What to Drink When You’re Not Drinking

Bitters and Soda Water
Bitters and Soda Water

An unfortunate aspect of working in the spirits industry is that everyone always wants to meet for a drink. It’s hard to remember the last time I had a coffee meeting that wasn’t an Irish Coffee meeting. Also, I’m pretty well known as a drinks writer, so when I do go out to the bars and restaurants  I’m constantly asked to try drinks that bartenders are working on to get recommendations and suggestions on how to tune them. Now add on top of that the spirits I need to sample to review.

I love my job (who wouldn’t?) but the net effect off all this is that I end up having a lot of alcohol. Sometimes it can get to be too much and I find that I simply need to take a break. Just because I’m not drinking doesn’t mean I can stop meeting people for drinks, or that I have to retreat into my home and wait for my ‘dry’ period to pass.

When I am taking a break from drinking, I often rely on a very simple drink that almost any bar can make, something that is easy to sip with more complexity and flavor than having a soda. Angostura makes perhaps the most well-known bitters in the world, used in most of the key spirit-forward classic cocktails like the Old Fashioned and the Manhattan. Angostura is a mix of herbs, water, sugar, gentian, and spirit that acts like a binding agent in drinks (bringing all the flavors together). Although Angostura is spirit based (and has 44.7% alcohol), the amount you use in a drink is fairly small. I did some measuring and 5 dashes of Angostura equals ¼ tsp which has 0.550 ml of alcohol. To put that in perspective, a low alcohol beer with 3% alcohol would have 7.09 ml of alcohol in an 8 ounce serving, or 14.0ml in a pint. You can get intoxicating qualities from Angostura, but you need to use a full 1-2 ounces.

Since Angostura is packed with flavor, just a little of it can have a big impact on what you are drinking. My favorite non-drink drink is to put 5 dashes of Angostura bitters into soda water. I sometimes substitute Sprite or 7UP if I am looking for something a little sweeter. This easy combination is a wonderful stand-in to drink at a bar when you are taking a break from alcohol. It’s also something that I tend to turn to if I have a cold and need to be out in a social situation where there’s drinking, and again I don’t want to drink.

Angostura is also very easy to find. Not only can you get it at most liquor stores, but I’ve seen it at most grocery stores and even at Target. You can easily create variations of this drink by using different bitters we also recommend: Scrappy’s celery bitters, Brooklyn Hemispherical Meyer Lemon Bitters, Bittermens Grapefruit Bitters and Dr Adam Elmegirab’s Boker’s Bitters. Most bars don’t have the ability to charge you for a bitters and soda water, and in many cases I’ve been handed the bottle of Angostura to add it myself to my drink.

Sometimes you need to take a break from drinking (or you are the designated driver) and with Bitters and Soda you do that without the entire world asking you why you aren’t drinking.

[Read our complete report on Angostura Bitters and go Behind The Scenes to see how they are made]