrup would make a fine granita, which would be a frozen version of the syrup, possibly straight up. So in keeping with the idea of this experiment I poured 2 oz syrup over snowball.

Rosemary Citrus Syrup
  • 2 lemons zest & juice
  • 2 oranges zest & juice
  • 4 4-inch sprigs rosemary
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cups honey

Bring to a Boil 1 min, remove from heat and cool 10 min. Strain and store.

My Thoughts:

This recipe as a drink  when diluted with water as instructed (1 part syrup to roughly 2 parts water) is very pleasant and the orange juice and additional sweetness the honey provides makes this the sweetest of these three drinks. We found the rosemary quite strong in this blend and if rosemary is not your preferred flavour you may want to reduce the amount in half.

As a snowball, the orange added more colour to the snow than the other two drinks, giving visual appeal, and the snow mixed in to the syrup reduced the sweetness of the drink but not the other flavour profiles.

Vanilla Rosemary Lemonade

This last recipe was found at MyRecipes.com and is little different in its creation and execution. The syrup for this recipe, unlike the others, doesn’t incorporate the citrus into the mix. Instead the lemon juice is added in equal portion to the syrup as a fresh squeezed component and mixed in glass. You can find the recipe for the original drink here.

Because the original drink doesn’t incorporate the lemon I adjusted the concept slightly to make it work for the snow ball.

Vanilla Rosemary Syrup
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 3 fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 3 cups water
  • fresh squeezed lemon juice (need 3 cups total)

Simmer all but the lemon juice until sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and let cool 30 minutes. Strain. Mix 1 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice with 1 oz syrup in a cocktail shaker. Shake and pour over snowball.

Makes about 24 servings. If you are making smaller servings squeeze lemons as you use the syrup and store the remaining syrup without mixing the lemon in. The syrup should last about 1 month in the fridge.

My Thoughts:

This drink is very tart both in the liquid and snowball form. This is probably due to the fresh lemon used with the vanilla rosemary syrup. I found that adding a bit of simple syrup to the drink made a big difference, and would recommend the following formula for the snow if you like things a little sweeter: 1/2 oz lemon juice, 1/2 oz simple syrup, 1 oz vanilla rosemary syrup.

Our Verdict:

For the sake of my tests I wanted clean fresh snow and had to live with what we mostly get: Powder. Great for skiing in, terrible for making snowballs out of. Warming the snow helped, so I left it in a bowl for a day (outside but near the house & covered) and by the next afternoon the snow was perfect for packing. It took about three cups of powder snow to make what would normally amount to one “packed snowball” which required hand packing without mitts (no fluff please!). After freezing my poor fingers, I realized one could pack the snow into a rounded bottomed glass and then simply tip the snowball out into the serving cup… much better, but not quite the same realness.

Pouring the syrups over the snow, once it was packed, did not fully saturate the snowball and the result was something that needed to be eaten with a spoon like granita. Stirring the snow up, and giving it a few seconds, allowed the flavour to blend into the snow more uniformly and after a minute or two the drink became, well, more drinkable. Kind of like a daiquiri.

But what about the taste? Well…

The Rosemary Limonade was the most powerful flavour of the three: the rosemary, sweetness and lime all blend for a tart and slightly sweet mix that is lovely, but more a slow sipper. The Rosemary Citrus Lemonade was the mildest and sweetest, easy to consume in large quantities with no “pucker power” (but possibly some mild brain freeze!). The Vanilla Rosemary Lemonade was the most sour, probably due to the high concentration of fresh lemon juice and low concentration of sugar in this recipe. The vanilla was lost though, masked by the stronger rosemary and lemon flavours, and I am not sure what the addition of that ingredient brings to the drink. (Guess that means further testing… next summer!)

So does super cooling the drink make a difference? According to an article in The Guardian the answer is yes. In fact, just as we found, the colder the beverage the sweetness will be less noticeable and the sourness of the drink will be more apparent. This explains why the limeade (which used the least amount of sugar and the strongest juice – 1 cup lime juice) was too strong at full strength, and the rosemary lemonade (where the syrup was diluted with lemon juice) did not taste very sweet, and lost some of it’s more interesting flavours to the cold.

These drinks could use something special for presentation.

These drinks could use something … fancy looking, to add a visual interest.

For presentation, these could use something… maybe a swirl of zest on a cocktail stick, a beautiful spoon for stirring, or a citrus wheel. I am hoping that Santa will bring some interesting accessories this year, cause there is not much in the way of local options, and shipping costs are a bit more than this girl can swallow.

General Review of idea below!

Kid-o-metre 4/5 The concept was super fun too much rosemary was not according to my kids.
Taste: 5/5 I made these over and over while we had fresh snow until I ran out of syrup… sometimes we blended syrups for more interesting flavours. Definitely a winter treat!
Simplicity: 4/5  not too hard to put together – snowball making skills may be required 🙂
Ingredient finding: 2/5 snow in abundance, rosemary not so much… And in warmer climates… I bet it’s the opposite!

 

Blackberry Peppercorn Lemonade Review

Black Pepper Syrup gives quite a kick to this virgin cocktail.

Black Pepper Syrup gives quite a kick to this virgin cocktail.

In creating drinks without the kick of alcoholic beverages, finding alternate ingredients to add the interest becomes part of the fun and challenge for mixologists.

Black pepper syrup is an intriguing idea – sweet but with a heat and a hint of acidy and a brilliant flavour complex. There are many recipes online for this syrup, generally recommending a combination of cracked and whole peppercorns along with water and sugar. The cracked peppercorns deliver more heat, while the whole fruit provides a more mellow and rich flavour complex. In drink mixing this syrup often is paired with grapefruit, citrus and/or berries, are added to martinis for added heat.

(If you are interested in the recipe for the syrup I will be using check my blog here where I use it in a snake venom shooter I created over halloween.)

When looking up virgin drinks, I found two that paired blackberries with peppercorn syrup and added lemon to round out the flavours. Our family tested both.

Black and Blue Lemonade

This first recipe from FoodRepublic has all the makings of a great summer drink. The combination of black pepper syrup, fresh berries, lemons and a hint of basil for additional interest are all seasonal —especially up north — and more likely to be found in the summer months. The drink calls for muddling fresh basil, blackberries in the syrup and adding to a combination of 2 parts lemon juice to 1 part soda water. This drink is a very fresh and bright tasting with a serious kick from the lemons and peppercorns. You can find the recipe here.

Black Pepper Lemonade

Dole foods promotes their frozen products with a lemonade using frozen blackberries. This is a great option for a drink that can be made all season. The recipe is simple, also using fresh lemon juice, black pepper syrup and blackberries muddled in a glass, strained and poured over ice. This is in my opinion more of a martini as the drink is left concentrated, but they recommend serving it over ice, which will help to dilute the taste. As an added interest, the recipe calls for a salt and pepper rimmer. You can find the entire recipe with the syrup they used, the rimmer and the drink here.
My Thoughts:
My family found the Black Pepper Lemonade sweeter and more flavourful than the the more earthy Black and Blue Lemonade. However the pepper is very prominent and we cut the recipe by half for the kids. The Salt & Pepper Rimmer was not popular amongst the younger crowd either, but as someone who adores peppercorn encrusted steak and tenderloin, the addition made the drink all that more spectacular. On a hot summer day though, I can see choosing the more subtle, tart and complex flavour of the Black and Blue Lemonade to quench my thirst, the brightness of the fresh ingredients and the fizz of the soda are a combination that is hard to resist.
At the end of the day our family voted. Black Pepper Lemonade came out victorious.
Kid-o-metre 5/5
Taste: 4/5 
preferred the non fizzy drink
Simplicity: 4/4 
for the Black Pepper Lemonade which was simpler to create
Ingredient finding: 3/5 
Blackberries (fresh and frozen) and basil are not commonly found all year locally.